If you’ve been around marketing or sales for more than five minutes, you are likely familiar with the pipeline. The funnel. The lead transformation process. There are as many variations of this diagram as there are sales managers in this world. Each has a slightly different twist on the criteria: are your leads BANT (budget, authority, need, timeline) qualified? Or are they GPCT (goals, plans, challenges, timeline) qualified? Or, maybe you’re looking for a CHAMP (challenges, authority, money, and prioritization)?
Regardless of the lead qualification taxonomy you are using, your pipeline is likely a left-to-right process flow moving from marketing efforts on the left aimed at creating awareness and generating demand for your products or services, to the sales process on the right … ultimately ending with a closed sale, deployed solution, and captured customer—ready to build loyalty and continue purchasing from you for the rest of time.
Unfortunately for you, customer buying has changed significantly due to the emergence of social media platforms and digital communication vehicles. So has their loyalty to your products and services. Customers–Millennials especially–don’t like to conform to your process anymore. They’ve evolved, and so must you. Survival of the fittest and all.
Enter, Digital Marketing. It’s all the rage. All of the agencies are talking about it. Thought leaders are championing it. Marketing and sales conferences are headlining it. But what is it? Quite simply, it is nothing new and everything new all at the same time.
Fundamentally, it is Marketing 101–know your audience. Go to your customers. Speak their language. Resonate with your target market. You already know this. This is what you do every day. But … how do you get started?
Understand consumer behavior
There are more social media platforms than you can count, and there are new ones popping up every day. Did you know college students aren’t even using Facebook anymore? Only to keep in touch with their parents, or curate their volunteer experiences for future job applications. But they’re really connecting with their friends on Instagram and Snapchat. Have you asked recent college grads about their favorite TV shows? Netflix Original Series. People don’t even watch weekly television programming anymore. They wait for the series to be posted online so they can binge watch entire seasons at a time. No commercials. Instant gratification.
And what about shopping? We’ve been able to make online purchases for decades now. Going online to buy a last-minute birthday gift is nothing new. Amazon didn’t build its empire overnight. Prime is my BFF. I actually tried to order a kayak paddle on Amazon yesterday and was going to be charged $28 for shipping from some random location that would take several weeks to arrive. I was shocked. I cancelled that order and found a $15 paddle with no shipping. It will be here tomorrow. When we vacation, we have Amazon ship our favorite snacks to our VRBO, scheduled to arrive the day we do so we can start our vacation with a swim in the pool instead of a trip to the grocery store. Consumers are empowered. Digital makes everything possible.
Identify your channels
Think about how you are using digital media to make your life easier. That is also how your customers want to use it to engage with your company. It’s not just a business-to-consumer play. It’s also a business-to-business opportunity. Your partners, clients, and end users are online all day long—for personal or business purposes. Meet them there. You may have a commercial solution to offer, but your partners, customers, and end users have developed consumer buying behaviors.
- Position your content as a recommended page on Facebook–target your audience.
- Post articles on LinkedIn that demonstrate your thought leadership.
- Create banner ads for search engines.
- Develop video ads to target all of us binge watching our favorite new series.
Like the 24-hour news cycle, we are constantly being marketed to and given the opportunity to purchase at any time. Every time you pick up your phone, check your email, or go online, there is a new chance to spend money and acquire a new service. It’s an ongoing cycle, a continuous loop. It isn’t a left-to-right linear process anymore. It’s a constant, circular, marketing and sales motion.
Transform traditional marketing to social media
Traditional marketing and sales professionals would tell you there is no better referral than a word-of-mouth referral. Today, that is a “like” or “share” that goes viral. Consumers still value their friends’ opinions. It’s just that those opinions are now public across all types of social networks. Make sure your post is the one being shared, shared, and shared again.
Likewise, you have a whole new platform for conducting market research—gone are the days of organizing costly focus groups with bad food and awkward conversation. Generate a series of quick Facebook ads, segment the audiences, and leverage the built-in analytics to determine which one resonates best with your target demographic.
Gain instant reactions on your posts in the comments—see what your audience thinks of your concepts and tweak them based on the feedback. You can’t pay for those kinds of instant, honest, perhaps even controversial responses.
Build customer relationships online
Marketing is the easy part. There are so many built-in analytics, platforms, and mediums to convey your marketing messages. Sales is a little bit harder … not because clicking a button and entering credit card information is difficult, but because developing long-term relationships and customer loyalty is challenging when consumers are constantly bombarded with marketing messages from all of your competitors.
Establishing yourself as a thought leader is paramount. Being the go-to expert on how to solve your customer’s pains is priceless. Sharing anecdotal stories to which your target audience can relate and demonstrating that you understand their unique needs is the key to effective sales in a digital marketplace. Customers don’t just want your products. They want solutions to their challenges. And, knowing there is a real person who can help address those challenges is the life-line they need to keep coming back to consume more solutions and services.
Customer Relationship Management hasn’t changed. But the way you communicate with your customers and establish your presence in their minds has. Be ubiquitous. It’s not only how you will survive in this marketplace. It is how you will thrive in the future.