How to Target Content Marketing

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Content marketing continues to be an effective Inbound Marketing strategy for Freelancers and other business leaders who seek to interest and engage potential clients, nurture relationships with current clients, demonstrate an understanding of client concerns and generate leads that have a healthy possibility to convert to sales.

Yet according to sales and marketing experts, fewer than 50% of those who claim to be evaluating a product or service purchase are ready to buy. Therefore, the job of business leaders/ owners and Freelancers is to move prospects through the buyer’s journey, also known as the sales funnel, and toward the sale.

Recall if you will the shape of a funnel—wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. The shape of a funnel reflects to the buyer’s journey.  Early in the search for a solution, would-be clients search for information. Many are window shoppers. Others are more serious. They explore options, compare prices, clarify their needs and confirm their budgets. Eventually the most serious shoppers become fewer in number as they acknowledge their must-haves and narrow their choices down to a short list of sellers (i.e., businesses).  Only a relative handful buy make a purchase. 

Let’s examine the typical buyer’s journey and understand how inbound marketing can function to encourage the sale along the way.

Tofu: Top of Funnel 

This stage signals awareness and potential prospects are searching for information.  Content here will cast a wide net, to attract the attention of all those who are searching for insights, opinions, research and other data in their early stage and education process. Just as you may scan rating sites such as Yelp or Trip Advisor when searching for a hotel or restaurant, Tofu tier leads get familiar with your products and services through your blog, newsletter and social media postings.  It’s too early to present a call-to-action appeal, which could be a turn-off at this point. In general, the value of Tofu leads is low.

Nevertheless, your objective is to peel off the most promising leads and move them into the next tier.  Achieve this aim when you offer a 15 minute free consultation, announce a podcast or webinar in which you’ll be featured to discuss a topic relevant to your typical clients, or extend an invitation to download an e-book that you’ve written, gratis. Those who register for these extras are making a commitment, to an extent, to your business.  Furthermore, they must share their name and email contact as they register. They will progress to Mofu.

MoFu: Middle of Funnel 

You now have a qualified lead. The prospect is real and has acknowledged that a problem that must be solved in the near term.  Your prospect must evaluate  which of the available solutions might be the best fit?

Content at this tier must continue to educate, but the approach will become more specific, to position your company as capable and trustworthy, prepared to deliver the right solutions and solve problems.  Here, content explains why your solution and approach to problem-solving are the best fit. Examples of your ability to understand client concerns and priorities, as well as provide the best solution, can be illustrated in white papers, case studies, or (video) testimonials.

This tier is often considered the most critical because prospects will either agree to move forward and approve the sale or decide you’re not the one based on the information  presented.  Demonstrate expertise, establish trust and build relationships here.  Flash the power of your brand by dropping the names of a marquis client or two.

On the other hand, if it becomes apparent that you are not the best fit for a client, be upfront and make that known. You always want to provide the optimum customer experience that leads to good word of mouth and avoids churn (see last week’s post).

BoFu: Bottom of Funnel

Here is where the buyer confirms his/her decision to do business with your organization and the actual sales process can begin.  According to research featured in Forbes Magazine in 2013, many prospects get 60% – 70%  through the buyer’s journey before they care to speak with a sales representative.

There may be no content offered at this stage, but time-sensitive special offers can make a big difference.  Your prospect is ready to buy but there is still no guarantee that s/he will buy from you.  Here you give a little nudge, a sweetener, as you present your call-to-action, at last.

Depending on whether your business is B2B or B2C, tangible product or intangible service, you may offer a modest discount to buy now (or within 24 hours).  You might offer a tantalizing (and inexpensive to provide) upgrade or add-on to what the prospect has indicated s/he would like to purchase.  Free or discounted installation and a free trial are also effective.  Art galleries have been known to allow serious prospects to take an artwork home so that they can live with it for 10 days.

Inbound Marketing is lots more work than tried-and-true Outbound Marketing, where you scrape together some money and place an advertisement or two in target publications, or distribute flyers in certain zip codes, and hope for the best. Outbound Marketing still works, but Inbound Marketing is how to highly target your marketing campaigns and receive the highest ROI.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: A 13th century Ottoman (Turkish) horseman draws his bow. Artist unknown.

