Boost Sales by Sharing Your Expertise (pt 2)

(originally published in Costco Connection Magazine, September 2014)

Know Your Customer 

image_Costco cover-sept 2014There is no single content marketing approach that will work for all businesses. For example, a software company that sells exclusively to online customers might create a blog to boost inbound search engine leads. Conversely, a local moving company might offer a free moving tips e-book to boost the effectiveness of its radio and newspaper advertisements.

Although every business must determine its own strategy, content marketing should always flow from a clear understanding of how customers investigate your products and ser- they validate buying options).

Next, develop buyer personas—general snapshots of people who make purchasing decisions for your products and services. Buyer personas can be based on demographics, job responsibilities or how prospects prefer to receive and consume content. You can research buyer personas by studying your website analytics, analyzing search trends or polling your existing clients and customers.

“Brainstorm with your staff and salespeople about common questions your prospects ask before they ever arrive at your site,” says Scott Benson of Benson SEO, a Washington, D.C.–based inbound marketing consultancy. “Then, build your content marketing strategy around answering these questions. This ensures your content is useful and relevant, and can help smaller companies compete for competitive search terms.”

For example, Toronto-based Costco member inFlow Inventory, an inventory management software company, developed its content strategy around keyword research that showed prospects searched for an “inventory template” before purchasing inventory software. Taking advantage of this insight, the company created a blog post listing downloadable inventory templates. This strategy boosted inFlow’s search rankings and attracted thousands of website visitors who later became customers.

Promote Your Content

To ensure that your content spreads beyond your own website, develop relation- ships with industry websites and influencers, trade associations and journalists who cover your industry. Use your content to earn third- party credibility, grow your brand and expand your network by earning endorsements from sources your prospects trust.

Voices.com in Ontario, Canada, a company that connects businesses with professional voice talent, created an extensive online resource center with free educational webinars, video tutorials, articles and e-books. David Ciccarelli, the company’s co-founder and CEO, credits third-party credibility with landing major clients, such as PBS, Microsoft and the Discovery Channel. “Content marketing is our single most effective source of new business, especially when it’s been mentioned or published on high-profile media sites, including Wall Street Journal and Forbes,” he says.

“Social media can advance your content marketing efforts by connecting content with more people in your target market,” says LinkedIn group product marketing manager Lana Khavinson, who cites how AmeriFirst Home Mortgage uses social media to pro- mote its blog articles, e-books, infographics and videos that help people navigate the home-buying process.

“LinkedIn connects us with real estate agents and builders 
who refer their clients
to us for financing,” says
AmeriFirst inbound marketing
specialist Dan Moyle. “Combining con-
tent marketing with social media helped our website go from 3,000 views per month, with virtually no lead conversions, to over 5,000 views per month, with 2.5 percent converting to new customers.”

As consumers increasingly go online to research products and services, it’s imperative that businesses maintain websites with fresh, useful information. However, content marketing should not be viewed as a panacea. It is most effective when integrated into an appropriate marketing mix for your business, which can include search engine optimization, social media, advertising, lead nurturing, strategic partnerships and offline marketing.

“Content marketing is not a silver bullet that will drive your entire marketing program,” says expert Nick Stamoulis of Brick Marketing. “But when approached realistically and strategically, content marketing can boost your website traffic, generate more leads, establish your expertise and lower new-customer acquisition costs. Patience and consistency is key. Content marketing is like brushing your teeth: It should be done on a regular basis and never end.”

Experts agree that content marketing should be approached as a marathon, not a sprint. “Content marketing establishes trust that can lead to sales,” says Sheridan. “But you have to commit for the long haul and not expect instant results. But when you commit to being the most helpful teacher in your industry you can earn attention, loyalty and ultimately more business.”

Market Research…As Easy As Picking Up The Phone

freedigitalphotos_market researchI hear statistics all the time such as…”80% of all small businesses fail in their first year.” Does this mean that small business success is largely the victim of bad luck? On the contrary, I believe most business failures result from charging into the marketplace with untested assumptions.

