I read an interesting post over at our friend Lauren’s blog today, which sparked some thoughts about online marketing strategies.
The post was written by Sharon Drew Morgen, and she began her post, “What we are currently doing in marketing and sales is not giving us the success we deserve. I believe this is because our underlying assumptions are faulty about who a buyer is, how to sell to them, why/when/how they will close, and how marketing automation can be used to support our sales efforts.”
I commented on that post that while I agree with the statement and the reasons she cites for this dismal state of affairs, I believe the problem is not limited, as she implies, to Inbound Marketing and Marketing Automation efforts, or what we call Inbound Marketing Automation (IMA), but is in fact generic to all marketing strategies. Basically, if you don’t know precisely what you are selling and to whom, and exactly what you are going to say and how to match the tone and style of your delivery to your prospects, you will not succeed.
Now it’s true that the complex solutions sold by most B2B organizations, have always required one to educate one’s prospects before they understand enough to make a purchasing decision. What’s different about today’s powerful Inbound Marketing Automation systems, is that one can refine and hone this message to suit the individual in ways that old-school marketers never even dreamed of. But in this opportunity lurks the hazard of thus being able to get it even more wrong than just sending everyone the same technical spec and brochure. And so, as with all forms of marketing, it comes down to having the right strategy.
We have spoken of the need for a strategy before in these pages, and many of our clients will attest to the rigor we insist on when creating this important document. So here’s a Table of Contents for a typical online strategy:
An Inbound Marketing Automation Strategy
- Company Strengths
- Company Weaknesses
- Value Chain – Value Added
- Positioning Statement
Factors Influencing our IMA Strategy
- The Attract Phase
- Engaging Personas and their Buying-Cycles
- Objectives of Our IMA System
In many ways this is a fairly typical marketing strategy: what makes it specific to Inbound Marketing Automation are the last three sections. And because the section on Personas is so important, here’s what we give clients as a guide to Crafting Personas:
Start with ideal customer profiles
The best place to begin is with your ideal buyers. What types of businesses make the best customers? Why – and while you’re thinking about this, ask yourself what kinds make the worst customers and why. It helps sometimes to know whom you are trying not to attract to your site and knowing why often helps identify what to do to avoid them.
Identify titles and industries
Start a new Excel Spreadsheet. The rows will be personas, the columns their attributes.
For each of the business types you listed above, try to imagine all of the people who become involved in this company during its buying process. Record each person’s name and title. Make sure your get the complete title, not just the rank – i.e. the VP of Production, for example. The remaining columns we’ll come back to when we ask ourselves the questions listed below.
Talk to as many people as you can
You’re going to be asking yourself a number of questions as you move through this exercise. Many of them require the kind of knowledge which sales people usually have of their prospects and clients. So make sure you get Sales’ input. Next chat to the people themselves if you can – take them out for a coffee if that’s possible, else send them an email and ask for their help. Better yet, phone them if you can: Most people like doing this, so don’t be shy.
You can also use Social Media, but this is a little more tricky: not only do you have to be careful about offending people or alerting your competitors to what you’re up to, but knowing which social platform to focus your questions on is not straightforward. It certainly can be done, however, so ask us for some help if you want to try this avenue.
For each Persona, ask yourself:
- What’s this person’s role in the buying process? Are they your internal coach (your champion), the decision maker, or one of the team who helps make the recommendation?
- List the problems this person has which are pushing them to purchase a solution like the one you sell?
- What information will motivate this person to move to the nest stage of his or her buying-cycle? We recommend using a spreadsheet we call The Content Map to help define this explicitly. The map’s columns list the personas and the content you already have, along with a column to give each item of content a number and to mark whether it exists or whether it must be created, and finally, if it will be gated behind a registration form or not. The rows of the Content Map show the buying-cycle stages for all Personas. The piece of content appropriate to each persona in this specific stage of his or her buying cycle is then entered into the cell at the intersection of the Persona and buying-cycle stage.
- At which stage of the buying-cycle will this person arrive on your site? It’s valid to answer that it could be at any point in the cycle. You need to know, though, as someone like a President or CEO is likely to be involved in the final decision only.
- What sources of information does this person trust? It sometimes helps to read some of the blogs or discussion forums this person uses to help you understand why he or she turns to them. This will help when we get to the Create Content stage.
- How does this person deal with his or her problem today?
- While you’re doing this, ask the person (if you are actually talking to him or her, or ask the sales person if it’s not you): what phrases does the prospect key into Google when they do a search for what you sell? This will help during the SEO project…
- What factors would add as a deterrent to our solution for this person?
Revise it when you learn more
As you learn more about your ideal prospects and the personas you have constructed, you should refine the models to improve their performance in your marketing and sales efforts.
So to come back to Sharon’s post on Lauren’s blog: To get the most from any marketing exercise, we encourage one to think of marketing as a process, not an end objective. And this process involves creating a strategy and then refining it over time. If you run the process according to the principles of Continuous Process Improvements – Think, Plan, Do, Measure and Repeat, your process will get better and better over time, yielding a higher ROI over time. Do it and watch your conversion rates and sales success grow.