Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Shortening Your Sales Cycle with Social Media

Incorporating social media into an integrated marketing campaign can drive traffic and shorten the buying cycle. Social media is a powerful new way of reaching and connecting with people online. However, as with any new marketing channel there is a sharp learning curve to adapt the new media to your company's individual needs.

As we transition towards the inclusion of these new marketing channels, some small business owners are understandably weary of the unknowns associated with the new media. Periods of transition are often difficult, as explained in a recent AdAge article, "It involves chipping away at and evolving complex business practices carried over from the 20th Century." The reach of social media ensures that there is no turning away from this new marketing channel.

With the proliferation of interest in social media, small business cannot afford to ignore this powerful marketing channel. With so many marketing channels and such a fractured audience, the challenge of effective marketing is to create a campaign that is effective and consistent across media platforms. "Integration has long been talked about as the holy grail of brand communications. Socialization of media warrants finding it, and fast."

Integrated Marketing Communications implies a holistic approach to marketing. It aims to ensure consistency of message and the complementary use of media. The concept includes online and offline marketing channels. Online marketing channels include any e-marketing campaigns or programs, from search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click, affiliate, email, banner to latest web related channels for webinar, blog, micro-blogging, RSS, podcast, and Internet TV. Offline marketing channels are traditional print (newspaper, magazine), mail order, public relations, industry relations, billboard, radio, and television. A company develops its integrated marketing communication program using all the elements of the marketing mix (product, price, place, and promotion).

In a recent Marketing Profs article, Barbara Bix shows us how businesses can use social media to shorten the sales cycle. According to Ms. Bix, "shortening the sales cycle—and accelerating revenue—begins with shrinking the buying process."

Finding & Listening to Your Audience: Determine who needs your capabilities most using conventional marketing-research tactics (e.g., mining internal sales and service data, buying reports from industry analysts, and interviewing prospects and customers). Find online communities that contain your audience. If you cannot find an appropriate discussion, create a discussion of your own. Listen to what prospects are saying on these social-networking sites.

Help Your Audience to Recognize Need and Your Solution: After identifying the target audience and pinpointing the most-promising prospects, foster a trusting environment in which you can share advice, shape relevant discussions and help your prospects to recognize that your solution will address their needs. Develop a "drip campaign" involving repeated attempts and multiple communications to change perceptions. Market through public relations or when you know who you want to reach deploy a more cost-effective direct-marketing techniques. (Most conventional mail has shifted online, largely to reduce costs associated with production and distribution).

Getting Your Audience Ready To Buy: Create urgency through microblog communications and leveraging the social community. Create buzz about your solution that prospective users just can't live without. Use testimonials and case studies to raise awareness of the benefits prospects are missing (prospects often find unsolicited customer reviews, and spontaneous comments in chat rooms compelling).

Let Your Audience Know You Exist: Social media will supplement conventional PR channels when it comes to helping prospective buyers find your company. A prospect will search for articles and buyers' guides in conventional media both online as well as in print. These channels will help them identify search terms, or connect to links that will help them build their knowledge about options. Prospects will also hear about your company at a social network where your target audience congregates. Seed the conversation by identifying key influencers and communicating with them in advance.

Let Your Audience Know That You Meet Their Needs: Prospects must come to associate your company with all the solutions they may need rather than just the one they became aware of first. Participate in multiple conversations on multiple topics so you can reference the different solutions you offer and the unique benefits you provide to the audience you are addressing.

Communicate Frequently so Your Audience Thinks of You When Needs Arise: Stay high on your prospects' radar through regular updates. Frequent communications elevate your messages above the clutter. As broadcast media is giving way to narrowcasting, publish in multiple venues.

Make Sure You Have What Your Audience Wants: After listening online to get ideas, deepen your insights by employing secondary research to size markets and qualitative research to rank requirements.

Make Sure The Price is Right: Set prices commensurate with value. Through social networking sites listen to get a sense for how badly prospects need your solutions. Pay attention to what prospects say about the limitations of current solutions and what benefits they could derive if they could find an alternative that addressed shortcomings. Use this information to set prices and formulate the value propositions for your marketing messages.

Be Everywhere to Uncover Obstacles and Make it Easy for Your Audience to Buy: Online information speeds up prospects' buying processes, but it is important to make it easy for your audience to buy. Uncover buying obstacles through discussions on social networks and traditional approaches like customer interviews or interviews with service personnel and sales people. Either to position your brand or take corrective action in the event of misinformation, maximize your online presence by being active on all forums where relevant conversations are taking place. Remember, "it takes multiple impressions to make an impact and even more to build the credibility required to win a prospect's business."

By adding social media to your marketing mix you can enhance brand awareness, drive traffic and shorten the sales cycle. Social media can level the playing field for small business, however, as Ms. Bix astutely points out, the key is to "successfully integrate social media with conventional marketing at every stage of the buying process."


Next: Twitter / Social Media and ROI

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1 comment:

Barbara Bix said...

Thanks for recapping my article here and posting my diagram