Connecting Content Marketing to Sales

How to use content marketing for improved sales enablement is a big discussion point among sales and marketing leaders. Most B2B companies rely on selling by direct sales teams to generate a large percentage of their revenues. For these companies, improving sales performance is a critical business objective, and sales enablement alongside the use of social media is seen as the best method for delivering company revenue goals.

When executed correctly, sales enablement has the involvement of both marketing and sales. Content marketing resources such as research articles, whitepapers, e-books, testimonials, video content and case studies plays a vital role in sales enablement. The marketing department are the ones usually tasked with creating the content assets.

sales-marketing-divided

Does your sales team understand your content strategy?

Research shows there can be a mismatch between the content that marketing produces and the content the sales people need to progress their sales opportunities. The findings included that:

  • Only fifty four percent of sales people and sixty five percent of sales managers understand their company’s content marketing strategy.
  • While 65 percent of sales people and seventy four percent of sales managers say the content their company publishes is valuable to their customers.
  • However, a full fifty two percent of sales people and forty three percent of managers say the content their company publishes helps improve sales effectiveness.

The results show that nearly 50% of sales people do not understand the content strategy. So what is the issue?

b2b-buyers-decision

Lack of Smarketing!! As sales and marketing are not aligned on how a buyer buys. They probably have not mapped out the buyer’s journey together leading to disconnects between the two teams. In fact Forrester reported that one-third of B2B marketing leaders acknowledge that their biggest problem is figuring out how to serve up appropriate content to specific buyers when the time is right.

In your business do sales and marketing define the buyer’s journey differently? Marketing may have segmented the buyer’s journey into 5 or 6 stages.

.Apart from some buying signals on social media (some social selling tools are starting to monitor early stage indicators of buyers journey), most companies see the buyer when they are about to exit the awareness stage and enter the consideration stage. At this point the buyer starts to identify the right people with the answers on how to solve their challenges. They are actively looking for solutions and are self educating by accessing content to help make informed decisions. They are socially active on the social media networks, reading articles, downloading reports, looking for research and interacting with different forms of content to shape their next movement in the buying process.

Social selling engagement and marketing technology can assist a business with this stage to understand and track buyers who are downloading and interacting with your content.

Now buyers move to engage with vendor partners, they will subtly seek out relationships with a select few, ones that can help solve the problems the buyer has identified as being critical.

According to IDC, 75% of B2B buyers use social media to research vendors. The majority of buyers are researching online where they should find you (as a sales individual who they value) and most likely your competitors. The research shows they are looking at product features, reviews, testimonials, pricing and company information. – Source: IDC’s Social Buying Meets Social Selling: How Trusted Networks Improve the Purchase Experience

The buyer has most likely now consumed enough content and the content produced from the companies which have proved they can provide the solutions to the challenges they face.

At the final stage, the buyer will choose a vendor as their preference with maybe one other as backup. If any business is waiting until the vendor engagement stage (which marketing may own up to now) then opportunities are being missed. Forrester has shown that 74% of B2B buyers conduct more than half of their research online before talking to a salesperson. If the content marketing strategy and sales enablement (social selling as an example) do not create value early enough and help guide the buyers journey then potential new customers are being missed.

You can bet that if the sales force feels disconnected from the marketing team, it also goes the other way. The marketing department can be frustrated that the sales teams are not sharing enough content. Maybe the reason is that marketing and sales have not had the conversations to figure out what type of content the buyers respond to at certain points of engagement. Marketing can only produce content to support the revenue goals if they understand the buyer’s journey.

Sales and Marketing Alignment is the solution

Create a revenue team, where sales and marketing come together and developed a unified version of the buyer’s’ journey. Segment the content tactics to mirror your sales pipeline and buyer’s journey. ACD content marketing focuses the type of content created to match the three stages in customer acquisition. These are Awareness, Consideration and Decision.

Awareness content: This is mapped to the buyers why (Why do I have a problem?). This type of content is aimed at top of the funnel where the prospect acknowledges that there is a potential problem that needs a solution.

Consideration content: This reflects the buyers how (How should I solve this?)  Where by consuming more information they have identified what that problem is and who could maybe solve it.

Decision content: Getting the buyer to identify the “who.”(Who has proven they could solve this) They have defined their ideal solution strategy and who they will engage with based on relevancy of data they have accessed.

By mapping the ACD content strategy on the buyers “why” and the “how” will give the sales team earlier opportunities to engage with prospects.

By aligning sales and marketing as a revenue team they can work together to create content that is relevant to buyers to match what stage they are at. The power in connecting content marketing and marketing to sales will create powerful assets that the buyer truly values.

B2B Sales Techniques for a Digital World

The buyer’s journey is changing sales models and how B2B sales teams sell. Sales 2.0 as a sales technique has been around nearly ten years now but still many companies struggle to embrace it. If you are in B2B sales then Forester projects that over the next four years, 1 million B2B sales people will be replaced by self-service e-commerce. Those that want to have a long term career in sales will have to up-skill and move away from transactional selling while companies will have to embrace a sales model along with sales processes that adds value to the buyer’s journey.

b2b-sales

 

One Million US B2B Salespeople Will Lose Their Jobs to Self-Service e-commerce by 2020

The reality is (and numerous research proves it) that increasingly B2B buyers prefer to research solutions online plus then conclude the cycle by buying the products and services via the web. How many companies still insist buyers to engage with their sales teams as part of the buying process? Maybe it’s time for sales leaders to transform the historical sales models, one which facilitates a highly social, seamless buying environment where maybe the website and not the sales teams are at the heart of how companies procure and sell.

So are B2B sales dying? Absolutely not but it does mean we have to recalibrate our view of the sales process and what it means to be a sales professional. The sales funnel is no longer being calibrated and decided by sales as the buyers decides where they are in the process. The good news is that a company’s potential customer base is bigger than ever, thanks to social media, the web and accessibility of communication paths to buyers.

