It’s true what they say, sales is a science and there’s an art to getting it right. To be successful takes knowledge and instinct about people, how they think, different behavior and signals, and what can influence them.
On the route towards making a purchase, a buyer will pass through many different ‘stages’ and it’s marketing’s job to keep moving them forwards, from one point to the next. When they’re ready to buy, it’s then up to sales to make sure that the supplier they choose to work with is you.
But how do you know what stage in the funnel a lead has reached? And what’s the best strategy for encouraging them on towards a sale?
The buyer journey
The sales funnel can be broken down into two distinct phases – the buyer journey and the customer journey. Both are related, but there’s an important difference.
The buyer journey is what happens before the moment of purchase and it can neatly be broken down into three stages – awareness (when a buyer may be aware there is a problem), consideration (when they’ve started to consider solutions for that problem) and decision making (when they finally decide to buy and from who).
The customer journey, on the other hand, is everything that happens following the moment a purchase is made. From the onboarding process to ongoing support and maintenance of the relationship, plus any upselling or cross-selling. It is basically the whole experience a person will have as a customer dealing with your organization.
All the stages that a buyer will go through and every ‘moment of truth’ can be plotted on a lifecycle chart. This should include everything from generating website visitors to converting them on an offer, sending them more content that will appeal and then reacting when they show interest by passing them to sales for deeper conversations.
In theory, it’s all pretty straightforward, but how do you actually do it?
Firstly, you need to have the right technical capability, such as access to some form of marketing automation software that will enable you to plot the leads in this way.
Tip for Lead Forensics customers: You can use trigger reports to categorize leads, based on different behaviors, which will indicate their readiness to buy.
Next, you need to create a content marketing strategy that will help you determine what stage a lead is at and effectively move them along the sales funnel from one point to the next. As well as nurturing a lead, your content should help you qualify them, firstly as being a marketing qualified lead (MQL), that is worthy of being marketed to, and eventually as a sales qualified lead (SQL) and someone who has shown, through their behavior, that they not only fit the qualification criteria but are potentially interested in purchasing.
Plan your content
Start by mapping out your buyer journey, which means outlining the path that a prospect may take to become a customer, from start to finish.
Then make sure you have detailed buyer personas together. These should be an accurate representation of your core customer types. You need to know everything about your target audience, from their likes and dislikes, to what drives their decision making and the sources of information they access. Make sure you avoid these 7 key issues when creating your buyer persona. Get out handy buyer persona template to help you research and document your buyer personas.
Now consider what content you will need for each persona, at each stage of the buyer journey. You will need at least three pieces of content per buyer persona – i.e. one piece suitable for each of the three stages (awareness, consideration, decision).
When someone downloads one of those pieces of content, you can make the following assumptions:
Awareness – ‘This interested me, I want to know more about it’
Consideration – ‘I know I have a problem and am looking for solutions’
Decision-making – ‘I am busy researching solutions and vendors before making my decision’
Type of content to use at each stage
Leads will be looking for different things at different stages of the buyer journey and your content needs to reflect this. Here are examples of the type of content you should consider offering:
For the awareness stage, you need anything that will catch the eye and that will work across all the channels you use. It should be light information around a topic, a problem or, perhaps offering some form of general industry insight. We’re talking about an overview piece, rather than a heavy, in-depth article.
For example, on the Lead Forensics website, you’ll find lots of content on our blog, which acts as a great resource, giving insights and information on specific topics mostly around sales and marketing.
By this stage, potential buyers know they have a problem and are considering solutions for it, so this is where you can go deeper. Talk about the solution you are offering and the problem it solves. The type of content that will work here is comparisons, analysis, more detailed industry insights, case studies that focus on specific solutions, before and after scenarios, descriptions of your product, and lots of information on the actual solution.
For example, the Lead Forensics website offers many ‘how-to’ guides and advice articles that can help you with your sales activities in greater detail. Helping teams speed up their sales and improve in this area is one of our core objectives, as that’s what our software does.
Now it’s time to prove you have the competence to deliver on your promises. Here you should be providing detailed case studies, clear pricing information, “what it’s like to work with us” type guides, competitor comparisons, and any other material that will help a prospect to choose you as a vendor.
For example, on the Lead Forensics website, we have plenty of customer success stories and downloads that show prospective customers how our software works.
As well as marketing for these three stages, to become the ultimate lead generation and conversion machine you should be thinking about content that will support all stages of the sale and beyond.
Negotiating a sale
Once a sales rep has made contact with a lead, they will need specialist content. For example, consider putting together vertical information sheets (e.g. for specific industries, or business model types). Any materials you produce need to be clear and precise. And don’t forget about automated emails. Always test different wordings and attachments to see which generates the best results. Revise and retest to find the best option.
Maintaining customer relationships
Once a customer has paid up, it should never be the end. This is where the real power of content marketing can kick in. Build content around your product/service that shows how to make using it even better or easier. Think about training materials, educational content and more case studies. Assure customers they have made the right choice in working with you and after some time, consider what upselling and cross-selling opportunities there may be.
Encouraging fans and brand ambassadors
They may not have personally bought from you but that doesn’t stop someone having value for you as a fan. They will amplify and share your messages, helping to drive new business for you. Again, don’t forget about them in your content plans. Make sure you’re offering them the content they need to be able to spread the word. Launch a partner or affiliate program, or simply provide great, highly shareable posts on social media.
Now you’ve got all the content you need, it’s time to automate the process and start nurturing your leads. You need to figure out your email drip campaigns and workflows. Decide what information is going to be needed and when. Think, if someone then acts on that information, what should they now receive?
How complicated you make the process is up to you, but the possibilities are endless. You could go wild, or just keep it simple. Either way, start with one nurturing campaign, which involves sending out emails at specific time intervals. Review the results and see what you can learn from it. Then start optimizing the entire process. Try different things and see what happens.
Build on these foundations. Start adding in more content and more workflows. Keep testing what you’re doing, analyzing the results and looking at further ways to optimize the process.
Conversion tracking is key to making this all work, as you need to know the path that a lead has taken and what converted them, as well as who did what. If Lead Forensics is your main sales tool then this will be easy. The software can also help flag up when leads may be ready to be passed over to sales.
For example, if you know someone has downloaded your pricing sheet then you can assume they’re deep into the decision-making stage. Whereas, if you find someone is sharing your information on social media a lot, but they’re not doing much else, then they could be part of your fan group.
Knowing who was converted by what is key to figuring out the content you should produce next. It’s always best to get your core content in place first, then start including other topics and track what attracts the most people. Pinpoint what helps convert them.
Finally, use lead scoring to help you build the whole machine and maintain it as you go along, so you can fine-tune and try other things.
The bottom line is, knowing who is at what stage of the buyer or customer journey in a content marketing world, means providing relevant content and judging what their interest level is. Your main goal should always be to run a slick and professional lead generation machine that moves leads along from one stage to the next and don’t forget to always ask for the sale when the moment is right.