Header Photo by Gavin Whitner
How do your customers find your business?
Do you have an intentional sales funnel set up for them? Are you networking with them at their local hangouts? Maybe you’re putting out great web content that practically has them telling you, “I’ll take what you’ve got."
What are you doing to put your brand in front of your potential customers, and when’s the last time you even thought about it?
It’s 2016 and it’s been a while since anyone’s cracked open the yellow pages. You’ve probably noticed that customers aren’t calling you to ask a bunch of questions anymore. Instead, they’re asking Google the questions they used to ask salespeople - and the brands who answer those questions are the ones who are going to be found and get the business.
So, how are you doing with that?
It's been our observation that a lot of business owners (especially more old school ones) are still hesitant to put any information out there for the market to consume. They have an “our customers need to call us for that” mentality that’s stopping them from sharing.
And maybe that’s you.
Maybe you’re worried about your competitors finding the information you share and using it to somehow steal your business. I get it. Nobody likes to get sniped, and while that’s understandable, it’s also the wrong way to think about it. Have you ever thought about the fact that the biggest thought leaders in the industry give away their stuff for free?
- Home Depot gives away how-to tips and plans on their Apron Blog and Vine account
- Joanna Wiebe of CopyHackers, gives away her copywriting trade secrets all the time, for instance her insanely huge piece here: The Ultimate Guide to No-Pain Copywriting (or, Every Copywriting Formula Ever)
- The National Association of Realtors gives away real estate tips on their blog, HouseLogic
- HubSpot shares their best practices all the time on their blog. For example, Why We Unsubscribed 250K People From HubSpot's Marketing Blog & Started Sending Less Email
- Panera Bread shares healthy living tips & original recipes on their Pinterest account
- BuzzSumo is a digital marketing agency that puts out case study after case study after case study. They're definitely a leader in the industry of Internet marketing because they constantly publish stuff like this: Why Content Goes Viral: What Analyzing 100 Million Articles Taught Us
When you look at those pieces of content what do you see?
I see thought, time, intentionality, and a lot of research and proof. Those posts took several hours, and in some cases weeks or months (due to the research portion) to put together. They’re backed by facts and they provide the reader with an incredible amount of value that they could take and implement right away.
You can see the biggest brands are the most prolific givers, and you know what? Your strongest competitors are givers, too.
The question then becomes - why aren’t you?
What's going on here is a shift in the way the world is doing business. The world is flat now. With regard to business and research capabilities, people have more access to information now than they ever have historically. The stuff businesses are giving away is the same stuff that customers used to ask about in the sales process.
The difference is just that the process doesn’t start with a phone call or customer conversation, anymore.
Now it begins online.
Your 2016 Internet Savvy Customer
If you haven’t been leading the pack in producing and sharing top notch content, you know that something needs to change, but maybe you still need convincing. You know that the Internet changed the way the world works, but you’re not entirely sure how to go about leveraging it for your specific business.
While I can’t give you a precise answer as to how to run your sales and marketing campaigns, I can give you a general look at your customer’s journey in 2016. Once you know the path your customer is travelling down, all you have to do is meet them there and lead them to your [product/service/sales team].
The Buyer is in Control
When the Internet first came of age in the 90’s, it was a place where people logged into chat rooms (because you got that free AOL CD in the mail) and sent emails. That was about it. But after Google came onto the scene in 1998, things began to change dramatically.
The Internet quickly became a place where you could buy a car, find a spouse, do research on why Idaho has 2 time zones, or sell your stuff. It’s literally changed our world in every way conceivable. With a worldwide shift like that, the customer journey shifted right along with it.
In 2016, the buyer holds all the cards.
The average prospect that your sales team talks to on the phone or online, already has a basic understanding of what you do and what you have to offer. This means two things:
- Buyers are pre-qualifying themselves through online research before they call you
- The job of your sales team changed from persuading a prospect to nurturing a lead
Nobody needs to call you to find out about you anymore. Instead, they’re finding everything they need to find online by themselves. If they don’t like what they see, they won’t call. When they do call, they’re looking to either buy or clarify, not just “get some general information.”
They aren’t clueless.
Think about how you research a company or product. Do you find their phone number and call them, or do you go to their website or Facebook page to find out what they have to offer? Do you ask a salesperson to explain what they do, or do you just ask them clarifying questions to make sure you know what you’re getting into?
