In my role, I get to talk to all kinds of people – including CEOs and sales leaders – and one of the themes of a favorite war story is the deal that got away not because it was lost during a battle with competitors but because the lucrative customer had zero awareness of the company.
Oftentimes, the seller had a formidable set of sales tools in place. His sales teams were armed to the teeth with the best selling tools money could buy. And usually, the incredulous tale-teller can’t believe – can’t believe! – that the buyer knew nothing about his company. Can you imagine that? That customer, with a massive amount of budget to spend and a high-profile logo that could have driven additional business, didn’t even know about the company! What is their problem, anyway! Amirite?
Well, it’s wrong to refer to it as the buyers’ “problem.” It’s not the buyers’ fault. If they don’t know who a seller is, it indicates a couple of things are going awry on the seller’s side of the equation.
In this era of the enabled customer, when more of the buyer’s journey is complete before the buyer makes contact with sales, winning the thought leadership war is the first step toward closing deals. If you truly believe that the journey is nearly complete before first contact – as much as 70 percent complete, according to some analysts – then you should aspire for your thought leadership to be the market standard for your vertical and your target audience. Do you make Internet of Things-enabled doorstops? Then, when a customer looks for IoT doorstops your content should – no, must – be their first destination.
That doesn’t just mean on your website, although the right mix of content in your company’s resource section is vital. It also means becoming the voice of your market in third-party publications and websites as well. And becoming the voice of the market does not mean that you spend a lot of time talking up your brand – talk up the ideas that sell your brand. That will earn you mind share, which helps eliminate your customers’ “blind spots” regarding your business. It’ll also help refine who becomes a lead. You don’t want a bunch of leads that are poor fits jamming your funnel and hurting your sales reps’ ability to focus on leads that are likeliest to close. If your content discourages people from becoming customers because they realize you’re not a good fit, then great.
Becoming the go-to source of information in your market is not easy and takes investment and time, but it should also help reduce incidents where customers who are great fits never consider you.
By the way, when customers are great fits, they shouldn’t have to wait to be discovered. With the tools we have today, those customers should be identified by your marketing department and become the targets of outreach. Inbound marketing is great, but too much of a reliance on it results in a passive marketing posture that opens the door to customer blind spots. Marketers talk about the metaphor of fishing in relation to inbound marketing, but fishermen don’t just dump their nets in the water – they cast them to cover the maximum area.
Marketers also tend to be somewhat passive around their websites. The whole point of putting content on your website is to help turn readers into leads, and yet most business websites take one of two deficient approaches: they either allow viewers to browse content at will without any type of tracking so they don’t know who’s looking, or they put everything behind forms and thus get very few eyeballs on their content. If you want readership – and the impact on the brand that goes with it – a mixed approach is critical. Put a form on your “bottom of the funnel” content, the stuff people who are likely to buy are most likely to read. At the same time, employ visitor tracking so the behavior of even anonymous visitors is understood and can even be attributed to individual viewers (something that technologies like CallidusCloud Marketing Automation can enable). If you can do this, you can start reinforcing your company as a choice to these customers.
Finally, think about your products and how your existing customers are relating to them. One of the most powerful channels to the shortlist is the positive word of mouth of your existing customers. If you don’t have any positive word of mouth, schedule an emergency session with your product managers and customer support teams. If you do know customers like you and you still don’t have much of a word-of-mouth presence, start strategizing on processes to get that positive sentiment out there. That may include the creation of an online community, efforts to generate reviews on sites like G2Crowd, or the cultivation of reference customers to talk to the media on your behalf. Nothing captures the attention of customers better than other customers.
Finally, stop pretending you’re Kevin Costner and quit believing that if you build it, they will come. Customers have the same shortage of time and attention that you suffer from, and just as you shouldn’t expect them to discover your business through their psychic powers, they shouldn’t have to work to know that you’re a potential solution to their business problems. Make it easy on them – and more lucrative for yourself – by making it valuable for them to know your business even before the decision-making process starts.