How content moves your prospects further down the sales funnel

Candice O'Sullivan
October 22, 2013

Businesses that use content marketing typically see a new trend appear in their new business dealings. Prospects arrive at their doorstep far better educated about their business than they ever have been before.

Questions that were once asked as a rite of passage are no longer necessary because prospects already have the answers. Why? Because these businesses have committed to producing content that works harder than any salesman – content that moves prospects down the sales funnel without them ever talking to a single person in the business. How can this be?

Sales funnel content marketing

Getting to know you (from afar)

While we all seek information and advice from those we trust, we are now much more likely to go online and get this information from people we don’t actually know. Buyers, in particular, have become very accustomed to the convenience of researching and comparing vendors online, narrowing their choices independently of those vendors and engaging with the vendor only when they are close to choice (sale). This process is now common practice among buyers of professional services and means that the sales cycle has been abbreviated, with high-quality content bringing in better-qualified leads towards the end of the funnel.

So how do buyers develop deal-closing levels of trust despite only indirect experience with a vendor?

Traditionally, trust follows your reputation in the marketplace and what your referral sources have to say about you (‘transferred trust’). However, second-hand experience also now comes first-hand from the content you produce; the cumulative effect of the value created for a recipient of your daily tweets, weekly blog articles, monthly columns and quarterly e-newsletters is firm credibility (‘earned trust’). These repeated online interactions represent a valuable source of familiarity.

It’s a well-known psychological phenomenon that people tend to develop a preference for things as they become familiar with them. This ‘mere-exposure’ effect means that the more often you encounter something, the more pleasing and likeable it becomes. In a similar theoretical vein, these repeated virtual experiences can serve as a valuable proxy for – or useful addition to – your traditional approaches to relationship management and lead nurturing.

Your virtual salesperson

Within this new selling paradigm, the role of content is to act as an adequate substitute for the real-life sales call. It has to:

  • Gain the attention of potential buyers
  • Engage them enough to want to ‘listen’ to you
  • Demonstrate that you understand their issues and challenges
  • Prove that you have the knowledge and experience to respond effectively should they come to you in person with a similar problem and, in doing so, provide them with the confidence they need to take the next step with you.

If buyers are choosing or not choosing your business based on your online presence, the question becomes: ‘How long can you afford not to invest in creating, building and maintaining virtual relationships?’ The new reality for your sales team is that most buyers are no longer interested in listening to them talk the talk ­– at least not until they’ve first seen that you can walk the talk.

More on online marketing for businesses:

This post was contributed by Candice O’Sullivan, Director and Head of Strategy at Wellmark. You can find Candice on Google+ at +Candice O’Sullivan or follow her tweets on brand strategy, content marketing and related topics @candicepill.

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