The answer lies in performing sufficient market research, which can be as easy as picking up the phone.

Market research removes the risk and guesswork of developing your business, products and services, which I explain in my book, Get Slightly Famous:

Once you have a working idea of the market you’d like to serve, you need to dig deeper to test your assumptions. The process starts with market research: analyze your best potential customers, your competitors, your market’s predisposition toward your products and services, and your ability to serve these people so well as to make you their vendor of choice.

Market research can provide relevant information for establishing a solid foundation under any business. Even if you have been in business for years, it’s a good idea to stay up-to-date with market research that might help you understand where your market niche is going.

Market research can, among other things, help you understand your potential customers, the likelihood that they’ll buy your products and services, why they’ll buy them, and how much they’ll pay. Market research can also help you evaluate your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, thereby providing one of the keys to dominating your niche.

I’ve always held that market research is the most underutilized secret weapons for small business success. This became especially relevant when, several years ago, I helped the owner of a start-up software wholesale business prepare for launch.

During our first meeting, it didn’t take long to see that his entire business model was based on untested assumptions about his target market. I instructed him to postpone launch and call several potential customers to ask them what they thought of his positioning and marketing strategy.

The results were profound. Not only did my client see how easy (and eye opening) simple market research can be for testing assumptions about your target market, it also enabled him to reposition his business and redesign his marketing strategy.

Here’s a summary, in my client’s own words, of his experience and results:

I’ve finally learned that the secret to positioning and growing any company for success is conducting as much market research as possible.

Prior to conducting market research for my company, I developed services and marketing strategies that were based on my assumptions about what customer’s wanted from my company. I was about to launch based on these assumptions when you strongly suggested that I take time to do market research.

Following your advice, I created a list of the top 10-12 companies in my geographic area with the most potential of needing our services. I took several days and called each one, asking them a series of questions and took copious notes.

I asked each company how much they paid for services like ours, what their profit margins were, how much software they purchased per month, and what the top 3-4 most important aspects they expected their software vendors to have. I also asked what trade journals they read, what websites they visited, who there top vendors were, etc.

These simple conversations enabled me to visit the competitors’ websites and thereby create my product prices, return policies, shipping policies, etc., based on what these vendors where doing.

When I talked with each prospect, I explained my company’s business model and asked them if they thought it was appealing, or if they saw any flaws in my model.

To my surprise, I found out a few surprising things. First of all, my original marketing strategy was going to be solely based on how cheap our prices are, because I thought that price was the most important buying factor for our potential clients.

As it turns out, almost everyone I talked to told me that fast and reliable shipping was the most important thing to them, followed by an extremely efficient customer service department as the second most important thing. Price actually came third.

Based on this information, I completely changed my marketing to focus on our fast FedEx shipping services and 24-hour customer support response time. I also discovered that I could increase my profit margins by 15% without hurting sales and dramatically increase our profits every month.

I never would have known this was possible had I not taken the time to conduct this research!

Another great advantage to talking directly with prospects and customer’s is that they will tell you exactly how to sell them on your services. They will stress what is most important to them, and if you record the conversations, you can copy exactly what they say word for word in your marketing campaigns. It’s extremely powerful.

Needless to say, I am very happy with my market research results. It has helped me establish a company that is tailored to provide exactly what potential prospects are looking for, and it has given me invaluable information that I can use for marketing, profit projections, and word of mouth marketing.

The market research that I conducted has given me a complete idea of who my customers are, what they want, and how to sell them. It’s made all the difference in the world.

Getting Close

As you refine your market niche, you need to develop an insider’s understanding of your prospects. This means personally experiencing the world your clients and customers live and work in, so that you really understand their daily concerns.

Like my former client, actively explore how your customers live, work, and spend their time. Get to know the key players within your niche, and understand the structure and dynamics of of your market.

By challenging your initial assumptions and getting personally involved enough to see through the eyes of your prospects, you can avoid the “80 percent” failure trap and build your business on a fact-based foundation.