Marketing Meets Sales: Selling to Inbound Marketing Callers

Inbound Marketing matters, to your top line revenue and your client list.  Other than “selling” Girl Scout cookies to Mommy and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, there’s no better sales opportunity than a prospect who dials your number and asks about what you sell.  Do not even think about flubbing this.  But without simple yet skillfully designed response guidelines, you are in danger of dropping the ball.

Inbound Marketing begins when a prospective customer who either met you somewhere or was referred to you by someone finds the motivation to contact you and ask if you might answer a couple of questions about your products or services.  Consider that outreach to be your Hollywood screen test and close-up.  If you want to call yourself a business person, then you will learn to confidently and competently handle Inbound Marketing calls (or emails) and emerge with an appointment to meet the caller in person to discuss specifics.

Let’s start with some basic observations about your marketing plan, the carefully choreographed activities that you implement to inform potential customers about your products and services.   Marketing can be divided into two types:

  1. Outbound Marketing, which encompasses traditional, time-tested marketing strategies and tactics such as advertising, networking, speaking engagements, teaching, writing a book, sponsoring a community or business event, nonprofit board service and other activities that broadcast your business brand and marketing message “outward” to the public.
  2. Inbound Marketing, which consists of activities designed to encourage potential customers to develop a level of interest and interaction with your company that “pulls,” i.e., persuades, them to do business with your company as a result of the trust and confidence developed through the ongoing engagement.  Online activities play a dominant role in Inbound Marketing, including social media, newsletters and blogs.  The Inbound Marketing audience is self-selected, as there is always the ability to opt-out of the communication and theoretically this cohort is more likely to do business.

The purpose of creating and executing an Outbound Marketing strategy is to generate Inbound Marketing inquiries by potential customers.  If your business fails to encourage Inbound Marketing,  your venture most likely will not achieve the financial success that you would like.  Inbound Marketing is where the money is made.

An Inbound Marketing call can lead to billable hours or a sale that makes your month, or leave you kicking yourself because you mishandled an objection or forgot to ask an important question.  Let’s see how you can design successful response guidelines.  Grant Cardone, selling skills guru and author of If You’re Not First, You’re Last: Sales Strategies to Dominate Your Market (2010), breaks down his very useful Inbound Marketing call technique:

Greeting

How you welcome the prospect who has chosen to reach out to you, rather than your competitor, is all-important.  Ace the first impression by answering the telephone politely at all times, no matter how annoyed you are by other matters.  When you realize that you’ve been gifted with a prospective customer’s call, i.e., an Inbound Marketing call, slide into character by smiling as you speak and adding a (realistic) dose of enthusiasm to your voice.  Smiling as you talk and imagining that the prospect is in the room with you has been demonstrated to make selling over the phone more successful. Give your name, title and a cheerful, helpful attitude to your caller.

Facts

“Who am I speaking with, please?” Obtaining the name of the caller is an easy Step One of the trust-building that is the foundation of every sale.  Grant Cardone recommends that you resist the temptation to ask for more information because if the caller is really interested, s/he will happily volunteer that information to enable the sale. What you DO want to learn early on is what prompted the call:

  • What the caller would like to know about what you sell and how that information  relates to what s/he would like to achieve or resolve?
  • Which, if any, product or service has been used regarding the issue before and what was the outcome?  Why does the caller want to investigate something else?
  •  Determine the timeline and any deadline “Do you need to make a decision today, or this week?”

Objections 

As you discuss the features and benefits of the product or service that may provide the solution that your caller needs an objection may abruptly spring up and make your caller suddenly lose confidence.  Objections can be skillfully handled through a method I learned many years ago, called “Feel, Felt, Found:”

“I understand why you might feel this issue (or perceived shortcoming) might prevent you from achieving results.  There have been a few others who at first felt this situation could possibly become a problem.  Over the years, my staff and I have found that when you (make this adjustment, or whatever), it’s possible to bring about the results that you want.  Does that sound reasonable to you?”

To help you organize your thoughts during any part of your unexpected Inbound Marketing call, Grant Cardone suggests that you press the hold button to give yourself 30 seconds or so to plan a response.  Making certain that you are able to successfully handle an objection seems to me like the right time to hit the hold button!

Appointment

While you might get lucky and sell your Inbound Marketing caller on the first contact, chances are your prospect will require more information to develop adequate trust in you and your company and make him/her feel confident enough to close the deal.  Suggest to your prospect that you would be happy to come to his/her office to discuss how your customized product or service solutions can benefit his/her organization and its business goals (alternatively, the caller can come to your office).