Sales needs to rethink where and how to add value in the buying process, when and with what should sales people engage with the buyer so it improves the buyers journey are critical questions coming down the line. The old sales methodologies of marketing bringing in leads for the sales funnel where sales would then commence the process to qualify prospects based on some internal criteria to narrow down the focus to the most likely to convert to customers is disappearing.

It just does not work like that any more. Buyers are not travelling a journey prescribed in some sales manual or CRM system; they are taking their own journey and leaving sales models in the rear view mirror. But the key message for sales here is NOT about catching up (more sales training anyone) with the buyer’s journey but where along the road can we add value. It is about the buyer needing information, resources, guidance, advice and help depending where they are on the journey,

Below are some suggestions on what it will take to be successful in sales for the road ahead and to add value to the buyer in their journey

b2b-buyers journey

CONTENT TIMING IS VITAL AS BUYERS MOVE ALONG THE ROAD.

According to the Content Marketing Institute, 80% of decision makers prefer to get company information in a series of articles versus advertisements

A recent report from Forrester showed that over 33% of B2B marketers acknowledge that their biggest problem is figuring out how to deliver relevant content to specific buyers when the time is right. I recently wrote about “How to Use Content Marketing the ACD way” which may be worth reading.

IF OVER 66% OF THE BUYER’S JOURNEY IS DIGITAL, MAKE SURE YOU ARE WELL ROAD SIGNED.

If you read up on new sales methodologies or social selling, you have probably read that 67% of the buyer’s journey happens before sales ever get involved. Well this does not have to come true. Yes buyers are doing research online before contacting sales, so smart sales teams should position themselves as helpful signs or stopping of points along the way. Social selling, credible social presence, inviting and quality (even personalised) content will help flag you to buyer’s as they travel in search of solutions.

BUYERS TRUST OTHER TRAVELLERS ALONG THE JOURNEY, SO SALES CANNOT BE STRANGERS HITCHING A LIFT AT THE SIDE OF THE ROAD.

Research shows that only approx. nine percent of B2B buyers trust vendor content especially when it comes to data and claims. So they look for independent signs and also they trust information that comes from people they trust: valued social influencers, social network connections, ex-colleagues and friends. Sales has to work hard to get trust by offering valued contributions, staying in touch with existing buyers and sharing information that helps even when it’s not your own. Avoid the big neon signs about special offers, free coffee for everyone and buy today. Seek first to understand (where is the buyer on the journey) and then let the buyer be understood (what do they expect). A socially engaged sales mentality is a must.

INVITING THE BUYER IN WITH GENUINE HOSPITALITY WILL BE THE MOST PRODUCTIVE.

This is not an outbound V inbound argument, outbound sales will always have a place, it’s just about deciding where to place it! Day was when only cold calling and mass broadcasting was the only way for companies to talk to buyers. Sales 2.0 along with social media have flipped this on its head. In an Aberdeen Group report, they found that on average, the most successful sales firms got sixty percent of marketing leads from outbound marketing, while forty percent came through inbound efforts. However the inbound leads converted at a higher rate. The lesson here is these firms used content and not sales pitches to invite the buyer in regardless of whether outbound or inbound. Be a trusted, helpful resource to the buyer along the journey and not interrupting them is the way to get the attention of buyers.

buyer-stages

SALES AND MARKETING ALIGNMENT

Finally, one last thought. On the buyer’s journey, sales, marketing and customer service are seen as a single entity. The term “Smarketing” has been thrown into the mix as a means to convey that sales, marketing and customer service have to collaborate more closely. All departments working as one will create a deeper understanding of the journey a customer takes to engage with your company.

In the socially connected, social media business world, everything moves at a faster pace and this is driven by the buyer. Any business that hopes to get the attention of the traffic on buyers road then they must understand where the potential buyers are coming from, what they demand along the way, and be wherever they need you to be with the right service.

The Sales Process

The sales process is a repeatable model that a business deploys for the sales teams to follow when moving a buyer from being a prospect, to a qualified lead and on to a paying customer.  This is an introduction to defining what is process could look like for your company.

sales-process

A sales process could be split into segments such as Knowledge, Research and Sales.

Knowledge

Product features and benefits  – Competition

Research

Define target market – Ideal Customer Profile – Sales intelligence on prospects

Sales

Prospecting/Social Selling/Lead Generation
Connecting
Presenting
Closing
Continuation

While the “Sales” element is the implementation aspect of a sales process, incorporating Knowledge and Research ensures a more holistic approach to customer acquisition. The below is a condensed version of how a sales process  template might look.

TYPICAL STEPS IN THE SALES PROCESS

Prospecting

This is the 1st step and involves finding new leads or “lead generation”. Prospecting is based on the research you have completed into potential buyers. Now using this information the sales teams use social selling, content sharing, social networking and any data to tee up the prospect prior to connecting.  Prospecting is not a smash and grab event, it may take weeks or months to build up enough influence with a buyer before a connection is made.

Connecting

This step entails initiating a contact with the set of prospects the sales person has teed up as to understand their business, uncover needs, gather more information, see if a product to prospect fit exists and gauge their potential to move up down the sales pipeline. This step may be played out over several conversations and may include site visits, free trials, free samples, product demonstrations and proof of concepts prior to moving down the pipeline to the presenting step.

Presenting

This step is about formally presenting your proposal or solution. It can include some sort of buyer urgency lever in certain situations. In value based or consultative selling this step can be time consuming, so it should positioned deep into the sales process for well qualified prospects. This step also covers off any objections, hurdles or customer policy adherence. Again, this step may take time and repeated interactions to conclude.

Closing

This step is involves buyer realisation of opting for your offering, concluding any final negotiations or pricing and buy-in of all decision makers.  It most companies it concludes with a Purchase order, signed order or contract.

Sales Process is Different from Sales Methodology

Now that we have covered off the “sales process”, I want to introduce the phrase “sales methodology”. Sales process is different from methodology and here is why.

The sales process (what to do) refers to mapping out specific steps, criteria and list of actions that a sales person must follow including updating the sales pipeline, in acquiring a paying customer.

