With the rise of the Internet, the way we buy has changed. We no longer contact sales departments with questions, instead we start by searching in Google. The results provide us with a wealth of information which has turned every person into educated buyers of products and services.
What this means to us, and all companies for that matter, is that sales prospects are spending a lot more time in self-directed information gathering, and are only willing and ready to engage with the traditional sales department very late in the process. The average user expects to understand your product and services from what they read online - and not necessarily from your company’s representative.
For the average small business, with limited time and resources, there are two very key things you must be doing to survive this new sales process which I’ll discuss in more detail below.
1. You need to have a web presence that works - and continues to work
We've all probably said to ourselves, “If I could just have 10 minutes with them I could persuade them...” at least once before. The truth is, you’re going to get this opportunity less and less, as your prospects make up their mind based on what they find online. If your online presence - website, social media, search results, reviews, local directories, etc. - don’t tell this story in a trustworthy and informative way, you’re not in the game.
The first item on your list should be the need to pull these pieces together into a professional, clear brand message that is consistent across all elements of your Internet presence. Be aware that it’s not the same for everyone. In some cases local reviews are critical, others social media. You need to find the right mix for your business and ensure that it is done right.
Think of this as like painting the Golden Gate Bridge - the job is never really finished.
2. Understand Lead Nurturing: How you engage your prospects over time
Once you have a well managed online presence you can start to reach-out and build a relationship with your prospects. This is called Lead Nurturing. Lead Nurturing is not calling and asking for an order every few months; it’s about pulling, not pushing. It’s not about sending more information about your product or having a promotion; it’s about building a trust-based relationship and being there when the prospect decides to do a little more homework.
Now Lead Nurturing can get super-complex, afterall, the sky’s the limit, but you’re a small business so let’s be realistic. Here are two easy to execute ideas that can make a simple yet effective Lead Nurturing program.
It can seem like yet another impossible thing on your To-Do list but, just a few hours a month spent writing at least two to four blog posts can pay huge dividends. Blogging can establish a solid Lead Nurturing foundation with content you can use, and reuse, on your website, newsletter and social media.
At pronto we believe that a blog article isn’t about selling your company’s products and services, it's more about providing helpful ideas and content related to your business and expertise.
Why blogging matters:
- Every blog post opens you up to new keyword ranking opportunities.
- A blog article can live for years, it doesn’t matter if you wrote it three years ago. If someone finds it via search today and it’s helpful, you’ve earned respect as a trusted advisor.
- It can be a way to nurture or start a relationship.
For under an hour a month you can take the content you have in your blog, update your newsletter template and send it off to your customer and prospect list. If you add some extra articles you think your readers will find interesting, or even some humor, you could see a boost in brand buy-in and ultimately more loyal customers who keep you in mind when they want to buy something.
What’s important to keep in mind is that the newsletter isn’t a marketing piece, it’s not the time to pitch your product and services and promotions should not be the lead articles. Rather, the newsletter is a medium through which you share information in a way that your readers find helpful and interesting.
Why a newsletter matters:
- Sent on a regular schedule it creates a communication rhythm, that reinforces the impression that you’re an established, well-run company.
- The content highlights you as an expert and trusted advisor.
- Because the sales cycle can be long, and because you may not know the magic moment your lead is sales ready, the newsletter keeps you in front of your leads - month after month.
A key thing to remember about your customers is that you can’t drive them on a schedule that fits your needs, you need to build relationship over time so that when they are really ready, you are top of mind.
Bonus Tip: Use software for easier Lead Nurturing
You may have heard of Lead Nurturing or Marketing Automation software applications such as HubSpot or Marketo. If you have marketing and sales departments, it would be a big help them to look into software. Here at Pronto we use a combination of SalesForce and Marketo, both of which have made our job infinitely easier.
But for just a moment I’m going to speak to you, the small businesses with very little sales and marketing resources. Frankly there’s probably no automation that will be worth the effort required to learn and master the platform let alone one that will return a decent ROI. So what can you do?
First: Get your customer and prospect list where it’s easy to use access. This might be a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system such as Salesforce, Capsule CRM, or ZohoCRM. Or you could store the email addresses with a mass mailing service like Constant Contact or MailChimp. Most are hosted online, 'in the cloud', with low monthly payments or have pay as you use plans. It's important to remember that if they are just sitting in a file or spreadsheet on your computer - they aren't working for you.
Bottom line: Keep it simple and find a system you’re comfortable with. If it gives you a headache - you won’t be effective at Lead Nurturing. In other words, KISS.