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How to Educate, Engage, & Persuade Buyers Over Lengthy Sales Cycles

Content Planning Strategy for Long Sales Cycles

Content Planning Strategy for Long Sales Cycles In the world of consumer goods, purchase decisions are often made instantaneously and on a whim.  “This blouse is exactly my style! I’ve gotta have it!” “I’ve been wanting a PlayStation 4 forever. Finally it’s mine!” “This tent is just what we were looking for. I don’t even need to ask the wife, I’m buying it now.” Even large, life-changing purchases can sometimes be triggered in a snap. “This car is perfect for me. I was going to check out a few other dealerships but no need; I’ll take it!” Of course, in B2B, this is rarely the case. Recently, we discussed the expanding nature of today’s buying committee, which is part of the reason business purchase journeys are only growing longer Recent data suggests that 75% of sales cycles for new customers run at least four months, with almost half (46%) taking seven months or more. And since this is based on overall aggregated data, it’s safe to say that larger organizations and enterprises are more likely to fall on the top end of that range and beyond.  Of course, such high-value prospective customers are generally the most coveted for providers of B2B solutions, so being able to engage and persuade these buyers (and committees) over time — not to mention accelerate this process — is of the essence for B2B content marketers.  So, let’s examine some content planning steps you can take to do so effectively in the current B2B marketing landscape.

Why Is the Sales Cycle Getting Longer?

Indecision appears to be the most common driver. New research from Aberdeen, featured in the report Why Do B2B Buyers Struggle? The Answer is in the Data, shows 53% of buyers saying they halt or postpone decisions on at least half of their B2B purchases.  Aberdeen Buyer Research on Long Sales Cycles When asked why they’ve cancelled or postponed purchases, two-thirds of buyers called out lack of differentiation between solutions as the most typical cause. Another 57% say they decided no vendor meets their needs.
How can content marketing play a role in overcoming these gridlocks, and the power of corporate inertia? When delays and stalling are unavoidable, how can you we make sure your brands stay top-of-mind rather than slipping by the wayside?

Counteracting Prolonged Sales Cycles with Content Planning

Selling to enterprise customers is a marathon, not a sprint. Becoming pushy or trying to force a decision will get you nowhere. However, the right strategic content planning can be pivotal in gently nudging a prospect toward your solution, as well as accelerating the process of making the call. Here are a few smart techniques to incorporate.

Use an Always-On Approach

We need to keep buyers engaged throughout this extended cycle, and always-on marketing programs are the ticket. Rather than being encased in ephemeral campaigns, your marketing cadence is perpetually ongoing. You want prospects to be able to find and engage with your brand at any time throughout their lengthy consideration. As our Vice President of Client Accounts Alexis Hall wrote last year: “Campaigns can absolutely drive valuable spikes in traffic, engagement, or conversions, as well as help you target specific audiences or verticals. But you need to be able to nurture the audience you’ve built beyond the confines of the campaign—otherwise you’re not only wasting your budget, but also leaving longer-term value and opportunity on the table.” Longer buying cycles necessitate spreading out our content for maximum exposure and impact over time; always-on is designed for this purpose.

Align Content with Buyer Stages

The customer journey is no longer a predictable linear path, but the old pillars — awareness, consideration, decision — remain viable as overarching guides. Is your content mapped to address each phase properly under the Attract, Engage, Convert framework? For instance: Awareness: Attract

  • Get your brand on the radar with easily discovered digital assets and insights
  • Build trust with credible information, consistent output, and thought leadership
  • Answer questions that tend to arise as customers are first recognizing their need
  • Collaborate with a range of relevant influencers around important, trending topics or pain points within your niche to gain targeted visibility

Consideration: Engage

  • Use paid promotional tactics and remarketing to ensure key messaging connects with qualified prospects
  • Generate content across various channels and formats to meet your customers where they’re at during self-driven research
  • Analyze your competitors’ content strategies, and identify white space or opportunities to establish distinction
  • Collaborate with prominent influencers around more specific topics relating to purchase decisions and solution differentiation

Decision: Convert

  • Deploy your most compelling lower-funnel content (testimonials, case studies, ROI grids, etc.) to alleviate concerns or reservations
  • Provide detailed pricing information and implementation specifics
  • Collaborate with influencers such as current customers who are acutely familiar with your brand and solutions, and can speak to them authentically
  • Free trials or demos can help an indecisive buyer take action

Of course, the sales cycle doesn’t end after a purchase is made. Here, the objectives become retention and advocacy. And the good news is that, when renewing clients or acquiring new customers via referral, the sales cycle tends to be much shorter.