The sales methodology (how to do it) is the approach or framework given to the sales team via training on how each step in the sales process is expected to be carried out.

Nearly every company needs both, a strong sales process and a sales team trained on the sales methodology which has been proven to deliver success.

sales-process-methodology

Examples of Sales Methodologies

Solution Selling

Solution selling has been around for over 30 years, this method involves needs discovery which then focuses on the customer’s pain points ahead of promoting the company’s products. Products are instead framed as solutions, and emphasis is placed on achieving agreement on what a resolution of the customers’ pain would look like.

Consultative Selling

This method grew out of solution selling, it differs in that consultative selling is centred on the sales person positioning themselves as a “trusted advisor” to the buyer, the premise being that they will gain authority and trust as time goes by in the buyers journey towards a purchase.

The Challenger Sale method

The Challenger Sale method is taken from a book of the same name.  The book outlines some five types of sales peoples profiles, the hard worker, the relationship builder, the problem solver, the lone wolf, and the challenger. The challenger profile was the one matched to high performance in sales. The challenger is characterised by a willingness to invest in learning about a buyers business, then to challenge the customer on their preconceptions (technology adaption, product match, ideal solution) during the sales process.

Social Selling

Social selling can be seen both as a sales model and methodology. It continues to rise in popularity alongside the rapid evolvement of the buyers journey from “being educated” to “self educated”. While not strictly selling, this method is weighted to driving up prospect engagement (with content, white papers, social conversations) by first creating great awareness and then getting buyers to consider the company. This acts as a prelude to direct customer connection.

Sales is a Process, Not an Event

Implementing a sales process with clear steps should result in:

Improved Outcomes. When carried out via a series of set actions, outcomes will improve leading to sales and higher margins.

Repeatable Activity. All sales activities should be repeated and repeatable to obtain the same desired outcome by any sales person time and time again.

Measurable Results. All outcomes that can be measured and compared

Relevant to All. A well mapped out sales process can be duplicated for other units or divisions.

Just having a documented sales process in place will not guarantee anything. Just like looking at someone’s LinkedIn doesn’t lead to a hot lead. Proper and repeated use is what makes the difference.

Regardless of the sales process steps or even the sales methodology you deploy as a company, success in sales hangs on two key locks, the ability to establishing real credibility and the ability to build trust with the buyers. Once your sales model is set up to achieve these two things then revenue will get generated. As buyers are now social in nature (and become digital natives) it is important to understand their journey. It is now all about the buyer as they are in control; they know what they want and when they want it. The key for sales leaders is to make sure that the sales organisations and sales training processes are in line with the buyers signals and expectations.

B2B Marketing Strategies

In the world of B2B marketing strategies, CMO’s and marketing leads are finding out that there is allot more to them than just content and SEO.

Social media marketing companies seem to trot out the well worn lines of, you must create a library full of content, recalibrate your SEO, share the content on the social networks, and HEY PRESTO. Your business will have a flow of low cost inbound leads from buyers interested in buying your product or service. The logic around a content lead strategy for lots of businesses stacks up as the lower cost of an inbound lead against an outbound lead is sizeable, making it attractive to invest in SEO, articles, blogging and content.

b2b-marketing

So it can be easy for any marketer to assume that we all use social media. Most marketing people are active on the social networks as it forms part of marketing tactics and we also have to be up-to-date on latest trends. However, this is not the case for lots of senior business people and buyers. I have worked with lots of CEO’s who do not have profiles on LinkedIn or Twitter. Others in senior positions are not actively engaged with social media to get a result on trying to build awareness for your brand or even social selling tactics.

What lots of social media agencies will never tell you is that an inbound strategy does not work for all market sectors and can be in fact a waste of money, resources and time. For certain B2B companies operating in certain markets or industries, the reality is the target buyer audience can be too small or the products or services too specialised to be worth over investing in SEO, Google Adwords or Content Marketing. If your business is a new or disruptive product then maybe buyers is not yet doing keyword searches on Google for the solutions you sell.

You see most inbound marketing tactics try to hit multiple keywords or topics to engage buyers. Most of these tactics really are inexpensive to tee up and implement but the audience engagement is not an exact science (you can’t stop anyone reading your articles). So it does take some time to refine your tactics to narrow down sell-to leads.

When articles or blog posts are ranked in search engine results, the relevancy to the topic is mainly down to the keywords it has been optimised for. If your target is HR directors in the banking industry in Ireland then content and even paid advertising cannot be specifically targeted at them(you cannot control who reads or clicks). There are exceptions like social selling tools like LinkedIn or Connectors Marketplace where you can specify buyer profiles.

Let me be clear, I am not for one second suggesting B2B marketers should discount social media as part of their marketing strategy. The thing to remember is to keep the purpose and goals in perspective, don’t get carried away by stories, statistics and advice that may or may not be relevant to your business proposition.

To make social media pay, you should:
• Evaluate the social platforms for their fit to your marketing goals
• Can you feed them with quality content and informative articles
• Train up the sales team in social selling so they can use social media to nurture relationships

So when does inbound marketing have limited returns?

  • The buyer is a specific person within that company: If one buyer has the authority to purchase your product with little influence from other stakeholders as it is not a critical purchasing decision (e.g. paper) then it is a challenge to engage this person with inbound marketing alone.
  • The target market is small: When the target prospects are defined by location, company size or a single buyer (see above) in a company, the list of prospects can be very small. My own rule of thumb is if your prospect list is less than 1000 companies then a heavily weighted inbound strategy may only be helpful to raise awareness as the buyer will probably be targeted via sales calls.
  • Disruptive technology or products: Where inbound excels is when the buyer is on a journey of self discovery (reading articles, whitepapers or engaged with social conversations) and where they understand the problem and the solutions. When a product is disruptive in nature a business may have to create demand as few buyers will be seeking out information. Inbound marketing does NOT create demand, it harvest levels of buyer interest based on keyword nets thrown out by marketing content.

