At a recent event, I was asked by the Boston Business Journal to comment about trends in technology that may impact the Boston metro area in this difficult economic cycle. I described two competing trends – a positive macro trend we see around the seismic shift in spending from traditional media to digital media and a negative micro-trend of increasing day-to-day pressure on spending on current marketing programs. The overall macro trends support a move toward digital media and new marketing strategies which help drive down the costs of marketing, sales and lead generation and enhances relationship selling throughout the buy-sell cycle. Traditional marketers offer strong brand identity and creative thinking, but we need more linkage between marketing and sales and better systems to synchronize with the sales process. We need to embrace the principles of permission marketing and “opt-in” lead collection that are tightly aligned with the buy-sell process.
So what are the strategies?
Here are six steps you can take to build an integrated sales and marketing program “on steroids”:
First, understand audience. Starting with the existing customer base, segment your audience (customers and target customers) into logical groups and align the marketing approach to each segment. Understand what each of the audience segments really want so you can tailor your content and better connect. We recognize a shift in power from the company to the customer and need to recognize that the customer now has controls at his/her fingertips. The customer expresses their intentions every time they go online and type in key words into a search engine. You can educate this audience in a very crowded space. Begin by mapping audience segments to understand their needs.
Second, align marketing to the sales cycle. Each individual will be at a different stage in their personal buying life cycle. Align your marketing channels and strategies to each stage of the buy-sell cycle. Here is a typical buy cycle: explore… learn… interact… review… acquire… use. Map communication channels and strategies to the buying cycle: attract… engage… educate… transact… fulfill… support… Spend most of your face-to-face time and money on the later stages of the buy-sell cycle and use digital channels to nurture opportunities in the early stages of the buy-sell cycle. I call this a Nurture Program.
Third, embrace new media. New media helps engage an audience with quality interactions and compelling experiences. These strategies drive influence at a lower cost. The audience can “opt-in” to the conversations qualifying themselves as interested in solutions. New media will also enhance awareness and “buzz” by accelerating conversations across the social web. Outreach to bloggers and engage in forum discussions where your products and services are being considered. Use Webinars, Twebinars, and YouTube videos to deliver content that reflects your expertise or value and build a brand identity. For selected audience segments, offer a velvet rope community – a tailored private channel of conversation and information delivery tailored to the unique interests of the targeted audience. Use these channels to build a special relationship with this invite-only audience and keep this segment tightly connected to your brands and offerings. Careful, we can only participate in a finite number of social and collaborative networks, so you may need to determine whether to build your own community or engage in one that already exists – or both. With your own community, you can build strong relationships – just set the right expectations about the level of engagement you should expect.
Fourth, use digital channels to nurture your audience. Your web site(s) should engage users with usable content and be visible to the search engines based on your key words. Sites and landing pages must be optimized and have conversion points so that your visitors can easily “opt in” to engage in a dialog about areas of interest. Blogs offer more dynamic and current content and increase the visibility and relevance of your area of expertise. I wrote a blog post two weeks ago and my post was on the first page of Google search results for the key words “application rationalization:. You also need to embrace the mobile web by ensuring your site is WAP enabled – and if it makes sense for your business, build an iPhone or Blackberry application!
Fifth, don’t give up on face-to-face. Digital does not and should not replace the value of face-to-face interactions with your community. Events and meetings are an effective way to build a network, provide education, nurture opportunities and develop sales leads. Just like a visit to your web site, a registration at an event is a declaration of intent. Your goal is simply to deliver on that intent no matter what part of the buy-sell cycle the individual is on. Provide education, engage in a business discussion, and convert the opportunities. The key is to deliver a compelling event experience end-to-end.
Sixth, gain audience intelligence with data management. You need to understand your audience yet traditional CRM methods are outdated. CRM is limited to your “known” audience of prospects and customers. CRM is being replaced by what we call Market Relationship Management. Today, you need to understand the broader market – the complete audience of known and registered community and those that are connecting to your brand through social media sites and RSS subscriptions. You may not have all the details for this wider audience, but an effective listening and intelligence platform will give you needed insights about the sentiments in the social web. You can use this data and historical trends to target in more effective ways. By linking these systems to your sales process, you will be in a position to focus your sales energies on the audience members that have chosen to engage in conversations with you – these are your most qualified opportunities. In summary, for full disclosure, I am Red Sox fan, so perhaps I am not the biggest A-Rod fan. However, I do like “steroids” when it comes to accelerating a marketing strategy. If you embrace a digital strategy that ties marketing more closely with the sales process and engage the wider social web to nurture your audience intelligently – your sales with increase and costs will go down. Good luck and good selling..!