For over 100 years, it’s been a truism in sales and marketing that you can’t know too much about your customers and prospects. That’s never been truer than it is today, when empowered customers often make the majority of the decisions about products and services before they’re ready to engage with sales.
So how do you get to know your prospects and customers? Where can you find the information you need?
Customers know that they have the power in the sales and marketing process – and they’re not about to give it back. They can compare prices and terms from a smartphone while they’re standing in your store or showroom – and social media makes it easy to access feedback from satisfied and unsatisfied customers, research your products (and your sales people), and crowd-source recommendations on every kind of product and service.
The impact on sales and marketing of all of that instant access to information is simple. Multi-channel communications must support the buying process – not just the selling process. And effective targeting, ongoing sales intelligence, and multi-channel marketing automation are all essential.
In the traditional selling process, a sales person was required to call, call, call, in order to generate business. Trouble is that just doesn’t work, even if it were economically feasible or humanly possible with today’s longer buying cycles. The Aberdeen Group reported last year that it takes an average of 12 attempts for a salesperson to get a decision maker on the telephone – but 84% of sales professionals report that they only have time to make one or two attempts.
In the new buying process where consumers determine when they’re ready to engage with sales, marketing must be in constant contact to ensure that the company understands the buyer’s position and needs, and the buyer understands the company’s solutions and services.
It’s a completely different cycle of learning than the old-fashioned selling process. Now, both parties are engaged in touch points where information is shared, and it requires that attention be paid to in-bound and out-bound communications with prospects and customers as well as the company’s reputation and global online presence.
Getting Information about Prospects
So if effective targeting is the key to success, how do you gather ongoing sales intelligence about your prospects and customers? You build intelligence gathering into your sales and marketing process, with a multi-channel marketing automation solution that includes detailed tracking and reporting functions, and you integrate that data with your CRM system. It’s a continuous process – their interests today will not be their pain points or needs tomorrow.
Start by understanding your customers. If you don’t have a CRM system where you track your interactions with your customers, and you don’t understand their reasons for buying your products, and how they use them, then start there.
Once you have a profile of your current customers, you can begin to gather intelligence about your prospects. There are four steps to building an information gathering process that will help you automate your marketing communications process and nurture prospects through their buying process.
Where are you getting the data being used for your outbound marketing? If you are purchasing data, how detailed is the information available about the prospects? What attributes are available, and how can you segment it? We find that whether they’re B2B or B2C marketers, or most successful customers use target lists from two sources: in-bound leads where the prospect volunteers to receive information about the company, and purchased data from a company that not only offers rich, deep and comprehensive insight into their prospects, but state of the art data hygiene techniques that ensure that the data is precise and accurate. A preference engine that identifies each prospect’s preferred method of contact is another good add-on to any marketing campaign.
The Internet and social media encourage prospects to seek more information about your company without contacting you directly. Harness the power of observational learning tools such as personalized URLs, following the path that users take from one page to another within your site, and how they interact with the site. Notice how long the prospect spent on a particular landing page, which links they followed, and anything that was downloaded. Your marketing automation solution can track and record this data, and report it back to a CRM system where pre-programmed business rules monitor the data and activate triggers for automated nurturing campaigns.
Sometimes, learning more about a prospective customer is just a matter of asking. Marketing automation systems can deploy surveys via email, direct mail, or a landing page. Social media is a great place to ask prospects and customers about their opinions. (Note: Don’t immediately follow-up on a survey with a concerted assault by a salesperson trying to force them to buy based on survey responses.) Use the data from surveys to identify places for future marketing touch points, and information that the prospect wants to receive. This helps to advance the buying process.
Prospects are in control of the buying process, but there are times that live interaction with a knowledgeable live person is wanted and needed. So make it easy for a customer to ask for a demonstration or consultation, or just get a question answered through a chat window or email. Use these interactions to learn more about where the prospect or customer is in the buying process. Then update your CRM system so that the touch points you have scheduled with the prospect are changed appropriately.
Anyone who’s ever worked in sales or marketing understands that the more they know about their customers and prospects, the easier it is to sell products and services. These four simple steps can make it easier for you to sell to your prospects – and automate the process of nurturing t hem until they’re ready to engage with your sales team.
Laura Bergeron is Director of Client Care at Distribion, Inc., where she manages training and best practices implementation for a diverse base of large, multi-channel distributed marketing organizations with more than 150,000 users. Her industry best practice blog posts appear in The Distributed Marketing Blog monthly, and are among the blog’s most popular features.