The reality is that for some companies, the keyword net on Google searches and the social networks is simply too small to gather enough sales leads. This leaves options like outbound sales and referrals to harvest leads. We know referrals have a high conversion rate but this is not a repeatable sales process. So this leaves outbound selling (combined with social selling) makes for a repeatable, scalable sales process.

As someone who champions inbound marketing, social selling and good old fashioned sales techniques, I have to be frank and say if your products or services meet any of the criteria I wrote about above, then inbound marketing alone as a lead channel will have limited success. So contrary to what lots of social media gurus preach, inbound marketing is only part of the solution and it may not be a lead generation machine to feed sales.

b2b-marketing-strategy-options

So what marketing and sales strategies will work?

Marketing and sales leaders spend endless hours asking and answering this very question, “Where and how do we engage the right prospects?” The good news is there are still lots of options when it comes to reaching B2B prospects.

Embrace outbound prospecting: Hire in sales people who can pick up the phone and prospect AKA cold call. A business can now subscribe to automated lead generation platforms to give you large lists of prospects based on titles, industry and location with full contact details (email and telephone numbers) including social media profiles for social selling engagement. This works great for SaaS companies and companies with defined sales processes.

Still some life in events and trade shows: Attending events can be another way to connect with your target prospects and meet them in face-to-face. This can be a very personal approach that creates trust and builds relationships. The big barrier  is that events cost money, have higher cost per lead, take time to plan and are they cannot scale in any major way.

Industry Webinars: If your own marketing reach is too small to make hosting your own webinar an option, then maybe consider trying to find a market research company, an industry publication or forum or a contact where you can piggy bank on their webinars to get access to their audience. It does take effort but can be a great way to grow a prospect list while providing valuable content to generate more awareness.

Customer Referrals: Some businesses do manage to generate a large portion of their leads via customer referrals and word of mouth. But a note of caution, this tactic is difficult to forecast and scale. Also from a sales process, it is hard to have a programmatic approach to word of mouth referrals. Even formal referral programs usually have low level of leads in certain B2B sectors.

Exposure in publications: Online and print publications are a B2B marketing channel worth exploring. Product reviews, news and interviews can be a great way to reach an audience and connect with prospects

We must all accept that the buyer’s journey is changing. Yes, social media marketing agencies are right when they say business buyers are increasingly relying on social media, social conversations, social reviews and other content as a means of gathering information about vendor solutions. But regardless of what B2B marketing strategy you pursue to generate leads or sales, there is still a huge place for direct human contact via well trained sales people. In the sales process there will always be a place where questions will best be addressed in a personal way especially in higher value deal sizes.

B2B Social Media Strategy

How many small businesses really value a B2B social media strategy as a channel to create awareness and drive customer acquisition? As the social media networks and communities run into millions of business buyers on a journey of discovery the question has to be asked

Is your business maximising the potential of social marketing.

b2b-social-media

I am certainly not the only one who can prove that you can get leads and sales from social media plus measure the success; however some marketing and PR people still are not fully informed on what social media has been able to achieve in the past few years. If any proof was needed I have many examples of B2B focused businesses who have implemented a successful social strategy to engage buyers and drive higher consideration levels for their product or service. Yet many companies still have a very limited exposure or plan on to use social networks to help scale their sales. Is it due to a lack of resources, maybe   not sure of the value or return, maybe you think your business or product does not warrant investing in social, uncertain as to what social media can do or is it just a simple case of unsure as to how to implement a social media strategy?

If you are a business owner selling into a B2B market then maybe it is time to challenge some of your beliefs regarding the power of social. Nearly every business size and type can utilise social networking to boost buyer consideration. As a starting point let us discuss the various buzzwords and concepts we hear mentioned.

What does it mean to be a social business

The words “social media” can conjure up all types of ideas and meanings. While most people will identify or even use platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook, any strategy involving a social element is more than just profiles or getting followers. Being a social business means defining a whole range of actions and goals that match a bigger business. At the heart of it all social marketing is a belief, a concept, and an approach to engaging people for work, pleasure, family, friends or business. There were the ideals from which all platforms were created and I am sure on which new ones will be formed. However it is not limited just to the platforms mentioned above.

b2b-social-media-buyers

Social media allows us to open communication channels, local and global interactions and instantly share information or news across large networks of people.

If we take a wider or bird’s eye view of how social can impact our business then we switch from simply seeing B2B marketing as managing our Twitter account or Facebook page towards really evaluating how much a B2B social media strategy can help our business as a whole from sales to customer support to recruitment. The use of social networks can rapidly improve how we communicate both internally and to the external market which can open up all types of possibilities that go beyond the traditional view of what social media does for a business.

Let me give you a powerful example as to what social media can achieve.

The Ice Bucket Challenge. Just a few short summers ago, we all were throwing buckets of ice over ourselves or over someone else. It all started with someone living with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) to raise awareness for people suffering from it. The idea quickly spread, so fast that the ALS Association made it an official charity effort. This fun activity, shared by so many of social media raised over $115 million for the charity. It resulted in over one million related videos on Facebook videos and got over two million mentions on Twitter.

Now I’m not suggesting business owner’s start throwing buckets of ice over their heads but I am using this example as a reason to encourage anyone involved in B2B sales or marketing to think broader about social. Even a small change in how we view things can bring a big change in what we prioritise.

There are many ways to extract value from the social networks

b2b-buyers-journey

There are many ways in which the networks can help those in a B2B market to achieve their goals. A common issue I still find is that many B2B businesses still do not fully understand how social media can help them.

Most social media strategy plans are centred on using social to engage directly with a target audience. As a business network, LinkedIn is proving to be really effective for B2B sales and for social selling. As how sales teams prospect for new customers evolve then LinkedIn will increase in value for how sales people research and engage potential customers.

