1. SELLING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
Many people feel they understand sales, but feel much less clear about marketing. The dynamics are, however, very similar and the goal is exactly the same; persuade your prospects that your product or service is the one they should want.
Consider how a good sales person sells. When you walk into an auto showroom the first thing a sales person will do is engage you. He or she will be pleasant and start earning the likeability and relationship that leads to trust. In those moments he is communicating a great deal in how he conducts himself. Once the dialogue has begun he will quickly start to ask you questions. Are you interested in a car or a truck? Is this for you or for a family member? For business or for pleasure? This is the essential process of discovering what is relevant to the prospect. It is critically important, because if someone wants a truck and a sales person starts talking about cars, the prospect will quickly lose interest. As the sales person gathers information, he constantly tailors and tweaks his pitch, getting increasingly personally relevant. This is called consultative selling.
THE INTERNET IS THE FIRST MARKETING MEDIUM THAT CAN SIMULATE THE CONSULTATIVE SELLING OF A SALESPERSON.
Until the internet came along the only consultative selling came from a sales person. Marketing couldn’t do it because traditional media was a one-way experience. Marketing could talk at you, but couldn’t listen to you. The internet changed that with a medium that could enable a real time exchange of information. The result was marketing that could simulate a consultative selling process. This really came to life with high-speed broadband that enabled almost instantaneous communications. It was the first time marketing could, in essence, act like a good sales person. This real time capability is sometimes lost today among all the other amazing things that the internet can do. But this ability to act like a sales person has changed both sales and marketing forever. Now when we talk about cultivation, we are talking about consultative selling on steroids.
As we know, most people are not ready to buy when a brand connects with them for the first time. In Chapter 3. I discussed how to make the initial connection. I outlined how to use Brand Advertising and Brand Activation to introduce your brand, and why, instead of just focusing on the tiny percentage of prospects who are ready-to-buy, you should also target the entire audience with a cultivation program.
THE IDEA IS TO TURN A FIRST CONTACT INTO AN ON-GOING DIALOGUE IN WHICH YOU CULTIVATE AND NURTURE A LEAD’S INTEREST UNTIL THEY ARE READY TO BUY.
On the surface, cultivation, for most brands, means a process of incrementally presenting your value proposition, your pitch, until the prospect has heard your whole story, and hopefully found it persuasive. It assumes that you are confident that when you have the chance to tell your complete story, you will get the desired result. Telling your story might be pretty quick and easy if it’s about bubble gum, but to explain something more complicated, such as where to invest your retirement savings, is neither quick nor easy. Many brands have complex value propositions, which take time and effort to explain and understand. And even simple brands, with simple value propositions, frequently need time with their prospects to win them over. Either way, the problem is often just getting enough of your prospect’s time and attention so you can tell your story. Conventional wisdom holds that it takes 7-13 touches to get your value proposition across. This is complicated by what appears to be a lengthening sales cycle for many brands. Complex products and B2B have notoriously long sales cycles that are just getting longer. Over the last couple of years, while B2B buyers, for example, have been much more positive about the quality of content and help they get from companies, they have been much slower in their decision making, which has pushed the sales cycles even longer.
In a face-to-face selling situation you might be able to get all the time you need in one meeting, but with most marketing interactions you usually only have time to communicate a piece of the story. That forces brands to think about the order in which they present their value proposition, literally, the stages of the pitch, as well as the cumulative effect of different messages layering on top of one another over time. This is the essence of the lead nurturing process. The design of which should also reflect a comprehensive understanding of the psychology of your target consumer as determined by the strategic work I outlined in Chapter 2, such as your Content Strategy and Messaging Framework.
The cultivation process happens during the Consideration and Evaluation phases of the consumer journey.
THE STAGES OF THE CONSUMER JOURNEY:
- Trigger – What causes a consumer to begin thinking about a purchase?
- Consideration – Is this purchase necessary and feasible? What will it mean?
- Evaluation – Which product is better and why?
- Purchase – How and where is the purchase completed? Why should you buy now? Is it easy?
- Loyalty – What is the experience of the product? Will customers become advocates?
You’ve already got your prospect’s attention in some way with your initial marketing trigger, now, what do you do with it? The old way was to immediately try to close the deal, and if prospects were not ready to buy that was their problem. The new way is to engage, find out what’s important and nurture that interest up to the point where they value your brand and are ready to buy. This includes people not fully sold yet, people with unaddressed objections, people still actively evaluating their options, and the just curious. It also includes the many prospects who may already be sold on your brand, but for whom the timing is not right. That can be for a million reasons that have nothing to do with your brand. But if you stay connected, as good sales people know, the time will often come when these prospects are ready. Then you’ll be there, connected and set up to close.