All posts in Online Engagement

Social Selling for the Modern Buyer

Social Media Cube

Most of us would probably agree that the average person does not want to be sold to. As much as we all buy products and services and experiences, we don’t want them to be sold to us. People don’t like to feel the pressure. When we recognize a need or a problem we look for a solution, and that’s when we traditionally reach out to Sales. Buyers have to contact Sales to inquire about a solution, get more info, and eventually make a purchase. This puts Sales in control: the buyer has to come to them.

But the modern buyer operates within a completely different environment, so the modern salesperson must fill a completely different role. With such free access to information, buyers can do their research without ever contacting a company. They can seek out reviews online, find testimonials on social media and find out the general public sentiment about a company before Sales has a chance to get involved. If the company has an e-commerce system, buyers can pretty well avoid every potential Sales interaction.

Social media provides a wonderful new environment for the modern buyer, but the modern seller is able to benefit too. Sales can see how prospects interact in the social environment as they volunteer information about themselves in real time. They can track what prospects are reading, who influences them, where they seek out information and so on. This gives Sales an opportunity to tap into the same networks and build trust within a community the prospect already belongs too. Now, when a prospect is ready to make a purchase, guess who they think of first?

Not only that, it facilitates customer-Sales interactions in a way that benefits both parties. Sales listens to prospects and customers in real time, meaning a better understanding of customer needs. Prospects hold Sales accountable to always provide engaging information rather than make constant sales pitches. Plus, this power-neutral relationship allows less formal and more immediate communications: Sales can reach out to new prospects or rekindle interest by old customers without ever picking up the phone.

Social Selling is defined in Eloqua’s Grande Guide as “the practice of leveraging social networks…in the overall sales function, from lead generation, to closed deal, to account management”. Social Selling is a way of responding to the changed buyer environment, and it works better for both parties. Sales is able to connect with potential buyers much earlier in the cycle and start building a relationship that can lead to more and bigger purchases. And buyers still have control over what information they provide and the degree to which they engage with Sales.

As much as the way the modern salesperson does her job is changing, the goal of Sales is still very much the same. Fundamentally, Sales is responsible for getting a buyer to the point where they can purchase. Buyers still start the cycle by seeking solutions to their problems. Branded thought leadership content is great during this information gathering stage. Then buyers narrow down the list and compare their best options. Sales can share internal and external content that touts the benefits of their solution. When the prospect is ready to buy she looks for social proof. Having an engaged social media following of current and past customers is exactly that kind of proof.

So Sales is still working towards the same objective, they’re just taking a different route through a new environment. Now, Sales accompanies the buyer throughout the whole purchase journey. “Selling to” a prospect means building a relationship over time, building trust with the buyer, and eventually making a transaction. And what better way to build that relationship than to engage “socially”, with Social Selling?

Improving Student Enrollment with B2B Marketing Strategies

classroom desks

The problems of increased competition for students, staff, and research funding are putting a strain on higher education institutions, forcing many to completely re-invent their recruiting methods. With more higher education institutions to choose from, students, staff and donors are having an equally hard time connecting with any one institution; the competition is negatively affecting both parties.

To better serve their customer (i.e. the student or staff or donor), higher education institutions can learn something from the many similarities between their challenges and the challenges in B2B marketing. Consider, if you will, how the challenges of increasing enrollment in the academic sector and improving lead conversion in the business-to-business sector face are really very similar.

B2B and higher education marketing have several common dilemmas, in fact. Both have to market to a variety of individuals, all on an individual level; each must appeal to every customer in a personal way. This is a challenge of mass-customization. Both are plagued by extremely constrictive budgets to achieve their goals, prompting questions of revenue management and ROI. Both are highly focused on conversion; a primary objective is getting more prospects from the “interest” to the “purchase” stage. The ways that B2B marketers approach these problems can reveal tricks for how higher education marketers might do the same.

B2B solves the problem of variety by ignoring it. Where there are no common factors in demography or geography, there are common factors in behavior. While a final purchase decision is made on different variables for each customer, most move though the same buyer cycle when considering that purchase. If you know that buyer journey, you can track what leads a prospect to become a customer, or a student.

B2B marketers have customer life-cycle management tools that they use to track this buyer journey and in fact, many education institutions are already taking advantage of these tools for their own purposes. The data capture available through many of these tools makes it easy to track current student behavior, which gives insights into how to target prospective students. Further adaptation of these tools represents a huge opportunity for higher education.

These same tools also help B2B marketers solve some of their resource-restriction problems. By using a more robust analytics system, marketers are able to identify their “ideal” customer and target them specifically. Without superfluous ad spend on uninterested prospects, marketers also have more money to spend on their ideal customer. Consider the benefits if higher education institutions could identify the “ideal” student and target that student exactly where she is, providing her all the information she needs, before she even asks for it. This would also reduce costs in head-count, as fewer active marketers would be needed to connect with more prospective customers.

With student personas and an idea of the typical student life-cycle, higher education marketers will be able to spot potential students much earlier in their search for an institution and thus guide them to that purchase decision. Not only will marketers be more effective, we will be using fewer of them, and their jobs will be easier. Taking a page out of the B2B marketing hand-book will improve the effectiveness and the efficiency of higher education; we give that strategy an A+.

Why You Need to Get Creative in Your Customer Research

We want to give customers what they want, and what they need. Every company would agree finding the product or service that your target market has been waiting for should be a top goal. But how do we know what that product is? Or maybe we have a product that a customer just doesn’t know they need yet, so how do we let them know? The key isn’t the blast them with advertisements, no, it’s much more foundational than that: you need to learn more about your customer, and how they should be approached. Continue reading →

A Response to Forbes’ Eclectic CMO

The role of CMO is one of the most coveted and sought after positions in a company. It’s a role that combines creativity, leadership, and strategy, and it changes with even the slightest movements in the industry. As the marketing world begins to blend in with other industries, like technology and public relations, the role of a marketing executive also changes.

A recent Forbes article discusses the shifting responsibilities of CMOs, and how the expectations are moving away from the original big-idea strategies, and towards a more diverse set of skills. While having experience in marketing is always going to be an asset, there is also a dire need for digital and technological skills, and experience with operations, public relations, and strategy development.

If you’re able to try your hand at roles in each of those industries you gain powerful connections, and this enables you to become an influence. The value of a following, and maintaining the role of a thought leader, should never be undervalued: you become a voice that has the power to change, not only your company, but the industry.

The way to become the best CMO is to diversify your skill set, and to move beyond the traditional marketing responsibilities. Having a formal background in marketing is no longer the main requirement for holding that executive-level position, because new skills are becoming increasingly more valued.

CMOs to Look Up To: Social Executives

When it comes to marketing, it’s all about being social. It is becoming increasingly important to not only have an understanding of the social media channels, but a strategy for how to use them. With the right tactics, social media can be pivotal to gaining more followers, promoting your products, and climbing the thought leadership ranks. A couple of weeks ago Couch & Associates, Inc. introduced the discovery of an interesting correlation: the social capabilities of a Fortune 500 company are in line with their Chief Marketing Officer’s. But whereas the last time was about the discussion of weak social media presence, this week focuses on two success stories.

General Electric’s Beth Comstock and Abbott Laboratories’ Paul Magill have been active over multiple social media channels, and have implemented strategies that put them ahead of other Fortune 500 marketing executives. Likewise, their companies have become successful over the same platforms, and have a steady increase in followers.

Read the full story of why these two CMOs are the ones to watch.