"Is your website making a difference?"
You've got a nice website, maybe have redesigned it not too long ago on the latest version of a best in class CMS. You've got a blog, most likely hosted on a different platform. You're producing high quality videos that you publish on your site and youtube. You're producing whitepapers, case studies, webinars, etc.
In appearance, you're doing all the right things and by the book. But at the end of the day, the amount of leads and/or the quality of those leads are not making a difference for your business. Even worse, you might not even get any return on investment. So what is it you're doing wrong?
In this article, I'll try to provide you with some elements of answer as to why you're not reaping the benefits of your labour. And if you've not implemented the basics yet, then this will be useful to get it right from the beginning.
"Guideline #1: Challenge your personas"
Your personas are the starting point of your content marketing strategy. Getting them wrong will render inaccurate and pointless whatever you're putting into motion after.
So, the first question you need to ask yourself is whether you have enough DATA to inform your thinking and your decisions. Typically, you need to have a clear view of your customers' path/flows across, not only your digital properties (blog, video platform, website, etc) but also across your paid (search, social, display, video) and outbound channels (Call centre, email/SMS/push/in-app, etc).
Beyond connecting your owned digital properties, you need to tie the onsite journey to the offsite ones and to your outbound activities. So your personas and your journeys need to fit within the broader customer journey obviously. This means a close collaboration with the email marketing team, the paid media team, etc. From a technology perspective, one of the pre-requisite will be to deploy your marketing analytics technology across all touch points to be able to do flow/path analysis and attributions across channels and digital properties. This will be the foundation that will be informing your cross-channel customer journeys.
So understanding what they are doing now on your properties is great but you now need to figure out what is the ideal journey for them. For that, you need to be able to put yourself in their shoes and understand their inner motivations and struggles. How do you do that if you have limited imagination? Well, you need to spend time with your customers, to understand their challenges or needs as well as to measure the intensity of the pain and the urgency. Interviewing existing customers is a sure path while trying to survey your prospects on every page might quickly annoy your prospects (and customers). So if you do, manage customer fatigue and make sure you don't ask twice if they declined the first time.
Another way to approach it, is to look at the opportunities for your product to solve a problem that they haven't identified yet and imagine how you can craft that moment of insight that will create the need, the desire to take action.
Who to focus on?
In a B2C world, the decision maker might be one or two people (the consumer and his/her partner for example) and the complexity will come from the way they use your product. Contrary to what you might think, consumers will always find a way to use your product in an unexpected way and it might be worth investigating those unconventional use cases. As an example, over the past 2 weeks, I talked to 2 different people, both passionate surfers, who told me how the new apple watch version 3 is a game changer for them as a surfer. Indeed, it now allows them to coach young surfers remotely from the beach easily by just calling the surfer on their watch. Quite a peculiar use case but truly making sense from a surfer point of view.
Looking at Enterprise B2B selling, the main difficulty will be related to the number of stakeholders that will have to be taken into account ranging from the business/marketing to IT, procurement, legal, security, etc. Brent Adamson, in the Challenger Customer, estimates at 5.4 the average number of stakeholders that will need to sign off on an Enterprise software purchase. His advice is to focus on the "Mobilizers", the stakeholders that will drive change and drive consensus amongst the group. So your first job will be to identify who are those agents of change within your customer's organisation and map them as a persona.
"Guideline #2: Customer journeys"
We just discussed about the importance of understanding your customer's motives and what they are looking for. To make it even more complicated, what they are looking for will evolve with time as they are getting educated on their problem and the solution. And for each stage of the decision process, they will need the right content to be moved to the next stage.
"Guideline #3: Are you addressing the basics?"
As well described in "They ask you answer" from Marcus Sheridan, your customers will be looking for few essential pieces of information along the way.
Failing to provide all those pieces of information on your site will have consequences on your ability to convert, on your your funnel's velocity as well as on the effort required to close a deal.