If you don’t call a company or salesperson without having researched them first, you can bet dollars to doughnuts that your customers don't either. Because of this, you need to be ready to answer any questions they might have and nurture them all the way to the close...
...they want substance, not a sales pitch.
Give them something worth finding before they call.
Now this sounds all well and good right? But maybe you’re still not convinced yet. Maybe you think creating and sharing amazing content works for huge brands but will never work for yours because you’re not well-known or as innovative as the big guys.
If you think that, you need to stop telling yourself that story because it’s not true. Believe me when I say that whether you’re a one-man show, a mid-sized business, or a multi-national brand with several employees, the need to get noticed and stand out is the same if you want to attract customers.
“My competitors will know what I’m up to.”
- Yeah, they will (if they’re spying on you), but it doesn't matter because your customers will know what you’re up to also. You have to think about it from their standpoint. They’re the ones paying you for your products or services, not your competitors. If you give them valuable content and knowledge for free, they’ll go with you over your underwhelming competition every time.
“My business is relationship-based and my customers aren’t online.”
- Yes, they are.
“If we tell our potential customers everything they’ll have no reason to call us and our sales guys won’t be able to talk them into buying.”
- Again, you have to think about this from the viewpoint of the customer. When you educate them by giving away industry knowledge, three things happen - (1) a relationship begins, (2) you set yourself up as an authority in your niche, and (3) people begin to trust you. When people trust you because you’re teaching them how to the simple things...they’ll call you for the big things later.
What to Share & How to Educate
Okay, if you made it this far, you’re on board with the whole “create and share awesome content” stuff but you might not know what you’re supposed to share with people. Or how to do it. You see the importance of getting noticed and being seen as an authority, but you’re not sure what to do. If you’re like me, you want the bullet points.
Here’s what you need to share:
- Blogs - If you know the problems (or “pain points”) your prospects have, you need to write and share blog posts or articles that offer them solutions. There are a lot of great resources to help you get started in blogging too if you haven’t done it before or the mere thought of it makes you cringe (e.g. Getting Started With Blogging: 16 Resources to Boost Your Blog). Don’t wait to do this either. It’s easy to get started. Make a roadmap, decide which platform to publish on, and start writing.
- Case Studies - Do you have a particular client or customer you’ve helped who’s willing to let you share their story publicly? If so, ask them first, then share it. If you have multiple case studies you can share, share those too. All of them. When your potential customers see that you’ve helped other people who had the same problems they currently have, they’re more prone to call you so you can help them like you helped your other customers. If you want to get started with case studies and need a nudge in the right direction as far as how to do it, HubSpot put out a great post on implementing case studies right here.
- Videos & Webinars - This is a great way to build your brand and make personal/emotional connections with your prospects. When they see and hear you, they’ll realize that you’re a person like they are and let their guard down. You can do videos on anything - how-to’s, teaching, demonstrations, even case studies. Make them, share them, and let yourself be seen (because people like to see the people they’re doing business with). If you need some inspiration, check out the Whiteboard Friday videos put out by Moz. Most Fridays they share new videos that educate their customers and provide a ton of value. They’ve set themselves up as an industry authority and gained a huge customer base and one of the ways they did it (and are doing it) is through their videos. The point? Videos work when they’re done well.
- Industry Articles - Are there any specific industry publications your prospects are reading? If you know what they are (offline and online), why not get published in them? If your prospects are going to read them anyways, you want them to hear from you, not your competition. Do some digging, make a list, and start contacting the people who oversee the most read publications in your niche. This is a great way to build credibility and increase the size of your brand’s footprint.
Let Yourself Be Seen
Your customers are looking for you, so make it easy for them to find you. Give them something worth finding when they do.
Sharing industry knowledge is a must for success in 2016. People expect you to do it! When you do, you’ll bubble to the top as someone who’s worth listening to and doing business with. As for the brands that are stuck in the early 90’s (or even the 80’s) and still trying to do things the old fashioned way? They’ll continue to fade away into irrelevance.
Sure, there might be a learning curve, but it’s one worth navigating if you want to position your brand as a serious thought leader in your industry.
There’s something that you do better than anyone else in your industry….
...hit the “publish” button and let the world know about it.