Gain Full Visibility within the Buying Committee

We’ve covered the key elements of a committee-centric approach, which requires researching the structure of an account, aligning with sales, and developing personas based on influencer roles within a buying committee.  One of the biggest factors in slow or circular sales cycles is a group of decision makers who can’t get on the same page. Your content is instrumental in fostering a unified front.

Plans Change: Stay Flexible and Nimble

Taking the right steps with content planning will help ensure you’re optimizing your strategy for long sales cycles (and, ideally, speeding them up). But the nature of enterprise organizations is that they are cumbersome and complex. Be ready for changes and make sure your plan is built to adapt when necessary.  As a final note, I’ll point out that Abderdeen’s B2B buyer research indicates the best way to expedite decision-making is by showing prospects a new way to solve their problem. Aberdeen Buyer Research on Speeding Up Decisions With this in mind, how can you continually work toward providing this unique and enlightening perspective through an always-on content marketing approach that accounts for numerous channels and formats, while also permeating the breadth of extended buying committees? It goes without saying that there’s tremendous value in shortening the sales cycle. While B2B purchase decisions — particularly at the enterprise level — will never be as snappy as choosing a pair of slacks, a robust content marketing plan will help buyers make their decision more quickly and confidently.  Does your content marketing strategy account for the entire buying committee? Learn the difference between buyers and buying committees, as well as get steps for expanding your strategy to account for multiple purchasing influencers.

The post How to Educate, Engage, & Persuade Buyers Over Lengthy Sales Cycles appeared first on Online Marketing Blog – TopRank®.

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Tales from the Trenches: How to Transition from Marketing Doer to Marketing Leader

I was roughly five years into my marketing career when I began managing my first direct report. It was the biggest challenge I faced yet. I was now being evaluated on the actions, successes, and failures of another person—and I also knew it was my responsibility to give them the support and tools they needed to have more successes than failures.

I felt as if I didn’t know how to influence, motivate, or persuade another person. But I was given the opportunity to try and to learn. I had a great group of bosses, mentors, and peers giving me advice, listening to my concerns or wins, and allowing me to make mistakes.

Quite a few years (and many direct reports) later, today I have a much better handle on how to manage a team. And as I’ve grown, I’ve learned that my job isn’t just to manage people, time, projects, or priorities, my job is to lead.

But it can be hard to make the transition from a “doer” to a leader. And the stakes are high. In fact, a recent study from TINYpulse found that nearly 50% of employees have quit a job because of a less than stellar manager. In addition, those who don’t feel recognized for their work are two-times as likely to be job hunting.

Whether you’re stepping into your first management role, moving onto middle management, or you have your eye on the CMO office, as a leader it’s your job to inspire, motivate, and grow a happy and high-functioning team. The insights below are designed to help guide you down a successful path to a fruitful career and happy, supported, and motivated employees. 

Tip #1: Understand the landscape

Whether you’re managing one team member or an entire department, you’ll be setting goals and playing an integral role in setting the marketing strategy your team is responsible for driving results with. But to do that, you must understand the broad and niche context in which your organization, department, or service line operates. This means getting to know your customers, prospects, and competitors more deeply, so you thoughtfully can guide and educate your team:

  • Seek out opportunities to hold monthly or quarterly one-on-one calls with your priority customers. Ask them what they value most about your organization or product, as well as where you can do better. 
  • Regularly research your competitors. Subscribe to emails, follow them on social media, and attend industry events where they might be speaking. This will give you unique intel that you can bring back to your team.
  • Get out of the marketing silo. Brainstorm with the sales team. Talk to your customer service team. These teams are intimately familiar with the challenges your customers and prospects face.

Tip #2: Set goals … and exceed them

Yes, you’ve probably be setting goals at all stages of your career. As an individual contributor, your goals were likely focused on what you could individually achieve. In a leadership role, you’re likely responsible for setting goals for your team that will ladder to corporate goals. If you are new to a leadership role, achieving goals that map directly to the success of the company, can be a quick win to build trust within leadership and grow your team and influence. 

  • Keep your goals top of mind. Discuss progress, roadblocks, and wins with your team, your boss, and other leaders. The more discussion around goals, the more likely you and your team are to remain focused and accountable on achieving them. 
  • Incentivize if you can. Big and small incentives can keep your team motivated to achieve their goals.
  • Make it a number. In my experience, setting and achieving a numerical goal has more impact on the organization and is generally more impressive than an accomplishment-based goal. For example, make the goal double MQLs, instead of rolling out a new marketing automation system. The marketing automation system is a stepping stone to reach the goal, not the actual goal. 
  • Set goals quarterly. Ninety days is long enough to achieve something big-ish, but short enough to keep you focused. We’ve found quarterly goals helps us track for the year and keep the team more motivated. 