Now I hear you say, “OK apart from LinkedIn where else can I use social media in a B2B sales environment?” Well, it may surprise you but a business can use Twitter, Facebook, Owler, Crunchbase, Medium, Google+, Pinterest, WordPress and Blogger to drive buyer engagement. This list is not exhaustive. The value in B2B social media can be found in SEO, in readership, in views, in reviews, in referrals, in content found and shared, for data in social conversations, in buyer’s profiles, in social data and in potential buyer contact details.

There are tens if not hundreds of industry forums, interest groups and social business groups which can be tapped into to increase awareness for your business. Also think about what you can get out not just about what you have to put in (content, articles, information news). Does your strategy involve using the networks to source emails, telephone numbers, conference attendees, competitor analysis, event details, buyer likes and interactions?

Social Media Strategy is not an option

It is a must have. The world and buyers are changing how we source vendors. The average life expectancy of a company is now approx. fifteen years. Due to the impact the internet has on all our lives whether consumer or business means the world is moving fast and faster. As social media becomes more and more accessible on mobile, TV and devices while time poor buyers turn to it to self discover for purchasing decisions, then not engaging with it can leave you at a disadvantage.

Now is the time for B2B companies to really make social a key part of not only their digital strategy but their overall business strategy.

Social Data in Sales

Social Data Trumps People in Sales

Today, big data and the use of social data in the sales process trumps people. The reality is that due to changing buying cycles, more educated buyers and the use of social media to source and inform, most sales managers if given the choice between an exceptionally talented sales person or a highly accurate database with deep social insights, then data will trump people nearly every time.

This article is not suggesting for one minute that a sales manager should stop searching or recruiting great sales talent to his or her team. However no matter how good a sales person is, the benefits of providing sales teams with the latest social data, detailed profiles, social media insights and the most accurate information available are telling. Because when it comes to sales performance, an average sales person equipped with better data will outperform a talented sales person who has little or poor data every time.

social-data-insights

To sell successfully today, every piece of detail can matter to win over customers, from social media activity to information management, who is connected to whom, what articles do they read, what they talk about on the social networks, who is the gatekeeper and what messaging do the decision makers like. Each answer to these details relies on having accurate data.

Here are more reasons why data and social data are important.

Data Provides Sales Focus

The instant access to data and social media insights saves sales teams both time and hassle, saving hour after hour of a sales person’s time in having to research information like LinkedIn profile, twitter name, email addresses and phone numbers. The market is full of contact databases that make it possible to start with good basic contact details. But in a socially connected business world to generate sales leads the sales teams now need a source for more social data like LinkedIn connections, social conversations, social media insights, articles, and news plus company information.

As the sales teams no longer need to spend thankless hours researching prospects or leads, they can use this time to research the best sales approach. This allows any sales person the opportunity and time to develop a more educated approach when he starts the contact phase in the sales process. Social selling and the use of social data is all about the more relevant information a sales person has on things the buyer or company cares about, the more specific they can be with the sales message.

Social data empowers sales teams with the necessary level of insight to lead nurture and interact with the right person, at the right time, and to convert the lead into a demo, a trial or even a meeting. The use of social insights means sales people will be able to identify the problems that the potential buyers have, and already have a plan formulated on how they will articulate the solution to their problems. Remember buyers today do not buy features, they buy solutions, they buy partners and thanks to social media they are better informed than ever about what solutions they will consider.

social-media-engagement

Social Data Provides Guidance

In the old sales models, a direct line or phone number was gold as it meant sales people could reach the decision-maker. And it is still a valid sales activity as research shows a sales person is more than 46 percent more likely to be successful in selling when they reach a director or VP. But what happens when sales people cannot get to talk to a prospect on the phone to explain the company’s solution. Too many sales teams still hope that a prospect will make a decision to engage with a business based solely on some email communication and what content is published on the website. This can work out from time to time but often leads nowhere.

Still too few sales managers are changing mindsets by teaching their sales teams to look deeper at social selling and using social data from the likes of LinkedIn and Twitter to find prospects or to engage with lead nurturing. No matter where you source your prospect or leads list from, it is crucial the sales teams have the tools, content and data to influence the decision makers. The more data, especially social data a sales team has on the prospects or buyers, the greater the understanding about the true issues the proposed solution they are selling will solve.

Social Data Brings Speed

Social data is way more than some contact information. Today, social selling and social media tools gives sales the ability to access real-time data from the social networks, which helps create a more consistent and sustainable sales process. Using social data allows a business to identify and target specific prospects or accounts that are more likely to buy, and buy sooner (based on social insights or conversations). And because selling with social data returns a higher level of success for the solution being offered, customer churn will likely go down as well. We live in a fast paced sales environment, finding leads and prospects is hard enough without them leaking at the other end of the funnel due to wrong target selection, so social data helps sales to target the right buyers to fill up the sales funnel.

The better trained and educated the sales teams are on social data and social selling; the more a business can fine tune the customer acquisition and development efforts. Companies using these methods accelerate the sales forces ability to acquire new customers and to grow existing clients.

In the digital sales era, social data is king. Investing in social media tools and social selling solutions will only improve the health of a sales organisation plus they are much more cost-effective than having your valuable sales resource spend hours trolling through websites and social networks. Create a culture, mindset and the selling skills around ensuring that your sales organisation is using data to power the sales engine and watch your sales grow. Social data combined with real sales talent with drive revenue growth.

Sales Training Tips

Sales training today focuses allot around the use of sales tools, CRM and how to use the social networks to sell. The sales training tips in this article might help the sales team sell better and faster without the hype or jargon that often surrounds sales training.

Sales Training Bad News

When sales people lack training or not briefed properly on how to use the various sales tools effectively, then companies can spend a lot of time, energy and training resources with zero impact on sales results.

Sales Training Good News

A well structured, social network geared sales training program supported by a culture of learning will cultivate sales team that are willing, eager and ready to use new sales tools and understand the product (s) to market fit.

sales-training-tips

Supporting the Sales Strategy

Most sales management and sales leaders have been to the annual sales strategy meeting where the VP of sales or CEO outlines improving sales performance as a core strategic initiative for the next year, and all departments from marketing to finance are directed to help sales achieve the goals set.

