Sales and marketing aren’t quite as straightforward as they used to be. Instead of the sales funnel of yesteryear, we’re looking at more of a sales pretzel these days.
A study by McKinsey & Company refers to this as a “consumer decision journey” wherein customers are looking at more reviews, talking to friends, and weighing the opinions of experts rather than talking to salespeople.
Or rather, they might talk to salespeople after they’ve done all of the other things listed. And after talking to the salesperson, they will probably go back and read more reviews and talk to more people.
Traditional ads play little to no part in this sales pretzel. Instead, potential customers have to be gained by working with the (relatively) new system of online reviews and word-of-mouth to take them from potential to actual and even returning customers.
In a recent interview, Jon Ferrara, founder of both Goldmine and Nimble, talked about how at Nimble they use his philosophy of the 5 E’s of Social Business to grow their potential client pool.
Traditional advertising is no longer effective because it just talks about how you have a really great product. But talking about yourself isn’t a great way to make a first impression.
Instead, you want to become a trusted advisor to potential customers. If you teach someone how to fish, it won’t take long for them to realize that you sell fishing poles.
Finding and sharing knowledge that will be of interest to customers is key.
At Nimble, they do this by finding influencers and sharing their content through social media with appropriate hashtags to help the content reach the eyes of people who need it most.
Automated messages are easy to spot. The more digital the world becomes, the more important the human element is when trying to make an impression.
Shared content needs to be authentic as well as relevant.
When looking for content to share with interested parties, it needs to be attention grabbing. If an article has great information but reads like a brochure or a high school essay, no one is going to make it very far down the page.
Which is better: having a conversation with a real person or listening to someone drone on a topic?
Hopefully you picked the first option because chances are that’s the one your potential clients will go for, too.
None of this should be one-sided, either. Social marketing should really be about having a conversation with the audience and with the influencers.
That’s why it’s important to attribute properly when you share content. Tagging the person who originally provided the article lets them know that the content has been appreciated and passed on to others.
This then gives them the opportunity to start a dialogue with you and in turn draw their audience to your company.
This idea works for potential customers, as well. When someone asks a question or provides feedback on an idea that you’ve shared, you should always respond. Even if it’s just a statement of thanks for sharing, a reply can open up further communication.
Engaging with your audience will keep them returning for further content in the future.
Continuing the idea of interacting with your audience, saying thank you goes a long way.
If you aren’t spending the time reaching out to individuals with a digital hug every now and then, there’s a lot of wasted opportunity to bring in that human element mentioned earlier.
Everyone likes to feel appreciated, so particularly when a potential customer reaches out to you, say thank you.
It’s also important to note that intentions matter to your audience. You goal should be to help other people finding a solution to whatever problem they’re having.
Of course, you want them to realize that solution is your product, but if through your engagement with them you realize that isn’t the case, it may be necessary to point them to another company or product.
You might lose a sale in this one instance, but it pays off down the road as you will gain a reputation for solid advice. Customers talk to each other. Many, if not most, buying decisions are made based on the recommendations of people that we know.
Just because your product isn’t right for the person you’ve been engaging with doesn’t mean that it won’t be right for their colleague or neighbor or old college roommate.
Talking up your product isn’t the best way to get it to sell. On the other hand, having other people talk about it is a great idea.
Customers are more likely to read online reviews and talk to friends or experts when making buying decisions rather than looking at ads or reading a company’s marketing materials.
Using Jon Ferrara’s 5 E’s of Social Business will help you expand the conversation about your product without giving potential customers the feeling that you’re trying to sell them something. It’s an opportunity to share information within the sales pretzel and help others which, in the end, helps you too.
Listen to the episode that this post was based on here:
James Carbary is the founder of Sweet Fish Media, a podcast agency for B2B brands. He’s a contributor for the Huffington Post & Business Insider, and he also co-hosts a top-ranked podcast according to Forbes: B2B Growth. When James isn’t interviewing the smartest minds in B2B marketing, he’s drinking Cherry Coke Zero, eating Swedish Fish, and hanging out with the most incredible woman on the planet (who he somehow talked into marrying him).