I'll spend a bit of time on price especially as it seems to be taboo in many industries. From a prospect's standpoint, not being transparent about costs will only inspire suspicion. If for whatever reason (complex solutions, afraid of the competition to know), you cannot expose costs publicly, your site should still allow the prospects to know if they are a good fit for your product and your company. Leveraging self-assessments indicating duration, efforts and interval of costs could do the job for example. This shall definitely help you increase the quality of your leads. Yes, it will decrease the amount of leads overall but they wouldn't have been a good fit for your company and your product in the first place. So why wasting further time, money and sales resources on them?"Guideline #4: Stage by stage"
Let's go through the different stages of your funnel and let's look into what is required for each.
"Not aware of the problem" This part can hardly be addressed via your website, reason being that a potential prospect won't be looking for anything at this stage. Creating the need or highlight the problem can be done through thought leadership presentations at industry events for example. However, thought leadership is sometimes not as efficient as commercial insight to generate actual leads. Commercial insight typically provide that insight in one's industry about an opportunity or a future disruption that they cannot ignore any longer. It basically provides a call to action (CTA) on top of though leadership.
"Has identified a problem"
At this stage, the prospect has realised that he has a problem that he would like to solve or a need he wants to fulfill. The first thing he'll do at this stage is either talk to some acquaintances on facebook and/or jump on Google to see if someone has or had the same issue.
SEO and Paid Media are your best friends at this stage to become top of mind for those prospects. You need however to speak the right language..
To illustrate a customer journey example, let's say you're a SaaS MRM software vendor and we're going to follow Mark, a young marketer manager who's identified some issues within his team.
He starts his journey like most of us would, by going on google searching for his problem: "time consuming marketing workflow". Note that he's not looking specifically for an MRM solution yet.
"Is aware of solutions"
So Mark has read few blog articles (hopefully yours) or social posts on how those pain points can be addressed by an MRM solution. The link has yet to be done with your company unless the blog posts he read were yours, good job in that case. Regardless, he'll most likely do subsequent searches on "best in class MRM solutions" for example.
So in summary, if you haven't done a great job at the previous stage with your SEO to hand-hold him to your analysts reports, then you need to make sure that the first results returned by that following search are industry expert/analysts talking about your product. If not, you might want to invest further in Adwords as a temporary workaround while addressing that gap.
"Is aware of your solution"
The prospect is now aware that your company can help him with that problem and he is paying you a visit on your website. At this moment, when he lands (most likely) on your homepage, it needs to shout out loud: "we have a MRM and this is the value proposition". This short moment during which a prospect is wondering "am I in the right place and do I want to stay?" is known as the blink test.
This can be a challenge for companies with multiple products when a prospect first land on their homepage without necessarily coming from a specific referrer that can inform the site of his interest. For subsequent visit, technology easily allows to segment the prospect based on previous behaviour and interest to then personalise the homepage and hand-hold him to the next step of the funnel.
So how can you handle that first visit? Well, you can take a guess, or you can ask the visitor... Having a short series of questions like a guided search to route the visitor to the right section of your website might be better than him wondering why the hero banner of your homepage has nothing to do with MRM...
Keep also in mind that the prospect might not be familiar yet with your products' name. So don't expect him to just go to the menu and try to guess which one of your products actually addresses his problem.
"Understand its value"
The prospect will now get a closer look at your product, you'll have to state clearly your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) and be able to articulate what is going to be the impact on their business. You'll also need to address the customer's reserves with in-depth content like whitepapers, e-books or webinars for example.
At this stage, the customer will compare heavily your product with the competition. Though it can sound obvious, I'll still mention it: I would definitely NOT recommend comparing explicitely your products with the competitors' on your website. This will expose you to legal consequences potentially and will be questioned by your prospects anyway. So instead, focus on educating your customers on the important requirements that an MRM must meet and that can only be delivered by your platform.
"Prospect is convinced"
At that point, if you have a direct sales team, one of your Call To Action (CTA) might be to book a meeting to discuss further with a sales representative. But let's say that you're trying to do as much as possible online and onsite.
So now Mark is convinced that you're ticking all the functional boxes and that you know your stuff. What he needs now is confidence that he'll be successful implementing your tech and that there won't be trouble down the path. This is where customers' review and case studies will be helpful. An underutilised strategy is to leverage "on your site", your customers' social engagement and reviews from your social channels. Your prospect can then have access right away to real comments from real people without having to go offsite looking for them.
