It’s August, will your 2018 third quarter financial results meet or exceed forecast? Are your your quarterly revenue and quarterly earnings beating year-ago results? Are you happy to report record-breaking numbers? If your answer is ‘No’ to these questions, do you think it’s time for change? If ‘Yes’, perhaps it’s time to make ‘content marketing and the sales funnel’ the cornerstone of your sales and marketing strategies.
One-size does not fit all
In B2B, there are two sales funnels: The Prospect’s Journey and The Buyer’s Journey. The former is for new potential customers or prospects, and the ladder is for existing customers. For most businesses, the practice is to direct both into the same funnel. This one-size fits all mistake is due to the mind-set and practice of, “We quote anything and everything that comes through the door.” This strategy works only when in the infancy stage business cycle, and as the business travels-upward in sales growth, this quote method becomes very inefficient; thus, the potential for lost sales is high.
According to Hubspot, the industry average close rate in Business & Industrial is 27%. This means that 73 quotes are lost for every 100 opportunities. Wow!
The Prospect’s Journey
Historically, inside sales or a sales rep will guide a prospect through 5-stages of a sales funnel—this process is typical for most B2B companies. Prospects enter the funnel through the awareness stage and travel until they reach the purchase decision stage, and with some luck, they will convert to a new customer that buys often and a lot. This sequential process, unfortunately, does not produce the sales results that executives are expecting as 72% of B2B sales deals end in either a “no” or no decision at all.
The volume and veracity of available information has changed the traditional sales funnel. Once prospects are aware of a need and your company, 72% will engage in pre-sale research on Google, looking for product reviews, customer testimonials, and alternative solutions. In fact, today’s buyer has several options to a problem well before your sales team arrives on-site, as 90% of business buyers say when they are ready to purchase, they’ll find you—this is a new attitude that your company now has to deal with—it is not going to change.
As mentioned, and depending on your business, a sales funnel consists of a number of stages before a prospect converts to a buying customer. And, with the increase in pre-sale research, prospects enter the funnel at different stages—this is very important to understand. Historically, the focus has been mainly on the customer experience—post-sale. Today, there is great attention and focus on the ‘experience prospects receive’ when traveling through the funnel—pre-sale. It’s very important to understand what prospects want when they contact your company, as this is the beginning to a buyer’s journey experience.
Having a content marketing strategy in-place, a 'first time contact' with your company is most likely an 'informed prospect' that just needs a certain level of nurturing and guidance to convert into a buying customer—this is a very important principle. It could mean the difference of sale or no-sale. For instance, a prospect enters the sales funnel at the trial stage and desires a sample of your product. The inside sales rep who receives the call, however, begins a lengthy sales pitch on the companys' products and services. And, after one-minute, the caller hangs-up in frustration.
It's very important to recognize the nature and motive of every inquiry with your company. For example, what does it mean when a prospect downloads a whitepaper from your website? What does it signal when someone signs-up for the company newsletter? Or, what does it suggest when a person requests a demo? These questions show the need and value of a well-prepared, well-equipped sales force. Training on sales funnel dynamics and prospect decision-making are must-haves before a content marketing strategy is launched.
With the above in mind, it is vital that marketing executives author and publish content that educates their target audience—this requires deep insights from structured and unstructured data analytics. The mission is to author problem-solution articles and publish on specific media sites, such as podcasts, webinars, video/YouTube, LinkedIn, trade associations, trade magazines, and many others.
The goal is to saturate many channels with information your audience perceives relevant and useful. Content marketing and the sales funnel are interrelated. The former will supply a higher-quality lead; the latter will provide a higher close rate and a shorter sales cycle. This strategy is on-going and requires discipline and commitment, but with time, the results will show-up in the form of top and bottom-line growth.