“Since you don’t need to make a decision immediately, it would seem to make sense for us to sit down together for an hour and discuss what you need, your short and long-term goals and how I can customize a solution for you that respects your budget and time line.  What does your schedule look like? What is your company name and address and what is your call back number and email?”

Happy New Year and thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Doris Day (left) and Rock Hudson in Pillow Talk (1959)                          Directed by Michael Gordon for Universal Pictures

 

 

 

Marketing Commute: Inbound and Outbound Traffic

It is now a given that every Freelance consultant and business owner will develop an inbound marketing strategy that will support sales and diminish the need for cold calling, which is getting increasingly difficult to do successfully in the face of the wall that prospects are able to build around themselves. Inbound marketing consists of quality content that is designed to  “pull in” prospective clients who will be able to understand how your products and services can be of use to them. Outbound marketing often refers to any print or online information and promotion about your business venture (and that includes your social media accounts), advertising, press releases sent, your speaking and teaching assignments, webinars you headline and local charity drives in which your business participates or sponsors.

Inbound marketing makes a more direct appeal to your target markets and has the potential to reduce the amount of cold calling that a Freelance consultant or small business owner must do. However, be aware that inbound marketing aims for the more distant future, whereas outbound marketing aims for a more immediate time frame. Inbound marketing tends to have the longer ROI cycle; most businesses would starve as they waited for sales generated primarily from inbound marketing. Consider it your lead generator. Outbound marketing has the potential to produce a noticeably shorter ROI cycle. Today, both marketing formats are synergistic and necessary.

When creating content for your inbound marketing choices, be mindful that you must periodically speak to potential clients as they travel through the various stages of the buying process—and be aware that it is the buying process and not the sales process that presently rules the day. Some prospects will have a low-level interest, more like window-shopping. Others are more seriously contemplating a transaction, to take place in the more-or-less near future. Still others will need your product or service right now, because proposals are being accepted, or there is an emergency and they need a remedy ASAP.

The types of inbound marketing content and the way you choose to broadcast it depends on what your potential clients respond to. Compelling information is what they value and nothing more. Trial and error may be the way to choose your channels: weekly blog or monthly newsletter emailed to contacts; Twitter, Facebook or Instagram posts; white papers posted to LinkedIn and your website; YouTube videos or SlideShare infograms uploaded to social media accounts.

Reaching out to the various segments of your audience in different ways matters. In a truly comprehensive inbound marketing campaign, text, audio and visual methods of outreach will be represented. Once you’ve figured out your inbound marketing channels, then decide on the content to present and how often you will do so. Relevant content is a must; consistency is required; over-exposure is not recommended.

So many business owners are vying for attention. The noise causes many potential clients to shut down. B2B clients are usually over-worked and have little time for what is not immediately necessary. Unfortunately, many operate on a short-term vision.

One thing marketers must do is master the call to action. Like a sales call, one must know how to ask for the business, or at least how to persuade the prospect to take another step on the path to buying from you or engagement with you. Your call to action may be as simple as providing visible contact info plus an offer to give 30 minutes of free consultation. Your newsletter or blog must allow for easy subscription sign-up or RSS feed.

All marketing campaigns have the same goal: to create awareness of you and your products and services; to provide information about you and your business; to help prospective clients understand how and when your products and services would fulfill their needs; to give demonstrations of the quality of what you sell and your expertise in delivering the goods.  Marketing is how to fill the sales pipeline and helps business owners become less dependent on cold-calling, which is increasingly a road to frustration. It is up to you as a business owner to implement inbound and outbound marketing strategies that will sustain your venture.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Compelling Content Drives Inbound Marketing

Reach out to potential customers by providing content,   the new tactic for advertising and demonstration of expertise,  and persuade those prospects to reach out to your business.  Traditional advertising,   email campaigns and PR,  better known as Outbound Marketing,  reach out to a broad audience that has been vetted for the presence of target customers,  yet still includes many that fall outside of that profile.

Outbound Marketing  “pushes”  information about your company out to an audience that has not necessarily demonstrated an interest in learning about the company and its products and services.  Moreover,  Outbound Marketing assigns to the intended audience a limited role: buy the product or attend the event.  Outbound Marketing usually costs more money than time to create and ROI can be difficult to measure.