Additionally, you want to give Mark some clarity on how he is going to deploy the technology and what training his team will need to undergo to be operational. At this stage, Mark must have a clear view on the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) as well.
Now it's time to close! if Mark doesn't have a compelling date to meet, you need to create the urgency by, for example, highlighting the cost of doing nothing. An incentive to purchase before a certain date can also help with triggering the purchase. This is generally where email campaigns or your direct sales team would take over to get Mark through the line.
Before closing this article, there are few other considerations and thoughts I'd like to share with you.
"Guideline #5: Your funnel's entry points"
According to Brent Adamson again in the "challenger customer", customers will interact with a dozen of sources of content before making a purchase and only half of it will be owned by you, the supplier.
So, because you can never predict perfectly what path your customers are going to take onsite and offsite, it is crucial to build entry points at every level of your funnel to allow for customers to resume or start their journey with your brand/product regardless of the stage they're at. Your homepage and your blog will most likely be that hub to route customers down the right (conversion) path again.
"Guideline #6: Your Call to Actions (CTA)" The same way, some customers will want to skip some of the steps you've laid down carefully for them for various reasons. In such scenario, you need to have Call to Actions ready for them to go to the desired stage.
Every stage will need well defined CTAs to move a customer from one stage to the other. Without this, they'll just consume your content, think it's good and move on with their search. However, you CTAs will have to be compelling and feel like a natural next step. Skipping steps or asking too much out of your customers at some point might drive them away if you haven't built enough trust and momentum with them yet.
Let's take the example of filling in a form to request a demo in the case of a B2B scenario. Such form will generally ask you a fair amount of details on yourself, your organisation, your role etc. Why requesting so much information? In any case, you're going to call that customer so you can always gather that information at a later stage. And if it's a way to qualify the lead further then it's the wrong time to do it as your prospect should already have qualified him/herself out based on the information he should have consumed on your site.
"Guideline #7: Is the rest of your ecosystem connected to your site?"
Quite often, the company's blog is hosted on a different platform and managed by a different team than the website, usually hosted on a CMS. Putting aside the duplication of maintenance and license costs that could be prevented by implementing a CMS with a social communities module, this tends to have other negative consequences. First is the look'n feel, usually slightly or even completely different. Certainly the logo and the colors are the same but that's sometimes pretty much it. Most important, what is sometimes missing are the bridges, the connections from your blog to your site and more precisely to your funnel.
For example, if a reader just spent 10min reading about the benefits of streamlining the social content production, wouldn't a CTA pointing to a customer case on how they actually did it be appropriate? A direct link to know more about the platform or product allowing you to implement that use case could be useful as well to prevent people from having to wander on your site to make that connection.
"Forward-looking: Smart websites"
Ideally, in the (near) future, you want to move away from manually building journeys for each and everyone of your personas. It is a fastidious task and not as accurate as it should be to deliver a 1:1 customer journey.
Your website should be smart enough to suggest what is the most appropriate next step or piece of content (assuming you've built it) to put in front of them depending on where they're at with their purchase journey.
Now, when you think about it, the technology pieces of the puzzle are already available to us:
Explicit guided customer journey could be done under the form of a series of questions that the site (and behind it the chatbot) would ask you to suggest the right content to you. What if you're not satisified with it? just say it to the site and have it re-run its content recommendation based on that feedback.
Implicit guided customer journey could be orchestrating in a transparent fashion by the site. Let's imagine that through your web analytics, you detect that your customer is struggling with finding the right content. You indeed notice that he's moving from one page to the other without spending much time on it and goes to the search back and forth few times. Knowing this through your DMP, the site can either adapt the search results further, or modify the menu to point to more relevant content or even prompt the user to get more context from him/her to suggest better content.
Think of the site as your personal assistant, delivering at the same time a self-service and a conversational experience.
So I appreciate we're not totally there yet but I believe we're close and I think we'll see such conversational experiences soon on the net.