The key to writing effective thought leadership and sales pieces is to understand exactly where the project fits within your company's overall sales cycle. Otherwise, no matter how well-written the content might be, it will fail to engage and persuade readers because you haven't built sufficient trust with them.
Crafting a hard-sell call-to-action or touting "great deals" early in the sales cycle, for example, is likely to repel readers, not convince them. The more trust that you build with your audience, the more receptive they will be to your message, putting you in a better position to motivate readers to take the action you want.
So think of the corporate sales cycle, especially in business-to-business (B2B) sales, as a trust-building process, where it may take several months or even over a year to move a prospect from initial contact to purchase order. This requires taking a long view, with patience and discipline to craft the right message that's tailored to the trust level the audience is likely to be at that precise moment in the sales cycle.
With the proper perspective, your content strategy will help accelerate the trust-building process, reaping a harvest of new business for your firm.
The Law of the Harvest
When developing your content strategy, think like a high-performing sales pro. In order to "reap" consistent sales, you must regularly "sow" the right activities at the right time to hit your numbers. You need to continually find new leads and cultivate those relationships over time, building trust with them until they're ripe for harvest as new customers.
I call this process the "Law of the Harvest," where the sales cycle is comprised of four distinct stages designed for building trust: sowing, cultivating, reaping and multiplying. Highly compensated sales reps understand that while they're "reaping" new contracts, they still must work other tasks (such as prospecting and follow-up calls) today that will lead to a harvest of sales tomorrow, the next day and so forth.
A corporate content strategy should be designed with the same principle in mind, with each piece of content (whether it's a brochure, e-mail marketing campaign, direct mailer, blog post, case study, white paper, sales presentation, or sales proposal) crafted for a specific stage in the sales cycle to maximize effectiveness. By integrating the marketing department's initiatives with the sales cycle, you'll help equip your company's sales staff to close more sales, at a faster rate, for higher profit -- so that both the marketing and sales departments win.
This graphic below helps illustrate where marketing and sales efforts can intersect to maximize impact -- and return on investment.
The idea here is that your prospects and clients will be at different stages, at different times. So, you want to create each piece of content to nudge the readers, wherever they may be on the "Trust Continuum," toward the next stage and ultimately a purchase decision. An effective content marketing campaign will incorporate tools tailored for each stage of the sales cycle, executed simultaneously, to build a robust sales pipeline.
How do you determine what type of content and messaging will be most appropriate and effective at each stage in the sales cycle? Here's a breakdown of the four stages to serve as your guide.
Stage 1: Sowing = Prospecting (Lead Generation)
In this stage, you’re trying to sow the seed of your message in the minds of as many qualified prospects as possible. You're not going to spend a lot of time talking about price or what a great deal you have to offer or asking prospects to buy NOW, because they don't yet really know you -- nor do they trust you. They're not going to be very responsive to a "hard sell" message. The goal in Stage 1 is to open the door to a relationship, inviting them to learn more or to follow your company via its social media channels or to subscribe to an e-newsletter so you company can keep them up posted on latest product updates.
Some of the appropriate marketing tools for this stage include:
- Thought leadership content (blog posts, bylined articles, case studies, white papers, webinars)
- Elevator pitch
- Corporate capabilities/ product brochures
- Direct mailers (sales letters, postcards, flyers)
- Ads in print, broadcast, and/or digital media
- E-mail marketing
- Newsletters/e-newsletters (informative articles, brand journalism)
- Case studies (customer success stories)
- Birthday and anniversary cards (exclusive offer tied to that special day)
- Special announcements letting prospects know about great deals, new products or services, special events and so on (press releases, email updates, post cards, flyers, etc.)
- Courtesy follow-up email/ phone calls (boilerplate series of "touch base" emails, call script)
Invoices (include messaging about other products/ services/ special offers that may interest the recipient)
Customer loyalty program (program introduction letter, loyalty redemption card, coupons, etc.)
Follow-up system (thank you letter, 90-day follow-up letter, one-year anniversary letter)
Referral request (letter that tactfully and effectively asks recipient for introductions to qualified referrals)
About the Author: Sean M. Lyden is CEO of Lyden Communications LLC (www.lydencommunications.com), a business communication consulting firm that advises companies on honing their message and their methods to more effectively influence their markets -- whether customers, partners, investors or employees. Practice areas include content strategy, sales strategy & coaching, and executive communication consulting. A feature writer for several automotive and trucking trade publications, Sean is also co-author of “How to Succeed and Make Money on Your First Rental House” (John Wiley & Sons) and contributor to "The Ultimate Small Business Marketing Guide” and “The Great Big Book of Business Lists,” both books published by Entrepreneur Press.
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