It is an old truism that when sales go well it is because the sales force is brilliant, but when things take a dive, it is because marketing gave no support.
Indeed, for many people working in sales, marketing is an airy-fairy activity that seldom delivers. However, such old-school prejudices soon shrivel up when confronted by tangible results. In particular, a coherent and consistent digital marketing strategy using targeted content on social media can help achieve agreed business aims and sales-driven objectives.
In fact, while most organisations focus on policies and guidelines alongside community engagement and management, the greatest value in any social media campaign is as a lead-generation tool. This, therefore, has to be its primary objective.
First and foremost, social media enables the identification and targeting of key people in ways not previously possible. For example, LinkedIn will tell you the organisation someone works for, their job title, role and responsibilities. With a little further analysis it is possible to discover their areas of interest and potentially, business pain-points.
Once you have defined your target audiences and prioritised them, you can very quickly start to build a database of people you want to engage with. If the aim is to connect with IT decision-makers in manufacturing companies with a turnover of however many millions, for example, the first step would be to source them through data-mining.
Next, you need to guide those you have identified so they make the transition from defined prospects into qualified and warm leads, ultimately becoming customers that deliver revenue to your business.
This is where content is king. The journey from prospect to lead starts when individuals engage with a mix of content. This should be divided between information that is company-specific and material that is open-source, but covers relevant topics. This not only communicates what it is your business does and can deliver, but also sends the message that you are on top of innovations, news and developments within the industry or sector.
This content must then be fed through the most appropriate social media channels which, for business-to-business communication, is almost always going to be LinkedIn and Twitter.
However, engagement is a two-way process. It is not just a question of firing out messages, but encouraging people to start a dialogue with you. Once they are engaged, it allows you to capture data and intelligence about them.
An effective way of doing this is to make sure the company-specific posts direct people to the company website where there will be a mixture of open and gated content. Really high-value content should be gated, requiring website visitors to give information about themselves before they can access it.
They can then be tracked on social media to see if they are engaging and whether they can become socially-qualified leads. The meaning of this term can be defined by each business, but should at least be in alignment with target end-audience definitions in terms of company type, size and location. Secondly, the individual should match previously-agreed target profiles or job titles. In other words, it is a question of targeting the right individuals in the right organisations.
To become socially-qualified leads, prospects must engage with one of your social media channels a set number of times within a defined period of say, three months. This can be anything from a retweet, reply, comment, favourite or join. Alongside this, or instead of it, they should access your content a certain number of times within the three-month parameter.
Once tracking and reporting is in place, you can see socially-qualified leads at the end of every month. Reports will show who knows your business, has engaged with you and is likely to feel positively towards you.
And by examining the types of content that capture their attention, you will understand the products and services they are likely to be interested in.
The critical final step that delivers value is for this information to be passed to sales. From here there is no substitute for traditional selling by telephone, through face-to-face meetings, or via introduction from a third party.
However, it means that leads can be approached in a far more informed and focused way so that the first conversation is based on intelligence and is not speculative or intrusive. Whoever is making contact will know what the lead is interested in from the content they have accessed and can propose a solution to help them overcome their challenges or increase their efficiency.
Most importantly, possession of this intelligence radically changes the dynamic between marketing and sales. Far from being unfocused and nebulous, the marketing department is feeding real, hard qualified leads to sales and should be asking what they are doing with them.
Using this process-driven approach, marketing is no longer a passive by-stander, but becomes an active participant, right at the forefront of expanding the business.
By James Kelliher, CEO of Whiteoaks.
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