This is a guest post by Justin Gray, CEO of LeadMD. Gray has emerged as strong voice for marketing automation and conversation marketing with 13 years of experience in the industry.
For the first time in history, consumers are in the driver’s seat when it comes to making purchases. Social media, review sites, peer networks—all of these resources are at the fingertips of buyers, enabling them to obtain information and comparison shop on their own time and at their own pace.
Thanks to these technologies and innovations, today’s buyer now expects instant gratification from companies in the form of content, social media response and readily available information they can access whenever it works with their schedule.
Interestingly, this has become true of both B2B and B2C customers. No one wants to spend time on the phone to speak to someone, or fill out a form and wait to be contacted. Any delay in gratification is likely to push them to the nearest competitor until they find a company that understands how they want to be communicated with.
This shift in consumer power has altered something else: the once-linear customer lifecycle. Once, buyers followed a pretty straight path to purchase:
Awareness > Familiarity > Consideration > Purchase > Loyalty
But smart marketers have recognized that the change in consumer behavior means their marketing tactics must change as well. Consumers not only expect instant information, but they also expect an enjoyable customer experience. So instead of ending the cycle at purchase and crossing one’s fingers that a periodic phone call or marketing effort will retain their business, savvy marketers are bending the lifecycle into a circle. They know that a constant cycle of compelling marketing messages will keep customers’ engagement at a consistent pitch.
The New Buying Experience
Global consulting firm McKinsey has been following this trend for years. Back in 2009, they created their own model for what the modern buying experience looks like now.
1. Initial Consideration
Buyers begin to consider a set of brands, usually based on a recent touchpoint or general awareness.
2. Active Evaluation
The buyer will research top picks, learning about each company’s offerings, finding reviews, looking at social media and soliciting feedback from others.
3. Moment of Purchase
It’s time for the buyer to select a company and make a purchase.
4. Post-Purchase Experience
A customer’s engagement with you doesn’t (or shouldn’t) end after a purchase. This is the moment when your interaction can set the tone for how their entire experience with you will be viewed, and for determining whether or not a referral and/or repeat purchase will be on the horizon. Be aware that this isn’t just about loyalty, it’s about creating a positive, ongoing customer experience.
From the fourth step, this is where it’s beneficial to loop customers back into your marketing by continuing to actively engage them with high-value messaging and content. For their next purchase, they still may go through steps one through three, but hopefully, if you’ve done your job well as a marketer, those decision points become shorter and easier as you stand out as the clear choice. What’s more, satisfied buyers net other satisfied buyers. Advocates are worth many times their own weight in revenue. Remember, no one likes change; if you can motivate your customer to continue buying from you and to share the experience with their friends, they probably will.
So now that you understand how the modern consumer buys, let’s look at how you can market to them effectively at every point in the purchase lifecycle.
Content, Content, Content
Good content marketing is all about—say it with me now—delivering the right message to the right person at the right time via the right channels.
Gleanster Research has found that about 50 percent of leads are qualified but not yet ready to buy. And that makes sense when we look back at McKinsey’s model and what we know about the modern buyer: it’s all on their terms. Buyers will let you know when they’re ready for more direct contact with you and when they’re close to making a purchase decision. How? By increasing their engagement with your marketing initiatives.
And this is where the magic combination of content and marketing automation comes in. Marketing automation has always been around, but until recently, was priced out of the reach of anyone but enterprise-level companies. Now, the market is filled with affordable providers, so businesses of every size can benefit from these powerful tools.
Develop a Strategy
Your customers have different needs depending on where they are in the buying cycle. Someone who just discovered you thanks to a banner ad or Google search will respond to different content than someone deep in the evaluation phase.
Begin by developing a map of the purchase cycle and identifying each point along the way where a lead will benefit from receiving content from you. These are not one-off communications, but rather sequences of messages that build on one another to bring that person closer to a purchase. Some examples:
Educational Content – A good way to draw in new leads. Educational content is content that positions you as a thought leader or industry expert, such as white papers, articles, webinars, etc. Once someone requests a piece of content, continue to market to them by promoting content on similar topics.
Product Content– Maybe someone has requested information on a landing page, or got into your database by attending an event. These people are interested in your company and want to learn more, but are likely early in the research phase. Send a series of communications that introduce your products or services with increasingly more detailed information.
Deep Decision-Making Content– This is for leads who are qualified enough to be in touch with your sales team, but perhaps have a longer decision cycle or have others involved in the process. They know who you are and what you offer, and are now looking for deeper content that will help solidify the decision to choose you. Work with your sales team to develop a content series that addresses the information most requested at this point.
Creating a content map is a time-consuming and somewhat laborious task, but it’s essential you see the whole picture before you begin building campaigns in your marketing automation system. Seeing the full scope will help you identify gaps at the outset rather than scrambling to fix them later.
Close the Loops
The examples in the previous section are all examples of nurturing content, thoughtful messaging that both educates and builds trust over a period of time. No one likes a hard sell, especially the modern consumer.
Effective nurturing can have a remarkable impact on your conversion rates and sales numbers. An Annuitas Group study found that businesses that use marketing automation to nurture prospects experience a 451 percent increase in qualified leads, and nurtured leads make 47 percent larger purchases than non-nurtured leads.And, those leads cost less to get—companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50 percent more sales-ready leads at 33 percent lower cost (Forrester Research).
To develop effective nurturing content that addresses consumer needs, be sure to ask these questions:
- Where is the lead coming from? What is the source?
- What are they looking for at this point?
- What will they want to learn or do next?
As you develop your content, it’s important to remember that no content sequence should ever truly end—everyone should be fed into some kind of content loop that keeps your business in front of them. Made a purchase? They should go into a training or upsell loop. Told sales they aren’t ready to buy? Keep nurturing with periodic updates on new features or special promotions. Finished a short-term nurturing cycle without engaging enough to move to sales? Put them in a longer-term series with case study content.
The buying cycle is a never-ending circle, so your content should be as well. Just don’t be annoying about it. Make sure you’re thinking strategically about what and how much content leads and customers get.
If you’re an organization with a sales team, the lead scoring tools in your marketing automation system are an invaluable way to keep customers moving along the buying cycle in a way that makes sense to their decision-making process.
Lead scoring allows you to assign point values to different types of actions, to help you better determine which leads are more qualified and likely to make a purchase. Content ties in closely with lead scoring, as criteria often includes actions like opening emails, clicking links and requesting multiple pieces of educational content.
Remember, modern buyers wants to advance through the cycle at their own pace, so rushing them into sales just to try and make your quotas is likely to backfire. An intelligent scoring system along with strategically developed content will follow and encourage buyers along their path.
Don’t Forget to Be Social
Consumers are looking for information about you, so make sure you have a presence everywhere they might look. Get on social media and actively engage with people. Don’t just use social as a “well, we should have a presence, so here we are” tactic. That’s not doing you or your potential customers any favors and is more likely to contribute toward a negative perception of your brand.
Consumers look at social channels early in the evaluation stage, so failing at engagement here could mean you’re out of the running before you send a single piece of marketing messaging.
As the consumer buying cycle has changed, so has the way marketers reach them. Both have come full circle: customers demand a consistent, comprehensive customer experience that caters to them; and marketers have embraced technologies and tactics that help them serve the customer at every point along the circle. Be strategic, thoughtful and customer-centric, and customers will reward you with their dollars.
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