Content Marketing Trends for Your Business in 2017

content marketing

Content marketing continues to serve as a key marketing tool for businesses of all sizes. Those businesses that make a commitment to provide informative and useful content build a stronger bond with their target audiences, leading to greater sales and enhanced profits.

Why? “Content marketing works because if people trust you when the time comes around that they need your product, they’ll think of your company first,” notes marketing expert Brian Sutter. “That’s all content marketing buys for you: Familiarity and trust.”

Online content takes a wide array of forms, including:

  • Articles
  • White papers
  • Blog posts
  • Newsletters
  • Podcasts
  • Videos

All of these forms of content can serve as vehicles for the messaging you wish to get across to your customers. The key is creating content that offers value and meaning, not unabashed self-promotion.

Here’s a look at content marketing trends for 2017 that can benefit your company’s marketing and sales efforts:

Authenticity works. As noted, blatant efforts at boosting your business will invariably fail to connect with your chosen audience. Instead, people respond to authenticity—for example, stories of the challenges and solutions you encounter in your efforts to improve your services or products.

“Today, everyone feels entitled to a behind-the-scenes look at things,” notes Small Business Trends. “We want to see the final product AND how it was made.” Visitors to your site or social media platform are interested in your brand’s history and commitment to social responsibility, as well as how your product or service will solve their problems or enhance their lives.

Video offers a different way to tell your story. Increasingly, marketing departments and others charged with communicating with the public see the benefits of repurposing posted content into video form.

Obviously, not everyone responds the same way to the written word. Look for opportunities to retell your story—or provide valuable “how-to” information through video—that resonates with prospects and customers who like to see, rather than read. Videos of employee events and tradeshow demonstrations, for example, provide that appealing behind-the-scenes perspective. So do video customer testimonials.

Not convinced? Look at these compelling statistics:

  • More than 60% of users who watch a video are more likely to make an online purchase.
  • Placing a video on a landing page can boost conversion rates by 80%.
  • Nearly 100% of B2B companies employ video in their marketing campaigns.

There are two companies locally in Dublin who are well worth looking into in this area. If you are seeking to empower your staff to produce better quality quick videos from their HD phones or consumer HD cameras, The Courtyard Studio has a new online course designed specifically for marketing staff to create better video content for your business. If you want a more professional job, they will do that too.  The second is company Brightspark-Consulting who have a social media training course online so that you can keep your staff up to date in this rapidly changing space. Maryrose Lyons who leads Brightspark is the most knowledgeable and experienced all-rounder in this area that I know.

Influencer marketing remains strong. The power of influencers—prominent bloggers, social media personalities, and industry thought leaders—continues to be a driving force in the arena of content marketing. If your brand becomes associated with these individuals, you gain access to a potentially huge audience (and prospective customers).

If you aren’t already doing so, research figures affiliated with your industry and reach out to them via their social media platforms. Create content that includes links to their sites and invites them to contribute to your platforms as well.

Enlist the resources and creativity of your entire organisation. In many businesses, the responsibility for marketing resides solely in the marketing department. But some companies are beginning to leverage the creative potential that exists throughout the entire organisation.

“It is simply not possible to streamline your content strategy if individual teams are working in isolated silos,” notes serial entrepreneur Marcela De Vivo. Not only does this open up new ideas for future content, employing this strategy means that “businesses large and small can ensure every employee understands the business’s goals and is working towards the same end.”

 

How to Get Your Sales and Marketing Teams on the Same Page

company culture

Just how well do your sales and marketing teams interact? Can you point to tangible achievements as a result of close sales/marketing collaboration? Or is the situation more akin to military platoons advancing with little or no contact with one another?

In fact, many businesses are still chasing the elusive goal of optimum sales and marketing alignment. Even in an era of advanced marketing automation, “marketing technology and processes have yet to turn the sales and marketing boxing ring into a night of candlelit dinners,” observes B2B marketing expert Laura Ramos.

As we all know, today’s consumers (both B2B and B2C) are far better informed about your products or services than in times past. This has substantially affected what we consider the sales cycle, since it’s rare for a salesperson to address a prospect who has no idea who they are or what they represent.

But it’s important to point out that what prospects do know is largely based on materials (in print and online) generated by a company’s marketing team. So if the sales team isn’t kept up to date on these materials, they can enter the sales conversation at a disadvantage—either looking unprepared or out of step with the latest marketing message your business is promoting.

Either way, that lack of alignment can mean the difference between closing a deal or losing the prospect to another, more closely aligned competitor.

