It's easy to forget that not so long ago, sales and marketing were rival disciplines. At many companies, these two departments found themselves at odds with one another – sales teams often complained that marketing was just a bunch of free spirits with insufficient perspective on the bottom line, and marketing often took the stance that sales reps lack a sense of "image" branding, nuance or finesse.
Then digital publishing, social media and the mobile web came along and changed the whole picture, as sales prospects began educating themselves about products and solutions online. Lead nurturing processes evolved from a series of meetings to social engagement, automated workflows and content marketing. Today we're living in an inbound world. Marketing, especially in the B2B space, is all about attracting the right audience and building relationships with leads so that they become "sales-ready." As a result, the entire middle of the funnel has come to be owned by marketing.
Now we all need to think strategically about how our marketing efforts are optimized to enable sales teams with a steady flow of relevant, qualified, educated and eager leads. Follow these five steps to create a strategic, optimized, largely automated conversion funnel that will delight your sales reps and boost their performance metrics.
1. Identify Your Personas
Marketing is wasted if it’s not designed to reach the people who are most likely to become happy customers. Using business intelligence research and sales analysis, create profiles of your "ideal customers." In order to focus your marketing, it’s important to generate a few personas, usually no more than five. These fictional characters should be described in as much detail as possible, with data such as age, hobbies, position in their company and geographic location. The personas should also include descriptions of their pain points, media consumption preferences and the types of solutions they are searching for.
Personas are not just for online marketing; they should form an essential part of your business strategy documentation. Like other sections of your strategy, they should be evaluated regularly and updated as necessary. Feedback from sales and data from your CRM are essential for keeping persona sketches useful.
2. Publish for Your Personas
Once you have determined what is bothering each persona at each stage of the conversion funnel, create content that speaks to these concerns and shows prospective clients how to solve these issues. Get creative with content, using articles, ebooks, webinars, podcasts, memes, videos and infographics.
At the top and middle sections of the funnel, trust and education are key and selling has no place. You’ll need different content to speak to each persona, so you can serve up messaging that will resonate with them. Content must be created with distribution in mind as well. Be sure to produce content that will be appealing on social media, enticing them to click on your links.
3. Attract an Audience
The purpose of distributing content on social media is to begin a relationship with people who are likely to become interested leads. A lead who expresses interest by engaging with your content or following you on social media is usually at the very top of your conversion funnel. He or she is just starting to explore his or her pain points and research possible solutions.
Your goal is to forge a relationship so you can gradually lead him or her to understand why your solution is best. This is best achieved through emails that can be set to appear regularly in the prospect’s inbox. That’s why your content pages should include prominent subscription options along with compelling text that entices prospects to give you their email addresses.
4. Nurture Leads
Email marketing is your opportunity to leverage sophisticated tech to speak directly to your customer in a fully scalable yet customized and cost-effective manner. Social media and opt-in form fields provide data about your leads that can be used to determine which persona each one most closely resembles. Segment your leads according to position in the conversion funnel as well as persona, so you can send the right message to each prospect at the right time.
Automated workflows allow you to send a series of emails that educate and build trust over time. These automated emails should include calls-to-action so you have an indicator of the lead’s hopefully progressing level of interest in your company at all times. Leads who answer your calls-to-action can be routed to a different automated series than those who aren't clicking through.
5. Pitch and Close
Your company's sales team knows what constitutes a sales-ready customer. Collaboration between marketing and sales determines which trackable actions indicate readiness to purchase. It might be downloading a specific pdf file, clicking on links in a certain volume of emails or responding in a specific way to a survey question. Once the relevant actions have taken place, the sales team springs into action to close the deal.
For marketing to truly enable sales, though, you'll need to compile data-rich dossiers on each lead and develop a trove of resources that your sales team can send to prospects as part of their final pushes to close. It’s not enough to unilaterally declare that a prospect is ready for a pitch and call it a day. Salespeople must be equipped with all of the information you've been collecting throughout the customer journey so they can speak to specifically what matters to each lead.
Automation Is the Key to Enabling Sales
Thankfully, this data is all collected on an automated basis in your company's CRM, no time will be wasted in compiling information that should already be available. When a salesperson knows exactly who he is talking to, including this person's professional interests, particular pain points and the content that he or she relates to, the sales process is much more likely to be effective and efficient. When prospects see that a salesperson understands them, they feel that they are in good hands.
Automation was once relegated to the large companies that were able to afford bleeding-edge tech solutions. Today, however, any size of business can take advantage of automation and integration between platforms to collect business and sales intelligence. If your marketing is stuck in an outdated silo, operating as a separate entity from sales, now is the time to streamline your conversion funnel and create a sales-enabling system. You'll increase conversions while saving time and money.