[bctt tweet="The more discussion around goals, the more likely you and your team are to remain focused and accountable on achieving them. @Alexis5484" username="toprank"]

Tip #3: Focus on scalability

Once it’s time to step out of day-to-day execution and supervision and into leadership, you should focus more on optimizing and solving issues on a systematic basis, rather than local basis. When I was a new manager, I found myself constantly on the run putting out fires as they would pop up, instead of focusing on why it started and how to prevent it going forward.

  • Create make-sense processes. Identify the things your team does over and over again such as campaign launches, attending events, or adding new content to the website. These are replicable events that you can create process around and then optimize for efficiency, results, and so on.
  • Don’t feel like you have to stick to the status quo. Just because the marketing team has always had six copywriters, two content strategists, and an analyst, doesn’t mean that’s the ideal structure. Document the needs and functions of the organization and then map out the most make-sense roles to those needs. For the sake of the exercise, take the current situation out of it. You can employ a phased approach to get you from current situation to ideal. 

Tip #4: Shift the spotlight to your team

As you’re moving into leadership, you’re likely trying to build trust and show value to upper leadership, and it can be easy to lose focus on serving your team. Fostering a happy, well-functioning team is your top priority. Not only can you not do your job without them, but it is one of the best indicators of success to your boss and your boss’s boss. 

  • Shift how you find personal value from work. Most of us have moved into leadership, after being highly successful individual contributors and supervisors. As leaders, we must find more value from the task, result, or project we helped someone else achieve, rather than the work we did ourselves. 
  • Clear obstacles. Be transparent when you can; have your employees’ backs. These things build trust and create a secure, happy, and productive team. 
  • Cultivate the next round of leaders. Understand what your team wants to achieve personally within their careers within the next five or 10 years, and help them do that. As leaders, we should always be identifying and growing the team members who want to move to the next round in their careers. 

[bctt tweet="Most of us have moved into leadership, after being highly successful individual contributors and supervisors. As leaders, we must find more value from the task, result, or project we helped someone else achieve. @Alexis5484" username="toprank"]

Tip #5: Stay fresh on the job

At all levels of my career, I’ve found the best way to build trust with a team is to help them solve a problem. The more you understand your team’s job function, the more able you will be able to help them solve problems, innovate, and provide feedback to improve the function of their performance. 

  • Stay fresh. I find the best way to do this is to jump in and help execute from time to time. So, write a blog post or create the tactical plan. This keeps you from getting rusty, but also helps you empathize with your team and the challenges within their roles. 
  • Ask questions. Sometimes you won’t understand the details of what they’re working on, particularly if you’re leading a cross functional team. But ask questions. Help them look at the problem critically, and it’s likely you’ll guide them to their own answer. 

Tip #6: Be the leader

One of the toughest transitions from individual contributor to leader, is owning your role as the leader. For the first few years that I was managing a small team, I was more likely to be found deep in the weeds, doing the tasks I did in my previous job titles, than actually doing my work as a leader.

There were a couple reasons for this. It was comfortable doing the work; I already knew how to do it and I was good at. I also felt like I was most helpful to my team if I was helping them get the work done by actually doing the work. 

This was not true. See tip No. 3. You (and I) are most helpful to your team when you’re solving systematic problems, optimizing workflow and production, and creating a happy and secure work environment. If you’re always in the weeds, all you can see is the weeds. 

[bctt tweet="You're most helpful to your team when you’re solving systematic problems, optimizing workflow and production, and creating a happy and secure work environment. @Alexis5484 on being a #marketing leader" username="toprank"]

Tip #7: Keep learning

The leaders I am most inspired by inside and outside of my organization are probably the most voracious learners. Continuous learning through a variety of mediums will help you continue to evolve your skill set, bring in fresh ideas, and help you be inspired to test something new. Here are a couple of the resources that I go to:

  • Read: HBR is a go to for great content on how to lead, manage and shape a business. 
  • Listen: Dear HBR has a great Q&A format about navigating workplace challenges. 
  • Attend: Industry events are great for providing outside perspective, networking with other leaders and inspiring the evolution of your tactics. MarketingProfs is a great event for marketers.

Take Your Place at the Leadership Table

Each stage of your career offers a unique set of challenges and opportunities. The way in which you handle those situations—tackling them head-on or leaving them for someone else—has the potential to make or break your success in that position… and the one that may or may not come after. Keep these pieces of advice in mind as you work to build your team, your organization, and career as a leader.

Looking for more tips on how to inspire, motivate, and build a more effective marketing team? Check out our tips for getting your marketing team to work better together.

The post Tales from the Trenches: How to Transition from Marketing Doer to Marketing Leader appeared first on Online Marketing Blog - TopRank®.

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