Ten or twenty years ago, before online searches were popular and information was literally at your fingertips, marketing was easy. Customers only knew what you told them and 99% of the time, the conversation was one-sided. Marketers put out billboards, TV commercials, radio ads –which were all product-centered- and people listened without being able to refute.
The internet has changed the way customers buy, and hence the way companies market themselves
Today, customers can research your product online, find other deals, compare and contrast. You can no longer rely on their lack of capacity to find information. Your marketing needs to keep up with this evolution or customers would not be interested in your product.
The key point here is to go from “marketing your product” to “marketing your product to your customer”.
Here you’re going to ask: isn’t this essentially the same thing? To which I will reply: No. There is a major difference. You are shifting from thinking about your product as a stand-alone item, to thinking about it the way your customers do. A successful business is the one that can understand its customers’ mindset, their wants and needs and directly address them.
Let’s take an example to illustrate this point. Before the internet, car companies would sell a car by marketing the car itself. You would find a commercial with happy people cruising along in a brand new convertible and that was that. Today, cars are marketed to us based on our concerns. For those on a tight budget, the ad would say “The Car that Consumes Less”. For those in the city, “The Car that Fits Anywhere”. For those who care about the environment “The Clean Hybrid Car”. The car is marketed from the customers’ point of view, to directly address their needs.
Inbound marketing operates on the same principle but in more specific and studied way. Marketing tactics don’t change based on who your customer is but how long has he been your customer and how invested is he in your company. In short we call this the Customer Lifecycle. If you are able to understand at which point in the lifecycle your customer is, you would be able to push them along and converting leads would be a piece of cake.
Shakespeare said that man’s life has seven ages. Well the Customer Lifecycle only has six: Subscriber, Lead, Marketing Qualified Lead, Sales Qualified Lead, Opportunity, and Customer. Let’s go through them one by one.
If you try to sell your product to a subscriber, you will definitely be faced with a “no”. Unfortunately, many inbound marketers get discouraged to continue and discard the subscriber all-together, losing a potential client. Little do they know that the “no” actually means “not now”. They are just browsing and are not ready for a marketing pitch just yet.
Subscribers have already found you, which means they are interested in your product or service, but only on a shallow level. They are like window-shoppers, looking around the stores, comparing prices and specifications, trying to find the best deal. At this stage in the lifecycle, the most important thing is establishing trust. Before they buy anything from you, they need to know that you’re the best, they needs to believe in your product; hence they need to believe in you.
The best thing you can do to gain their trust is build a strong online presence. Here I want to recommend two things: blogging and social networking.
Blogging is where you show your subscribers that you are an expert in your field by presenting them with educational material about it. Much like in social networking, you should blog about issues that are relevant to your company but not about the company itself. Remember, at this stage it is “not now”. Blogging about your company would sound like a sales pitch and it will throw the subscribers off. Presenting them with valuable information would make you appear knowledgeable, thus earning you their trust.
Social networking, on the other hand, is less about education and more about awareness. It can help you raise awareness for your company by addressing issues that are relevant to your subscribers’ needs. For example, if your company offers car detailing services, you can tweet or share posts about car maintenance, DIY fixing, or even a particularly awesome Pimp My Ride episode. When subscribers see you active on social networks, discussing topics that are both relevant to your company and of interest to them, they will want to see more of you and what you have to offer.
Social networking also offers you a chance to “become human”. You remember back in high school when the strangest thing was seeing a teacher outside of school? We were so used to the idea that they were teachers that we almost forget they are people. You don’t want your subscribers to think of you as “a company” but rather as “a group of people”. They will be able to trust you better if they can connect with you on a human level and you can achieve that through social networking.
Aha! Now they have deemed you worthy of their trust and time and they have transformed into Leads. As leads, they want to dive into the deeper research. They are more likely to download eBooks and fill out forms and this is exactly what you have to present them with.
At this point, you need to create calls to action and landing pages that exhibit an interest in addressing your leads’ needs (it rhymes!). Informative videos and eBooks work particularly well here. Two things are important: they have to have quality and they have to be free. Leads will know that you genuinely care about their needs and will be interested in moving onto the next step.
iii. Marketing Qualified Lead
After you’ve converted the subscriber to a lead, you have to pay very very close attention to his actions. A marketing qualified lead will exhibit behavior that he is ready to talk with a sales rep. This behavior can be monitored by the number of pages visited, the number of reactions to an email, the number of mentions of the company in social media, the number of forms filled, etc etc. This will show you that the lead is sincerely interested in what you offer and is putting a lot of time and effort to find out more. But for this to work, follow-up is essential! You need to let your leads know that you still care about them. Email shots, phonecalls, landing pages, free demos, the works. At this point the “not now” has become a “possibly maybe” and you need to keep reminding your leads that you can address their needs.
iv. Sales Qualified Lead
At this stage, the lead has been contacted by a sales rep and there is an unspoken commitment that a purchase will be made.
v and vi. Opportunity and Customer
Well that wasn’t so hard was it? All your efforts have paid off and that “not now” has turned into a “yes”. But your work doesn’t end here. After you’ve made the sale, you measure your results with all the steps you took. How responsive were your customers to the emails? To the eBooks? To the phonecalls? Did they favor one method over the other? Did they find you through search engines or through some other medium? Were you easy to find? Which behaviors did they exhibit before buying: which pages did they visit?
Ask yourself all of these questions and fine-tune your marketing techniques based on the answers. Lather, rinse and repeat and never stop fine-tuning.
The customer lifecycle helps you generate and convert leads. If you adapt your marketing techniques to its stages, you will evolve with your customers and give them what they want when they want it.