Marketing and Sales ultimately have the same complaints about the classic “funnel” metaphor for creating leads and converting them into customers. Companies keep devoting enormous resources to generating leads, at the funnel’s top phase, Awareness, but success rates in closing them to paid business at the Conversion phase is typically poor. In fact, only 5 percent of Sales professional say the leads passed to them are of very high quality.
The problem is that the funnel describes customer relationships as a filtering process; leads enter the “funnel” at a wide top, and then are culled as the process moves downstream toward a sale. The truth is, highly qualified leads can interact with your company at any point in their purchasing journey, through a wide array of channels, including Internet search and social media referrals you can’t explicitly control.
B2B marketers should think of customer relationships as a series of contact points, each presenting an opportunity for incremental conversions leading to more satisfying, long-term sales — when the time is right. The key to this is approach is personalizing your marketing funnel components, such as signups, calls to actions, and auto-responder series, to a lead’s point in the purchase journey. You can’t rush to hard-sell a user who is just getting to know you by reading a basic checklist on your blog; you also can’t disregard leads who keeps interacting with your auto-responder emails, even if they haven’t purchased after six months.
Here’s a look at how 10 of the most important tactics in the classic marketing and sales funnel can be tailored to build stronger relationship with both leads and customers, at various points in their purchase process. Some of these tips are based on employing advanced Marketing Automation technology; some are as simple as remembering to say thank you.
Producing useful, relevant content is the anchor of any successful B2B marketing strategy. Easier said than done — anyone can have a blog, but connecting with readers in a way that builds trust and affinity requires a thoughtful plan of action.
The key tactic here is to ensure your content will rank highly for relevant internet searches through SEO. About three-quarters of B2B purchase research begins with a generic internet search, and your blog represents an ongoing opportunity to tap into this essential lead generation channel. We stressed relevant in the previous sentence because there’s always the temptation to drive traffic to your blog with posts which are optimized for hot keyword searches, but don’t provide the reader with real informational value. Your blog is an ongoing conversation; don’t just say “hello” to potential new customers by wasting their time.
Remember that customers at all points in their purchase journey will find, and read, the content in your blog, not only through search but also links in your newsletter, as well as from other sites. So a mix of topics, ranging from your CEO’s take on industry news — to advice on industry best practices, will attract and engage readers at all points in the funnel.
Checklists and high-level infographics are great for attracting leads at the top of the funnel; case studies and personality profiles of your company’s star performers can sway buyers in the Consideration phase, as well as build loyalty with current customers.
Calls to action and other conversion-related events you run alongside your blog content should be tailored to the funnel stage most relevant to the post’s content.
2. Social Networking and Publishing
Social Media has quickly become a peer-review platform for B2B purchasers. IDG recently reported that more B2B decision-makers value peer reviews on LinkedIn than blog content. Facebook, Twitter and other leading social platforms present great opportunities to cultivate advocates among your existing customer base; but, you need to be ready to take criticism, and answer tough questions.
Your Social Media presence should be highly personal and forthcoming. Cross-promoting your anchor blog content is always a good idea, but even a quick Tweet linking to a post should be original content and add a little context or personality.
And be sure to include calls to action in your blogs that cross-promote your social channels. Your CEO may even want to post a digest of a recent conversion she had on LinkedIn about an emerging technology or regulatory trend.
3. Landing Pages
Landing Pages are devoted to creating conversions, so all messaging on landing pages must focus on why the experience or asset being offered will help the reader solve a problem, or grow their business. Again, remember that the “conversion” here is not necessarily a sale, in classic funnel terminology. You may simply be offering a top-of-funnel user a checklist, or simple tool, as a content upsell premium for signing up for your email newsletter.
The content on a landing page should be tailored to the entry channel you are targeting; for example, SEO-target landing pages should have more copy on them than direct response pages. Conversion forms should be prominently placed, and ask for information appropriate at the point of the funnel your offer addresses. There’s no reason to ask for qualifying questions for a simple email sign-up.
4. Calls to Action
Every page on your site should include a Call to Action inviting the user to further engage with your company. In fact, determining the appropriate call to action before you create blog posts and other content is a great tactic for ensuring you address user interest at the targeted funnel stage.
The format of calls to action can vary, from a simply inline link, to a basic two-or-three field form, to capture high-funnel leads and route them into nurturing behaviors. It’s a good idea to have at least two calls to action on a page, with one of them being visually powerful enough to get users’ attention.
Remember to align your call to action to the content being presented, as well as to the funnel stage of the reader. Integrated site content management and marketing tools offer the added power of “smart” calls to action, which personalize the CTA based on known user data. It’s a powerful feature and an investment you should definitely consider. After all, even a loyal brand advocate might find and enjoy a checklist you generated to attract users at the awareness stage.
5. Basic Forms
Perhaps the most overlooked opportunity in your B2B marketing Funnel to create incremental conversions and strengthen your relationship with customers are basic forms, such as a contact us. If a user is ready to connect with your company in any way, that presents a great opportunity to nudge them for a slightly deeper relationship. Thank you and confirmation pages, on basic forms, can include invitations to follow your company on social media — nothing too intrusive, but a valuable step in nurturing a long-term relationship.
6. Auto-Responder Series and Drips
Pre-scheduling a series of email messages to customers or prospects, often called “drips,” are a great strategy for cultivating a relationship over time, and leading users down a fairly linear funnel path, with a targeted conversion event at the end of the process. However, mapping out a successful auto-responder series requires more than just sending a slightly modified email every Monday.
You should map out an Auto-Responder series the same way you would a conversation:
Tommy Walker at Conversionxl offers a great breakdown of these phases, and emphasizes the key point that you can’t hard sell in a drip series — let the relationship develop, and don’t discard someone who continues to open your emails just because they have not yet converted.
One of most obvious and effective ways to market to existing customers is to re-sell them on products they have already purchased. You can nudge customers to repeat sales, and a long-term relationships by offering discounts on secondary or volume purchase, or content about how to get the most from their current investment. It’s a powerful form of marketing personalization.
8. Upsells and Cross Sells
Any modern eCommerce or Order Management system will automatically promote more expensive or related products to customers, based on the current offerings and their order history. But close integration with your CMR and Marketing Automation System can create more personalized upsell opportunities in the order flow, determined by content consumption and other user persona information. Any purchase should also be viewed as an opportunity to kick off a highly personalized marketing effort to lead to a higher value conversion.
Encouraging customers at all stages of the funnel to sign up for reminders and updates about your product is a simple, yet effective way to reach them at a key B2B marketing opportunity. For customers who have already purchased, it’s a great opportunity for upsell; for leads in the classic consideration phase, it lets you present your products and services as evolving to meet their needs. And the conversion event to sign a user up for email reminders in typically low-attrition.
It’s OK to say “Thank You” more than once. Sending customers personalized notes of gratitude on key dates, such as close of quarter, or their client anniversary, can go a long way toward cultivating a long-term relationship. Gifts help too, — discount offers are a great way to tie gratitude to both upsell and resell campaigns.
An Ongoing Conversation
Optimizing your marketing funnel for higher sales conversions boils down to taking every opportunity to connect with leads and customers. By creating useful, personalized content, and calls to action that encourage email signups and other incremental conversions, you can stop churning through high-funnel leads and start growing stronger relationships at all points of the customer journey.