Inbound Marketing is well-suited for the digital age and its use has grown tremendously as a result.  Inbound Marketing is driven by content that functions as a  “pull”,  drawing prospective customers who are interested in posted content to read,  learn and perhaps take action.  Inbound Marketing lives on the internet.  Slide Share,  Google +,  LinkedIn,  Twitter,  YouTube,  company websites and other social media platforms receive content and those in search of information choose to visit those sites.

Content production usually costs more time than money to create and ROI is much easier to measure.  Relevant white papers,  useful videos and podcasts,  research results,  surveys and your blog or newsletter form the basis of high-quality content that delivers your message and your professional acumen wrapped in a package that prospects want to open.  Prospects must take an active role and engage with Inbound Marketing content. They initiate and control the interaction.

When planning your Inbound Marketing campaign,  be advised that it is not necessary to either provide a wide variety of content or post content onto numerous venues.  The type of content provided,  frequency of postings and selected platforms will be guided by target market preferences.  Develop Inbound Marketing goals and devise an appropriate campaign strategy.  Brand awareness, customer acquisition / retention and lead generation will no doubt top your list.

Be mindful that Inbound Marketing content is based on giving and not receiving (despite your goals).  Prospective customers are hungry for knowledge and those who provide high-quality content will obtain trust,  respect and top-of-mind status that is reflected when decisions are made to purchase your category of product or service.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Follow-Up Your Inbound Marketing

Inbound Marketing,  the strategy and practice of persuading prospective clients to contact a business by offering information on,  for example,  a website or social media platform that piques a prospect’s interest and leads that individual to contact the business,  stands in opposition to Outbound Marketing,  which encompasses traditional marketing practices such as advertising,  participation in trade shows,  sending out press releases and making cold calls as a strategy to appeal to prospective customers.

Either method can be effective and one is advised to implement both to a greater or lesser degree depending on one’s clientele.  Inbound Marketing is all the rage in some quarters,  as it has the potential to deliver self-selected prospects.   In 2009,  US companies spent $22.7 billion on internet based advertising designed to drive Inbound Marketing to both B2B and B2C customers.   Yet as with so much in life,  follow-up counts.   Time,  it turns out,  is the enemy of Inbound Marketing.

Do it now

Unless your product or service can be purchased online,  fast follow-up to Inbound Marketing inquiries is absolutely essential.   A 2010 study conducted by the Harvard Business Review revealed that the average response time to an Inbound Marketing lead is 42 hours.  Evidence has shown that waiting nearly two days to get back to a prospective client may very well cause you to lose your chance.   In 2006,  James B. Oldroyd,  professor at MIT Sloan School of Management,  teamed up with the sales technology firm Inside Sales to address the question of the ideal follow-up time-frame for web-generated leads.

Dr. Oldroyd analyzed three years of cold calling data across six companies: 15,000 sales leads generated from 100,000 + cold call attempts.  He found that Inbound Marketing leads have an extremely short shelf life.  His data showed that 5 minutes is the best time-frame and that any response made after 30 minutes was a waste of time.

If follow-up was made within five minutes,  the likelihood of a sale resulting was four times greater than if the call back occurred from five to ten minutes after the inquiry.  Freelancers can take that to mean our follow-up needs to occur within 24 hours; waiting even two days to call someone back could cost you.

Time it right

There are also many theories floating around about the best days and times to contact a customer.  Oldroyd studied that issue as well and discovered that 8:00 – 9:00 AM and 4:00 – 5:00 PM are the prime times to call.  1:00 – 2:00 PM is the worst time of day to attempt contact.

Popular wisdom has it that Monday is totally the worse day to call anyone and there is a school of thought that claims Friday is the best day,  since clients are allegedly in a good frame of mind as they wind down and head into the weekend.  Oldroyd’s study revealed that neither day is best or worst.

When it comes to cold calling or following up,  Thursday reigns supreme and Wednesday is a close second.   Friday emerged as the worst day to call and the other days are somewhere in the middle.   So if you’re unable to respond back within the ideal time-frame for your clients,  a reasonable Plan B is to call on a Thursday,  between 8:00 – 9:00 AM or 4:00 – 5:00 PM.

The moral to this story is pretty simple,  actually.   If you decide to direct valuable resources into an Inbound Marketing strategy,  then make sure that you or your team are prepared to respond to prospects in a timely fashion.

Thanks for reading,

Kim