Challenge: In 2021 as we return to a new normal, how do we strategically invest to maximize pipeline creation and close?
With vaccine shots going into arms around the world, we can see a return to ‘normal’ in the coming months and years ahead. But what will this new normal look like and how do we prepare best for it? Many trends were accelerated with the pandemic: work-from-home and online shopping to name a few. But I believe the buyer’s journey has also changed fundamentally which, in turn, requires us to change how we prioritize our investments.
For many years, we have talked about the customer journey – and even recognized that 70% of this journey happens before a prospect ever engages with our brand. So we responded by creating early, mid and late stage content to make relevant offers building awareness and engagement.
However, in the years before the pandemic, consumer application technologies have increased expectations of the buying process. With a few clicks on your phone, you can get a ride (Uber/Lyft), get food delivered (Postmates/Grubhub), transfer money (Venmo/Paypal), buy groceries (instacart/Amazon Fresh), and more. The most precious thing our prospects have is their time — and they have less of this than ever as their job responsibilities have expanded. And the pandemic has only accelerated both their expectations with these services and the demands on their time (going from Zoom meeting to meeting).
This is the new normal environment that will be slowly returning over the coming year. So how do we meet these new demands from our prospects? I believe there are four key areas for investment in 2021: Deep and Relevant Content, Smart Sales Outreach, Multiple Product Demo Options, Improved Product Experience.
Deep and Relevant Content:
As B2B marketers, we know that we need early, mid and late stage content: infographics, explainer videos, blogs, case studies, whitepapers, eBooks, analyst reports, ROI calculators, and more. All too often, this content is written by marketing people who don’t live the experience of the prospect – whether they be a security engineer, data analyst, software engineer, CFO, supply chain director, etc.
What our prospects really need is useful content that teaches them something and not a 10 page graphical eBook that barely scratches the surface of the topic at hand. Imagine content that actually educates them about the challenges they face with relevant information. This could take the form of code snippet samples, security breach mitigation recommendations, tips and tricks for handling month-end close, excel pivot recommendations to cleanse data, etc…
We expect the prospect to ‘tune-in’ to our channel of communication — but why would they do so unless there is something in it for them? I realize that this advice might mean making their life easier with their current solution — but it builds awareness and trust of our brand. Isn’t that what we wanted after all? Certainly it’s OK to insert content that shows the benefit of our solution, but if we only insert promotional content — we should only expect engagement at the very end of the buyer’s journey when they are really considering alternatives. Therefore we need to invest in deeply relevant content that builds engagement earlier with our prospects.
The challenge here is to create more deeply meaningful content which likely requires our internal subject matter experts to write or create content. Therein lies the challenge. We can’t have people who are removed from our prospect experience to write insightful and enlightening content. They can assist our subject matter experts (likely who are not writers) but the source material must come from a subject matter expert. Getting these SME’s to create this deeply relevant content should be part of your 2021 plan.
Smart Sales Outreach:
Who likes getting an unsolicited call? Anyone? These calls are an interruption of your day — and we must remember this as we make our outbound call plans. To make matters worse, often B2B BDRs are calling on sophisticated prospects with little more than scripts, qualifying questions and a request to set up an appointment. No wonder we get a bad reputation here.
Imagine if the callers were more deeply educated on the buyer persona, the challenges and the solutions faced by their prospects. If they can ask smart questions, provide relevant information and actually help the prospect in some way, the call becomes actually more interesting. As a demand marketer receiving unsolicited calls, when a BDR called me with an understanding of the challenges I face, asked smart questions, listened and offered relevant solutions, then I would gladly set an appointment. But they only had 30 seconds to earn my trust and two minutes to prove they could help me. If they just wanted to set an appointment – b’ bye.
This takes ongoing training to raise the level of our BDRs or AE’s to make smart calls. This is a significant investment in training by internal subject matter experts and the creation of supporting materials for the BDRs. We can hire BDRs for critical communication skills and process, but we need to enrich them with the detailed knowledge that will be useful to our prospects. [As a side note, some organizations actually hire target personas to become BDRs or AE’s – preferring to then train them on sales and communication skills.] So investing in your BDR skills to truly understand the challenges and issues faced by your prospects should be a key investment area for 2021.
Multiple Product Demo Options:
Full disclosure – I am a fan of product led growth. If we claim our product is better than the prospect’s status quo — let’s show them directly. Now some products lend themselves more easily to a freemium experience than others. For larger, integrated solutions requiring significant deployment services, it may be impossible to provide freemium or similar experience. However, there are many different options to consider because customers expect the ability to explore on their own – especially if they are not ready to speak to a sales person.
I advocate creating a number of different experiences to drive early engagement with your product:
- Recorded product demonstrations
- Turning ‘features’ of a solution platform into freemium products of their own
- Screenshot demo as step-by-step, guided tour
- Short-lived, virtual instance of your fully deployed product for exploration
- Customer webinar recording of their deployment and benefits
- Weekly live demo webinar one-to-many
Most products have different use cases which then would require different versions of these product experiences above. Well, that is the hard work that needs to be done in 2021. Identify these use cases and the best options to display this to your prospects and get to work on creating this extremely helpful content. No doubt it will take time from systems engineers and product marketing, but the resulting assets can be used repeatedly at various stages of the customer journey.
I encourage you to be creative in thinking about how you can create various types of product experiences. Prospects today want the ability to explore on their own and ‘see’ your product in action. The real challenge is for us to consider how we create these compelling experiences as part of the revised journey. These experiences need to create a ‘goose-bump moment’ — that moment where the prospect clearly sees how your product fixes their challenges. If you can deliver this — you will drive further consideration and likely some direct engagement with sales. Invest in 2021 in creating new and compelling product experiences appropriate for various stages of your customer journey.
Improved Product Experience:
The product engagements defined above assume that the prospect’s product experience is compelling. Sometimes we need to look critically at our own solution, compare it to alternatives and be honest with our assessment. I recommend you go through the complete onboarding and usage process to really understand what your prospects will see as they become customers or as they trial your product. You do not want to accelerate prospect engagement with your product if this demonstrates that your solution is non-intuitive, clunky, hard to use, etc…
So, spending time to identify and improve the product experience is worthy of marketing effort. If these experiences are not compelling, I would rather take marketing headcount and/or funds to accelerate remediating these issues. It may be time to slow down demand generation to fund key improvements before stepping on the accelerator. So my recommendation for 2021 here is to have an honest assessment of the product relative to both the prospects current solutions and to your competitors.
So There you have it — four strategic recommendations for guiding 2021 investments that will take advantage of the new normal. Give your prospects more of what they want as part of their buying journey. These tips should help your content, communications and engagement have greater impact — all while helping you scale.
Lesson: With prospect demands to get relevant information when and how they want it, in 2021 you can provide: Deep and Relevant Content, Smart Sales Outreach, Multiple Product Demo Options, and Improved Product Experience.