A sudden surge of energy and activity happens to meet the goals and sales objectives. The product team has plans for new and better margin products; marketing has plans to create new content marketing tactics, product positioning, white papers, collateral and lead generation activities that will drive higher volumes of leads to the sales team. Sales management starts to put initiatives in place to optimize sales coverage by region or segment. In fact the entire company is doing their part in supporting the new re-energized sales effort.

Believe it or not but this type of top down directed activity can easily result in costly and wasteful effort that only confuses the sales people and even customers.

It is the gift of any CEO to set strategic goals for sales. Whether they are realistic or stretched it is the role of sales management to ensure sales training and the sales training process reflects the reality of the markets and the buyer’s journey. Even with the new surge in activity around the company, remaining locked –on to sales training that moves the dial on sales behaviour.  This is what will help the sales team meet the needs of customers or buyers in today’s digital influenced world.

The goal of any sales training is to help the sales team to sell more and sell more often. To drive up sales values and drive down the sales cycle the sales behaviours must change, which does require work and constant re-evaluation. However when the sales team is successful in increasing the top line revenue or margin then the rewards are worth the effort.

Most Sales Training Does Not Work.

According to sales research from Forrester:

65% of buyers “almost always” or “most of the time” choose suppliers who work with them to extract value from a vision.

80% of buyers will spend more money with companies who understand their business.

So what does this mean?

85% of buyers now find meetings with sales people from new suppliers ineffective!

56% of buyers say that companies, who understand their business and are focused on helping solve identified problems, are more strategic.

How can your sales organization change behaviour to improve a team’s productivity and help clients see a clear path to value?

Excellent sales training coupled with sales enablement tools (customer insights, social selling tools, big data) can be the cornerstone for companies to hit and exceed the sales targets and fulfilling the buyer’s needs.

social-media-strategy sales training

SALES TRAINING TIP 1

Too often the vast majority of sales training centres on a one time event. This could be new sales hire on boarding or else maybe at the annual sales kickoff. Then the sales people are back in their sales roles and focused on generating revenue, meeting or exceeding sales targets.

The results for this type of sales training programs speak for themselves; sales teams who participate in ongoing sales training are more effective than those sales teams who receive occasional training. Why? Research shows 84% of sales training content is forgotten within thirty days, so ongoing training ensures the sales teams are buyer ready as they engage with customer conversations.

Sales people receive an average of 31.5 hours of training a year, and 63% of sales people say it is not enough and in employee surveys state that the biggest need for investment within their company is ongoing coaching. Source: Association for Talent Development

Also the employee surveys also point out the need for updated training materials. 62% of training sales professionals say their companies sales training materials should be updated every 3-6 months in keep pace with developments, but 42% of sales trainers say that their sales training content gets updated only once a year.

As the buyers journey is changing rapidly and impacting the purchasing cycle, leaving the sales training program the same for a year or more creates a vicious cycle: outdated sales messaging can cause confusion to the sales team causing sales to be out of the loop when trying to engage buyers for the products and services being sold.

Sales like sport works on “practice makes perfect” and ongoing training bridges the knowledge gap between yearly sales kick-offs and daily job performance. Due to the impact of the social networks on the buying process, data shows that many sales teams are coming into the buyer’s journey too late and with unsuitable solutions. For a sales person being knowledgeable about a company is just one part of sales training, the other part is communicating the sales messages and having the skills to get the sale by getting in front of the buyer early. This is where new sales tools, like social media lead generation, data insights and social selling are helping sales teams get buyer ready. Growth focused companies are blending ongoing sales training with the latest sales tools.

Any and all sales managers should step up the effort for ongoing and updated sales training. As few as 32% of companies describe their sales training programs as “effective” and 48% of sales trainers state their companies sales training content is not engaging. In fact 25% of sales trainers say the training content does not match the sales teams need for multi-channel selling. The sales training tip is to improve ongoing training, improve content and improve knowledge.

SALES TRAINING TIP 2

Do not substitute sales training time by just providing more sales enablement tools. Sales enablement is all about arming the sales team with tools to improve sales execution and drive revenue. Sales enablement tools and content sharing tools are now valuable resources that help sales move the selling process along. Sales enablement tools are now an essential part of the selling kit but just equipping people with tools is not enough.

Sales enablement tools are designed to give sales people the ability to engage buyers in valuable and relevant conversations based on data gathered. But true sales success is more than a great set of tools. When the sales teams are not properly trained and not skilled in using the sales tools appropriately, companies can invest a lot of time, resources and money to accomplish little return.

So think “cart and horse” or “car and fuel”, it takes one to move the other. Ongoing and regular sales training builds the knowledge and skills that when combined with sales enablement tools will build an effective sales team.

It is the responsibility of the whole company to enable the sales team. So without the resources to an ongoing sales training program, any strategic sales initiative is likely to end up another top down directed activity with limited sales metric improvement.

Marketing Companies in Dublin Guide

Marketing companies in Dublin or anywhere in Ireland offer a menu of services from digital marketing,SEO, social selling, content marketing to social media strategy. This guide is aimed at the business owner to ask what skills do they expect to see before deciding to working with one of the many marketing companies in Dublin or anywhere.

Social networks and the rise of social selling has changed the marketing game completely for business’s. Business has become smarter,faster, cheaper  with slower and expensive business models struggling. The lines dividing sales, marketing, advertising and public relations have disappeared with sales people needing to be able market and marketing people needing to sell.

Before engaging with a marketing company, when it comes to digital marketing there are some amazing do-it-yourself marketing tools that entrepreneurs or small business can use if they so choose. However, to successfully execute a social media marketing strategy or to implement a content marketing lead social selling strategy a business just may need some help. But they most likely will not need help from a bloated marketing agency still using old-school tactics.

digital-marketing

A Guide to engaging with the marketing companies.

Partnership not an Outsourcing Relationship.

There are lots of agencies and marketing consultants offering social media and digital marketing services. But does the potential client know exactly is being offered and what should be offered based on the needs of the business?

