The Age of the Customer – Optimising Content and Conversation for 21st Century Sales Success

lego men and computer

On Thursday 16th January I had the opportunity to listen to Forrester analysts Peter O’Neill and Ryan Skinner at the Forrester breakfast briefing, “Optimising Content and Conversation for 21st Century Sales success”.

The agenda focused on the changes B2B businesses must make to satisfy changing buyers.  Organisations must transform their current siloed, product-focused content and conversation approaches to a holistic, customer focused messaging strategy.

This blog post explores the following topics which were covered at the event:

  • The Age of the Customer
  • Customer reference programs in the age of consumer advocacy
  • The buyer is in control
  • What is lead-to-revenue management?
  • How to create your content marketing strategy
  • Effective content marketing examples

The Age of the Customer

Peter O’Neill spoke first and stated that we have moved from “The Age of Information” (1990) and entered “The Age of the Customer” (2010).  There are four market imperatives that companies must focus on:

  1. Transform the customer experience
  2. Embrace the mobile mind shift
  3. Become a digital disruptor
  4. Turn big data into insights

Buyers are expressing their needs via research, search, participation in social media and engagement in communities.  The content they are relying on is peppered throughout the web.  Businesses can not and should not rely on their corporate website as the only source of information for their target audience.

With this buyer-driven search for information, marketers need to rethink their strategies in order to be successful.  For example, Cisco are moving away from blast email campaigns to a focus on relationship-based emails.  E.g. newsletters.

The days of purchasing lists, mass emails and personalisation without customer value are over.  Instead organisations need to focus on:

  • integrating customer data sources and investing in real-time data for actionable insights;
  • creating personalised experiences;
  • mapping the selling process to the buying process by utilising personas and really understanding their target audiences;
  • and reallocating funds to focus on the creation of content rather than ad creative.

Content must be adapted to the language of the buyer so that when they search using the terminology that relates to their business needs, they find the solutions that you have to address these needs.  Local content for local buyers.

Customer reference programs are dead

With the rising importance of social media and communities, customer reference programs can be replaced by customer advocacy.  Why spend months trying to push customer references through legal when buyers can search online for ratings and reviews of your products and services.  Marketing should be focused on building strong customer advocacy programs.

The buyer is in control

The preferred buyer interaction model has moved from market interactions based on products, to market interactions based on business outcomes.  Buyers have needs which cause them to research solutions.  Sellers need to ensure that their products/solutions are promoted on the web so that when buyers are searching for information, they will find a match to their business needs.  At this stage, buyers and sellers can successfully engage with each other, and social media and communities allows these interactions to scale.

Buyer perception: that they discover 70% of content for themselves.

This highlights the increasing importance of knowing your audience, understanding where they find information and how they consume content, and ensuring that you create content that accelerates the buying decision journey and leaves behind your brand scent, so that your organisation will be front of mind when the buyer is in a position to shortlist vendors.

Introducing lead-to-revenue management

Peter also mentioned additional research that Forrester are currently working on around lead to revenue management (L2RM) and marketing automation.  This will be available in the Forrester, “Lead to Revenue Playbook“.

The approach moves away from the marketing funnel (which everyone seems to be doing these days!) and instead proposes a marketing escalator.  i.e. instead of hundreds of leads coming in the top of the funnel and filtering down to sales at the bottom, the escalator looks at how you take a single lead through an optimised process, starting from marketing qualified leads and progressing up the escalator to brand advocates.

Marketers need to ensure that bespoke landing pages are designed for people attracted via inbound marketing tactics.  Don’t just take them to your corporate website. Organisations will need scoring and systems that recognise returning customers.

As an example, Cisco are aiming for 15% marketing generated leads.  The rest will come from sales.

Creating your content marketing strategy

Next up, Ryan Skinner talked about thought leadership and creating an effective content marketing strategy.

Forrester’s 4-step IDEA Framework for Thought Leadership Marketing

  • Identify – who is your target audience, what are they needs, where do they go for information and can you get referenced there.
  • Develop – develop your thought leadership platform.  Identify/create the ideas and content that deliver upon your company’s position, products and services.
  • Engage – engage your audience through digital, social and traditional channels.  Utilise storytelling to create compelling content.
  • Assess – Look at the results, assess the impact on your business and revise your content/approach or reinvest.

Ryan’s presentation referenced the Forrester report, “Nurture Thought Leadership to Nurture Your Brand” by Laura Ramos.  This report includes 10 attributes that marketers can score themselves against to ensure that they are creating real thought leadership.  i.e. Content that provides true value to the target audience and demonstrates bold leadership.  Given the way the term is often thrown around in marketing departments to refer to brochureware, “me too” statements and product/solutions sells masquerading as thought leadership, it’s a nice framework to test that the content being created delivers against these attributes.

The value of marketing content should be measurable via shorter sales cycles/more knowledgeable customers and prospects.  Share of Voice – measure back links to thought leadership.  Organisations should be investing in content asset systems that log all content consumption into their CRM system.

Distribution of Branded Content – Examples

Take your thought leadership program as a hub for your content marketing strategy.  Take a story-centric approach – media and device fragmentation – rather than developing a story for each channel, create a branded hub/story-centric approach.  Brand what’s offered as a story to create more value.

SAP’s My Big Runway app – They’re trying to inspire people to go on a journey by co-innovating with fashion brands and using data and technology to create a social shopping experience,

that allows fashion enthusiasts to follow the brands they love, and get personalized updates on what’s new, what is trending, and what’s on sale. As consumers interact with the app, brands and specialty retailers can gather market statistics on these consumers, including the brands and products they favor.

SAP’s Business Innovation portal: SAP found that very little content on their main site was getting traffic and most search was branded search.  As a result, they created this content hub to be exclusively focused on the top of the funnel.  

Ryan said that Hubspot and Marketo are good examples of firms employing effective content marketing strategies.

All in all a lot of information was covered and a great deal of useful content was made available in the event slides.

How are you addressing the shift in buyer behaviour and do you have a content marketing strategy in place?

photo credit: Kaptain Kobold via photopin cc

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