Let’s Face It: The Market Is Much Different Than It Was 20 Years Ago
In this day and age, it’s important for businesses to stay competitive. To do so, they must understand what it takes to remain relevant, top-of-mind, and respected by their audience. Cold-calling and brochures alone won’t do the trick anymore. Whether you’re selling products, services, ideas, or technology, your company represents solutions to the problems of prospective customers and your brand can satisfy a want or a need, compelling them to make a purchase. Depending which industry you’re in, the length of a typical sales cycle may vary and, it’s up to your company to nurture prospects along that journey by fostering awareness, creating interest, building a case for why your brand meets their needs, presenting solutions, following up, and winning the customer.
Enter Stage Right, Marketing
Today’s sales people have many methods of closing deals, and for some it’s easier than others. A lot of it depends on the quality, price, and demand for your product or service, all of which can be amplified with the right tools. More companies than ever are turning to the continually evolving world of marketing to create resources for their sales teams and to generate or increase brand awareness. Marketing – and its parallel relationship to sales – are about so much more than creating fancy flyers about your latest product or promotion. Marketing does something that a sales team alone can’t do: create opportunities where there were none by increasing brand visibility on all fronts and then supporting the sales team with the resources necessary to enrich the selling process by speaking to the needs of the customer on a personal (or organizational) level. This requires insight, data, the ability to relate and identify with consumers, story-telling skills, and the creation of compelling content that will lead to conversions.
And what many companies don’t understand about this process is that it often works as much (if not more) behind the scenes as it does outwardly and in-your-face. So much of the marketing world is measured by its effectiveness in capturing leads that convert to sales in an immediate way; however the unseen, intangible results (the part of the iceberg that is under the water) are just as crucial to a business’s success. For every opportunity captured there are multiples more being born, and the length of time it may take to nurture those opportunities into full-blown customers may depend on the prospect’s budget, company initiatives, workload, decision-making ability, and the effectiveness of your company’s sales team.
So think of marketing like the lifecycle of the butterfly. Most people would equate victory with only the emergence of the beautiful monarch, not recognizing that the butterfly wasn’t born looking so regal and enchanting. While the finished product or end result is what most companies focus on, the formative stages that often go unseen for weeks or months are what a marketing department is continually working to build.
Many sales-focused organizations miss or fail to recognize the metamorphosis that is about to occur while the “butterfly” is in its caterpillar or chrysalis (cocoon) stage, equating ROI only to spikes in the sales forecast.
This can make marketing impact and metrics a little more complicated to measure – it’s not always so black and white. Much of the transformation of opportunities to sales also depends on the relationship between sales and marketing and how well strategies are communicated and executed. A well-supported marketing program hands-down makes your sales team more effective and helps them catch more butterflies.
Here’s How to Nourish, Preserve, and Grow Your Butterfly Population
- Use original content – Always!
An investment in a team member with a strong background in writing, an understanding of your industry and subject matter, and a creative spirit is one of the wisest and most profitable investments your company will ever make. Nothing will stunt your growth faster than failing to invest in the marketing of your company. Without a copy writer or a team of marketing professionals, some companies try to take the DIY approach to branding and communications and don’t understand the risks involved.
No one would ever set out to deliberately plagiarize or steal another’s intellectual property, but many people intending to paraphrase or quote a supporting source don’t know how to properly do so. Whether the error is made in print or a digital format, anyone who picks up on it will immediately have a compromised opinion of your company. It can seriously damage your credibility and reputation and, furthermore, if it’s brought to the attention of the original author, you could be sued and fined for copyright infringement and intellectual property theft. There are laws and regulations governing the written words and creative efforts of artists and writers which transcend the print world and include digital works as well. So be sure to lean on someone with a strong writing and marketing background who can tell your story in a compelling way and give a nod to original sources when outside information is used.