Here are tips on getting sales and marketing on the same page, thus benefiting both your business and your customers:

  1. Always be communicating! A renewed emphasis on cross-departmental communications is a great first step in achieving proper alignment. Select an individual from each department to meet regularly (at least once a week) to keep each other informed on new lead generation, updated marketing materials, suggestions for new initiatives, and so on. Quarterly meetings between the entire teams is another potentially fruitful exercise.
  2. Review the marketing message on your website and in your collateral materials. It’s vitally important that everyone be “in sync” on the message you present to the target audience. When branding inconsistencies occur—between sales hand-outs and digital messaging, for example—the sales team may emphasise a range of features and benefits at odds with what the marketing team is pushing.To offset potential customer confusion, closely review all the material that represents your business in print, on the web and in social media. Ask the sales team for input on how to better frame a branding message that genuinely connects with prospects (rather than just makes your company look good). Get sales involved in the actual creation of materials, thus reflecting their own experience in the field.
  3. Align sales and marketing metrics. It’s likely your sales and marketing teams are tracking different information and employing different analytic models. If so, confusion is likely to ensue. The key is devising a system that both teams can use to assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of a sales campaign or marketing initiative, how best to nurture a warm lead and the numbers of leads that convert per month and quarter. Collaborative analysis can also point to any gaps in data that may be contributing to a decline in sales.

Sometimes a friendly rivalry can spring up between sales and marketing teams. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as everyone understands and agrees upon the final goal—acquiring new customers and retaining the ones you have. Closer alignment of these two necessary departments will tilt the odds of future success in your favour.

 

Tips on Improving the Quality of Your Written Sales Pitch

help with written sales pitch

When did you last look at the email pitch written by your sales team? If the level of new sales isn’t what you’re expecting, it may be related to the quality of these emails being sent to prospective clients.

Here are tips for enhancing the message that compels prospects to take action:

First, recognise the difference between a verbal and written sales pitch. Your sales team may be outstanding in the realm of a verbal pitch, utilising all the “soft” talents of the tone of voice, appearance, body language, etc. None of that applies to the written sales pitch, so it’s important to be clear on the differences and focus solely on the choice of words and appropriate style (formal, informal).

Do the homework. Prospects are a lot smarter now than “back in the day.” They can tell by the opening line of the sales pitch whether your salesperson knows something about their company or is just winging it. With all the available resources at hand these days, there’s no excuse for not researching the prospect’s current executive team, annual sales figures, social media profiles, company website, corporate initiatives, and so on.

Whether or not any of this information makes its way into the written pitch (and, in most cases, it probably shouldn’t), this knowledge will affect the quality of the email pitch.

Get to the point. One common mistake with writing a sales pitch is thinking some sort of preface or introduction is necessary. Not at all! Busy prospects need to feel you’re getting to the point or they’ll simply click out of the message. Be concise. Let the recipient know only what’s absolutely necessary to know before moving forward.

“The only purpose of a prospecting email is to elicit a response,” notes sales strategist Marc Wayshak. Any “excess information in your email that does not support this intention is actually hurting you.”

Engage the prospect. Pay attention to the flow of the sales pitch. Avoid hopping around from one topic to another, or one tone to another. The trick to engaging a prospect is by moving them from one sentence to the next. And the best way to achieve this is by emphasising—always emphasising—what’s in it for them.

Stress value and benefits, not features. Your product or service likely comes with an impressive range of features, but unless you clearly demonstrate how those features offer value to the customer, you’re wasting your time (and theirs). Examples of value to communicate in an email include:

  • Brief description of how your product can boost sales
  • Offering to send an informative white paper or case study
  • Invitation to a value-added webinar

Another approach involves specifically identifying a problem or challenge your prospect faces. By naming this problem (which implicitly recognises how well you understand their business and industry), you can then “tease” them with a concise description of your proposed solution and then invite them to learn more.

Make your call-to-action specific and compelling. By “learning more,” we mean ending your pitch with a single call-to-action that’s clear and to the point. What would you like the prospect to do after reading your email—opt-in to your newsletter, watch a product-focused video, set up an appointment? Specify your desired goal, while reminding them of the value they’ll receive by taking this action.

Spend time on the email subject line. Sometimes, the best email subject line comes after you’ve crafted a concise, informative and compelling email message. Here’s the place to get creative (while remaining concise), something along the lines of “Game-Changing Idea for Your B2B Business” or “The Hidden Value You Could Be Adding to Your Business Right Now.” Any generic approach will likely end up in the prospect’s spam folder.

There is a definite art and style to winning email sales pitches. Now might be a great time for a thorough reexamination of how your sales pitch is being crafted and take these steps to dramatically improve its quality.

 

Four Common Lead Generation Mistakes to Avoid

lead generation

Where would your sales figures be without qualified leads? Leads matter because people have demonstrated an interest in your business’ products or services and are willing to share personal information in order to learn more. Some of these leads can be nurtured into prospects and converted into sales, but many won’t.

The key for you and your sales team is recognising common mistakes that negatively impact the opportunities to cultivate rich and eventually profitable leads. Here are four key mistakes to avoid:

1. Your lead capture forms aren’t “user-friendly.”

Generating leads starts with capturing key customer information—enough to move a casual visitor to your site to start the sales process rolling. Many sales efforts stumble when the lead capture forms on your landing page don’t reflect a typical user’s preferences; either they ask for too much information or, alternately, request too little of the user.

Short forms may generate larger numbers of potential leads, but the quality of those leads might be lacking. There simply won’t be enough for your sales team to go on, and a lot of time can be wasted chasing after prospects who stubbornly refuse to become “qualified” in the desirable sense of the word.