Will the agency assist with quality content creation? Can an agency source relevant articles and other content for the business segment to share on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc? (this is at the heart of social selling). Can an agency suggest social influencers or people to follow? Can an agency set up a tweeting plan? Does the agency know when/how to post content on the social networks? Can they recommend blogs and forums the business should be participating in/on?

marketing-strategy

It is important your marketing partner can “be you” and act like you online. They don’t see themselves as some outsourcing operation looking for a day rate. They may be required to form relationships with prospects and engage in communication that looks like it is coming from the CEO. Any business needs to build relationships and trust in the social networks and on the web in order to raise the awareness level for its product or service. By only raising the awareness levels cost-effectively can a business start getting considered (expressed in inbound leads, web traffic etc) so the marketing partner most likely has to participate in achieving the business goals .

Speed to Market

Social networks and the digital channels move at lightning speed, and any marketing agency needs to have the ability to adapt and keep up with the pace. They need to be active in real time. It is vital that agencies rev up the speed factor so that they move as quickly as buyers or consumers do.

Buyer Behaviour Knowledge

The agency needs to understand the science of how people (B2B or B2C) behave online and across the social networks to increase awareness, clicks, engagement, and views. Do you prioritise white papers or product articles, lead with thought leadership or informative content? The marketing partner needs to have proven experience and delivered results in the science of digital marketing.

Industry Expertise

Many if not most marketing companies have a wide client base and dabble in several industries. Any good marketing partner will invest the time in becoming a “subject matter expert” so they can really impact on a businesses digital marketing plans. So look for a marketing company that will take the time to learn about the industry you are trying to acquire customers in and win sales in.

Flexibility and Adaptability

The whole digital marketing landscape and channels keeps changing and evolving. What worked a few years back or even last year many not necessarily work today, and what worked today to boost SEO or web traffic might not work well in a few months. The best skill a business might look for in a marketing professional is the ability to adapt to change and the ability to speed up the tactics.

Creative Content Marketing

Any marketing company will claim to how to produce “content,” but what a business needs is someone who can create quality, engaging content that gets views plus has been keyword crafted to be indexed highly by the search engines. Content marketing which drives social selling and to a large extent SEO is still a relatively new field and the experience and expertise has not become mainstream. Remember when it comes to social media marketing or content marketing, buyers and consumers on the social networks will tune out fast to the over-abundance of posts, so it is vital a business has engaging content that stand outs.

Buyer Motivation Research

In a fast paced business environment it is not enough to just throw some ads or well-crafted messages at an audience. Digital marketing and social media successful engagement is about understanding as much as possible the things that interest buyers and why. By understanding the buyers journey, influence points and carefully researching the target audience, a marketing company must be able to more effectively craft sales messaging and marketing campaigns.

This is a an exhaustive guide to working with marketing companies but hopefully it might help a business ask some questions to find a marketing partner to deliver their business goals.

The Bitter Business is a sales and marketing strategy partner based in Ireland. We help companies Grow.

SEO Google results update for Ireland

This is The Bitter Business report on our SEO Google results in Ireland for the keywords we have targeted for sales and marketing services as of June 2015. Most of the links showing up in search results are just between seven months down to a few months old with more to follow.  The SEO search engine results for the keywords below are for Google.ie.

An encouraging observation I would comment on is that some of the results below proves with carefully selected titles and content, within smaller market niches and territories the SERP results can be quicker to materialise.  Some of the results I am happy and have even exceeded my expected results while others are still climbing but not as fast as I had projected. Still goes to show that despite my scientific approach to SEO there is still some things I haven’t figured out.  However I continue to learn what works and what does not when it comes to trying to get higher rankings for selected keywords. Always happy to share these if you drop me an email.

 

Keywords                                            Position on Google.ie                                           Link Age

Sales and marketing services                     No.1                                                                         7 months

Sales and marketing company                   No.11                                                                       7 months

Customer acquisition strategy                   No.7                                                                         7 months

Customer targeting                                      No.6                                                                         3 months

Social selling                                                  No.8                                                                         1 month

Social selling tips                                          No.1                                                                          1 month

Lead Generation                                           No.20                                                                       4 months

Sales Techniques                                          No.6                                                                          4 months

Social media marketing plan                      No.15                                                                        2 months

LinkedIn Lead Generation                          No.6                                                                          1 month

Business mentoring                                     No.15                                                                         4 months

Business Consultant                                    No.19                                                                         3 months

Sales Outsourcing                                        No.6                                                                           4 months

 

These are not all the keywords I have targeted, some like the keyword “sales team selling” show up on 1st page(very small exact keyword searches here)  but other more focused and competitive keywords like “social media marketing” (highly competitive) have yet to show up in any meaningful way.

seo-steps

I have noticed a correlation between article lengths and search results with articles over 1000 words doing best. Also long tail keywords with articles written with this keyword in mind can show up on the 1st page of Google results. A keyword like “Social Selling Tips”, this article is only 1 month old but currently occupies the top results for this searched term on Google.ie.  Also when it comes to link building (important when promoting your content marketing) I have narrowed it  down to about 12 to 14 sites that Google rate, so posting your article on these social media or social linking sites is what will give your articles the boost to climb up the search rankings.

The biggest lesson I have learnt over the past few years (I have got a few sites with multiple keywords to top 2 and 3 results on Google.com –USA) is there is no magic formula when it comes to SEO in Ireland. It is about content; keyword focused content, content marketing (sharing and linking) and plain old fashioned grunt work to ensure your articles are posted to the 12 to 14 social sites I believe Google rate.  Update this again in December 2015.

Social Media Marketing Strategy

This is a seven step guide to creating a social media marketing strategy to reach more customers and drive greater on-line awareness for your brand or product. For a business to really capitalise from social media, it needs to build a clear strategy that takes into account what are the goals, what are you trying to achieve, who are the target customers are and what is the competition is doing.