- Have your finger on the pulse of the industry and market
Your marketing team will keep market research and industry news on their radar screens by subscribing to various newsletters, scouring the internet, monitoring social media, and scoping out competitors and partners. Collecting data, stories and headlines that support your vision through other sources and creatively weaving that information into your communications will augment your authority, make you multi-dimensional, and increase your audience and your reach.
- Give credit where credit is due
Of course, giving credit where credit is due is something that all professional marketers must learn and embrace. Point 1 emphasized the importance of accurately citing sources when using outside content as a point of reference, but this doesn’t just apply to written copy: it’s important to credit the creators of images, too. In many articles the image source is listed in order to give credit to the artist or photographer. Even when a company pays for the use of stock images, they will (and should) often indicate the image’s original source by naming the photographer or artist (which is provided in the stock image account subscription).
- Start a conversation
Don’t let your brand or your customers exist in a vacuum. An effective marketing team balances brand development with promotion and audience engagement. Marketers aren’t supposed to just be all about their efforts to market and promote their company: many marketers make waves for their company by becoming avid readers of other companies’ marketing material!
That’s right – consuming other content styles, seeing what’s out there, and commenting on posts to correspond with other writers and audiences is one of the smartest ways to stay current and known. Not only is it a way to glean inspiration and ideas, but it shows the world that your company and brand is one that interfaces with others and is interested in being a part of the local market, instead of living on an island.
If your company owns an island and the only inhabitants of the island are its company’s employees, then you will not do very well. Another way to facilitate engagement is to invite feedback and offer incentives for the sharing of your content. Interaction beyond your target customer base is a necessary part of getting your name out there and attracting people to build a bridge to your island.
- Trusted partners and finding balance
If your company outsources its marketing efforts, it’s important to know who you’re working with. You don’t have to pay the biggest and most expensive agency there is – quality marketing support exists for businesses of all sizes and at all levels on the price spectrum. But certain due diligence should be conducted before trusting your company and your reputation to a third party:
a. Ask for examples of work done for other companies and make sure it doesn’t all look the same. You want a company who has demonstrated the ability to make its customers stand out, not give them all the same look and feel but in different colors.
b. Opt for a company local to you so that their representatives are available for the occasional face-to-face concept meeting. So much can be lost in translation when business is only conducted over the phone or through email. Another benefit to choosing a local partner is that you’ll be more able to evaluate their work and reputation, whereas it may be more difficult to look into a company from another region.
c. Look for a company who takes a consultative approach to marketing your brand. The right partner should be eager to work with you and take your vision into consideration, helping you develop your ideas while guiding you through industry standards and best practices with strategic advice.
d. You want a partner with a plan. Much like a property design team could give you multiple options for how to maximize your home’s design and function within your renovation budget, a marketing partner should be able to do the same. If they really listen to your goals and needs, they will probably present you with a list of marketing strategies that they could employ at various levels within your budget, showing you the allocation percentage for each area. Ask for these combinations of strategies to be presented in packages, so that they can help you interpret the information and understand where you’ll get the most bang for your buck, short-term and long-term. This will help you achieve balance: hiring a company to build your website may not be a worthwhile investment if you have no one to regularly update your blog, do email marketing, and conduct outreach on your company’s behalf. Outbound needs to be tied to inbound, and vice versa.
e. Last but not least, you want consistency. Marketing is a living, breathing entity that needs to be constantly fueled and energized. Ask your marketing partner to present their ongoing plans so that you can keep track of your progress. Things like content calendars, a publishing schedule, and monthly or quarterly development initiatives that align with your budget will all help you get the most out of your spend and capitalize big time. There should be a written agreement as to how many times per week or month this partner will be creating and promoting content on your behalf, as well as a calendar of scheduled updates to the website, with approximate ETAs in place for any larger campaigns or initiatives.
All of these points apply whether you’re outsourcing your company’s marketing or keeping it in-house. But having the right team in place and knowing what to ask for is crucial to marketing success, whether you’re in retail, financial services, the hospitality industry, or professional services. It’s true that B2B and B2C marketing are different, but in either case, originality, engagement, collaboration, and consistency will help you fill that butterfly net.