Forms that ask for too much information are most likely to discourage potential interest in your business offering. (Though, on the bright side, those visitors willing to share an abundance of information are probably better qualified, to begin with.)

Finding the right length for your lead form may depend on what you offer as a “reward” for sharing information. Strive to balance your request for data with the value of the benefit you’re offering.

2. Your web pages aren’t optimised to generate leads.

As with any business site, visitors flock to certain pages more than others. Businesses sometimes err by not optimising the most heavily trafficked sites (such as the home page, “Contact Us,” etc.). Here are opportunities to seize on prospect interest in your business. Make sure these pages are optimised with eye-catching, stand-alone calls-to-action (CTAs), generally placed in the upper left-hand corner for prime visibility. Also consider adding special offers on these pages, in order to generate further interest.

“If your CTA does happen to send users to a general page on your site, it’s likely that they won’t bother wasting the time trying to find what they were after in the first place,” warns marketing expert Sarah Quinn. “They’ll just get it elsewhere.”

3. The call-to-action lacks urgency.

Speaking of CTAs, how compelling are the ones you feature now? Remember, visitors come to your site at different stages in their “buyer’s journey.” A generic CTA won’t likely produce much response. Consider tailoring these with different goals in mind, such as downloading a white paper, viewing a demo product video or some other value-added incentive to generate more click-throughs.

4. The definition of a “qualified lead” isn’t shared throughout the organisation.

In some organisations, there’s a clash between marketing and sales when it comes to defining a lead. Marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) are those leads identified by marketing as having genuine potential for a long-range customer relationship (with an emphasis on repeat business), These leads may grow out of analytic results or customer demographic characteristics that have proven successful in the past.

Sales-qualified leads (SQLs) are, by contrast, regarded by the sales team as promising opportunities for a short-term closed deal.

“It’s imperative that your company’s definition of an MQL matches its definition of an SQL for this transference between departments to work seamlessly,” cautions marketing executive Giles House. For better results, close communications “between teams will improve overall sales by generating a marketing agenda that best suits and supports your sales force.”

 

The Truth Behind the Top 5 Sales Myths

sales myths

For anyone who isn’t actively involved in sales, it’s easy to acquire some misconceptions about this critically important field. Some of us still hold onto the stereotype of the sleazy used-car salesperson or at the very least associate “sales” with aggressive behaviour, annoying persistence, even the notion of being cornered by someone at a party and unable to escape.

Needless to say, veteran salespeople object to these clichéd images and at other myths about their field. Here’s a look at some of the most common myths about sales and the truth behind them:

Myth #1: We can pick any employee to learn sales.

Well, perhaps not anyone—but certainly the guy in marketing who’s such a well-known “people person.” Right? In fact, salespeople who are good at what they do are a breed apart. They have a unique ability to strategise and think ahead, regardless of where they are in the sales cycle. They’re also committed to building relationships that don’t have any immediate payoff. Yes, they’re persistent by nature, but that persistence encompasses much more than making repeated telephone calls. It involves ongoing research and working hard to retain such “soft” information as the name of a client’s fifth-grade daughter.

Myth #2: The right salesperson can convince anyone to buy our product.

Yes, salespeople are persuasive by nature (and training). But the era of mass impulse buying is long past, thanks to the wealth of information available to consumers online. Generally speaking, prospects know a lot more about your business before they’re ever approached by a member of your sales team, so they’ve already made at least a partial decision about whether or not to consider purchasing your product or service.

Expert salespeople understand the key is determining if a prospect has a genuine need for what they’re selling. They know they could spend all day extolling product features, when all the would-be customer wants to know is, “What’s in it for me?” Such sales veterans aren’t interested in trying to sell to everyone they meet.

Myth #3: CRM and online resources make selling easy.

While it’s true that Customer Relationship Management and the internet’s vast toolkit of resources offer advantages undreamed-of in an earlier time, the best salespeople understand that these resources help pave the way, but aren’t the “golden grail” of sales. They use online data to help prepare for their appointments with prospects, but never mistake the web and/or social media as replacing the all-important relationship they build with individual buyers or department managers.

Myth #4: The best salespeople see everyone as the “enemy” (including their fellow employees).

We can pigeonhole salespeople as wildly competitive and out to make themselves better than anyone else, including the people they work with. But don’t fall for the idea that “your best performers will be cold-blooded, deal-making machines,” warns sales expert Nick Hedges. Instead, aim for a sales culture within your organisation that promotes “a team mentality, by rewarding more than just the top performers, and by inspiring confidence in the entire team’s capabilities.”

Myth #5: Our sales team must always be closing.

Thanks to David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, we all fall prey to the notion that sales must focus entirely on “ABC” (always be closing). But, as noted earlier, sales are equally all about relationships. And those relationships must revolve around a discussion of value to the customer, not the salesperson’s need to meet or exceed quotas. Building relationships take time, so the most effective perspective is long-range, rather than any short-term benefit to the company.