Social media marketing can be defined as the use of blogs, articles and content marketing, white papers, video and images to share on social networks to raise awareness to pull in the web traffic and prospects

social-media-strategy

 

1st Step; Understand your social media goals

As with any planning in business, the first thing anyone needs to do when creating a social media marketing strategy is to understand what you want to get from it?. What are the goals (traffic, leads, likes, buyers, SEO) so you know the purpose of your social media efforts. For some businesses it is to do with creating or raising awareness of a brand or product. For some companies the focus will be on generating leads, increasing sales or driving website traffic. Larger companies many look to social media to build customer loyalty, increase community size or use as a communication channel. The key point here is the goal for your social media strategy has to go beyond simply gaining Facebook likes and Twitter followers.  The above examples are only a few areas a business could focus on, but depending on your resources a business should ideally focus on one primary or one secondary goal. Remember if you do not have goals, targets and measures of success then in all likelihood you are not going to accomplish any meaningful results from social media activity.

2nd Step; Create measurable targets and objectives

The second step is to now set clear targets and objectives based on the goals you have set. Remember the “S.M.A.R.T” method, so make sure your social media goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time based.

Let us take the example of a business with a social media goal focused on increasing sales, then you might decide that the target is to generate an additional fifty on-line leads a month via landing pages, whitepaper or eBook downloads. If on the other hand, the goal set is to create brand awareness, then a target could the number of times your brand is mentioned on the social media networks per month. Also worth noting at this point, your goals, targets and objectives for social media should be directly tied to overall business goals, and they should be achievable. Goals without targets, actions and activities are just wishful thoughts. It is important to make sure the objectives are time limited. For example, you need to achieve a 100 percent growth in on-line leads generated within the next six months, not at some vague point in the future.

social-media-effectiveness

Now that you have set the targets and objectives you need to make sure you can measure them. There are lots of social media tools to track and analyse activity and quantify your progress. These tools like Klout, Google Analytic, TweetDeck, Buffer or Social Mention to name a few, can let you know when your progress plus they will also help you to identify any trends early and adjust your activities if you have to.

3rd Step; Customer targeting – who do you sell to

So now, the goals, targets and objectives have been set so now you know where you are going, so all set, right?, well no because you still do not know how you are going to get there. You see a successful social media strategy is all about customer targeting, reaching the right people with the right messages. To do this, a business needs to understand “who do you sell to”. For example, there is no point in targeting everyone who has an interest in sport if you really want to target only those who are cycling enthusiasts.

The best way to do this is to draw up a buyer profile. What does the profile of your ideal customer or buyer look like? Make it personal and give them a name. Where do they work? How old are they? What social networks are they likely to be on? What is their income? How often do they cycle (as in above example) Do they have children? What brands do they like or dislike? What motivates them? The list of detail goes on. If you find that you have more than one ideal customer or buyer profile then create a persona for each.

social-media-planning

4th Step; Monitor the competition

As social media activity is mostly transparent, monitoring your competitions activity will tell you a lot about what works and what does not. After all, you are all targeting the same customer set. By constantly monitoring the competition, you have a fantastic opportunity to learn from their activity and actions.

This fourth step involves researching your competitors, maybe select ones your own size, in similar locations and some of the big ones. Find out what social networks they are active on, study their content (articles, case studies, whitepapers, videos, promotions, links). Is it direct or educational? What kind of industry references do they use? Do they talk about their product, markets, industry or brand and what if any other things do they focus on (events, discounts, and webinars)?

If for example you sell bicycles, do your competitors talk about how their bicycle brands perform in races or do they post cool cycling videos that just happen to include their bicycle range? Now see how well each competitor is doing on the social networks (followers, connections, mentions, comments, shares, likes) they get on their social media pages like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn. This should give you a good insight into what social strategies work and which ones do not.

5th Step; Develop your content marketing messaging

OK, now that you have an ideal customer or buyer profile plus insights on your competition, next up on the list is to start developing your social media messaging. This is your top line titles and key messaging you want to share (writing the detailed content comes later); a list of key messages that you think will create awareness with your customers or buyers based on the profiles you have created in step 3. A suggestion is to target three or four buzzwords or better still “Keywords”, then break each keyword down into longer tail keywords so you build up a messaging plan.

Based on monitoring your competition a lot can be gained from adopting some of their successful messaging ideas and blending them with your own unique messaging that sets you apart — this has the effect of creating a unique voice in social conversations. Be creative, daring, controversial and educational as social media activity should be exciting, not dull.

6th Step; Select the social media channels

Depending on whether your business is B2B or B2C you will need to choose the right networks that are worth investing in for the products or services.

Most of us would agree that LinkedIn is a good platform to target for business buyers or business type sales while Pinterest would be better if a business is involved with retail or fashion. Some of these channels are obvious when you look at your buyer profiles and competitors but see if any other social media channels could pay dividends like Blogger, Scoop.it, Tumblr, Plurk, and Instagram.

As part of this exercise you should identify social influencers, these are the people who can help reach your target audience. Social influencers and respected bloggers have high levels of trust in their followers or readers and can be indispensable in creating social chat buzz around your brand.social-media-networks

7th Step; Build a content writing and sharing plan

The last but critical step is you need to develop a strong content writing plan based on your target keywords, you need to write and share (not just your own) engaging material. The content needs to align with your overall marketing messaging as in step 5 and be relevant to the social channels you will use. Content marketing is more than promotional blogs or product information; it has to add real value in the buyer’s journey to create awareness and consideration for your business within the audiences. Also if possible try not just stick to one type of media or theme, mixing videos, helpful guides, research papers,  images, info graphics, news and other formats will engage your potential customers far more effectively.

A golden rule to go with your seven step social media strategy is “Content marketing has to be constant” meaning a constant presence with great content across your chosen social media channels. Heed this note, every social media strategy can only be successful if you have an ongoing presence on social media networks, and that entails sharing fresh engaging content on a regular basis.

Sales Strategy – Inbound Sales – Digital Sales Transformation – Social Selling – Sales Training

Sales training and digital sales transformation including social selling strategy training in Ireland.