Effective content marketing is more than simply well-written articles. Effective content marketing aligns content creation and distribution to each of the three sales cycle phases: awareness, consideration and decision–delivering the right piece of content to the right person at the right time. This is the final article in a three-part series on how to create impactful content for each phase of the sales cycle.
Decision Phase: Using Content Marketing to Close the Deal
It’s no secret that the average sales cycle is long and getting longer. One of the most challenging obstacles marketers face today is how to manage these longer sales cycles. This includes keeping leads engaged and eliminating friction to drive internal decision maker consensus and close the deal. On average, only three in 10 qualified prospects convert to a sale. The problem is two-fold: prospects either don’t make it to the final stage or, if they do, they’re unable to reach a consensus and make a decision in favor of your business. Effective content marketing will address both of these problems, keeping leads engaged as they move through the sales cycle and ultimately closing more deals by driving internal consensus.
By the time your leads reach the final stage of the sales cycle, they’ve already narrowed down the vendor selection process to a handful of finalists. Educating prospects about their problems or the benefits of selecting your company as a solution provider is no longer important. The real problem is overcoming the internal objections that can stall the decision making process and unnecessarily lengthen the sales cycle.
Start by putting yourself in the client’s shoes. If this is a B2B client, there are likely 5 or more decision makers involved. It’s likely that the person you’ve been in closest contact with through this process may not even be the ultimate decision maker. Perhaps you’ve been working with a Marketing Director and it’s the CMO and executive team that makes the final call for a new vendor. However, the Marketing Director will need to make a recommendation– and that’s where things get sticky. No one wants to make the wrong recommendation. When millions of dollars are on the line, selecting the wrong vendor could sink internal advancement opportunities or even result in someone being let go. Consequently, the team hems and haws over the vendor options and opts for the safest solution– no selection at all.
Even if the company does ultimately pick your business as their vendor, wouldn’t it be great if that selection were made after five weeks and not five months? This is your mission with content marketing: overcome internal objectives and drive stakeholder consensus.
Your mission with content marketing in the Decision Phase is two-fold:
- Overcome internal objectives.
A failure to overcome internal objectives can stall the decision making process. Making your solution isn’t the cheapest option and cost-sensitive clients are worried. Or maybe the client is so used to doing things one way that they’re worried about what would happen if they pivot directions and go with your company’s fresh approach to problem solving. Your mission with content marketing is to alleviate these concerns and overcome internal objectives.
- Drive stakeholder consensus.
It’s not enough for one member of the team to feel confident about choosing your business. Everyone needs to be onboard with your company as the preferred provider. Even if a single person has the ultimate “yay or nay” in the process, they will still want to make a decision the team stands behind. If a few people are concerned or feel that choosing your business is too risky, you face an uphill battle to be selected.
- Too many opinions.
It’s a cliché for a reason: everyone has an opinion. Sure, John over in accounting may not be part of the ultimate selection process, but when decisions are increasingly made by committee, opinions count. You don’t want John saying negative things about your business to Tami in Sales, who then repeats this to Alex in Marketing, who repeats it back to her boss, and so on. Worse, since folks like John are a few steps removed from the final decision process, John has not been actively engaged in the decision making process. His opinions may be ill informed and outliers to reality. This is why it is so important that you inoculate the key decision makers against these outlier opinions. Your content must give them the tools to critically evaluate what people are saying and determine whether that information is relevant to the final decision.
- Driving consensus.
To drive consensus, you need an internal advocate for your company. This person will champion your business as the preferred solution provider and bring the team together around this decision. Ideally you’ve been in close contact with your lead throughout the sales cycle thus far so you have a good idea of who will serve as a natural ally. Be sure this person has all the information and resources he or she needs to drive consensus.
The most impactful content for the Decision phase will address potential blockages to the deal (e.g., concerns over price, capability, deliverable timeline) with compelling case studies that assuage these fears and let your happy clients doing the selling for you.
- Address perceived problems.
There are two main blockages to getting a deal done: internal consensus concerns (e.g., office politics, fear over making the wrong decision) and concerns over the solution vendor (e.g., price point is too high, deliverable timeline is to long, etc.) Start by tackling the solution vendor concerns with content that focuses on success stories. Use case studies to emphasize the benefits of choosing your business as the solution provider. For example, let’s say you have a client who is especially cost-sensitive and you’re not the cheapest solution. Your case studies should emphasize how the benefits of choosing your company outweigh any cost concerns. Does your deep industry experience mean the job gets done right the first time? Instead of flat-out saying “our experience makes us the best choice”, let a happy client do the talking for you. For example, have you worked with a client who initially opted for a cheaper solution but then came back to you because the job wasn’t done correctly? Choose this case study to share with your lead.
- Address internal benefits.
Who is the primary decision maker in this process and what are her challenges and needs? Think beyond the external problem/solution your company represents and consider the office politics that may be in play here, too. Maybe the CMO has been getting a lot of push back for going over budget on a previous project and she’s concerned about that happening again here. Again, this is an opportunity to use case studies to assuage these fears. Help the decision maker feel confident that your company will not only fix the problem, but also position her for internal success if she can take credit for choosing your company.
Takeaway: Use content to eliminate friction and drive decision-maker consensus.
Anticipating and removing perceived sales obstacles can be a tricky process. You can’t read your lead’s mind, so you don’t always know for sure what internal challenges they may be facing that are causing decision maker friction. This is also a place where buyer personas come into play. What are the most frequent obstacles your buyer is likely to be facing? Don’t wait for them to come to you months into the decision-making process. Be proactive and present them with the information they need to assuage these fears as early as possible.