By Barbara Bix and Melissa Josephson Edwards
If the rate of your incoming revenues seems to be slowing down, it may be time to revamp your firm's marketing communications plan. Effective communications plans will leverage your principals' time and speed up the sales process by anticipating and getting prospective clients the information they need to move to the next level — wherever these prospects are in the buying process.
Done well, your communications programs can generate demand for your services, create a sense of urgency, attract prospective buyers' attention, and keep you prominently on their radar — all without sales intervention. Your communications program can even encourage prospective buyers to "raise their hands" when they are finally ready to purchase by offering the right enticement.
The key is getting the right message to the right person at the right time. Not everyone who needs your firm's services is ready to buy right away. In fact, most buyers proceed through a series of stages before ultimately deciding to purchase from you. First, they must...
- Recognize they need what you have to offer
- Develop a sense of urgency
- Be aware of your firm
- Realize that your firm can solve their problem
- Remember your firm's services when they finally become ready to buy
- Determine that your firm's services meets their needs
- Find it easy to buy from your firm
Effective communications plans address every step of the sales process and move buyers from stage to stage. People in charge of sales, on the other hand, are more productive when they can concentrate on accounts that are ready to buy right away. When your company's principals take on the role of the communications plan (i.e., they often find they need to spend a lot of time helping prospective buyers move to the next level), sales cycles drag out, impeding productivity.
If this is the case, then why does sales productivity continue to be an issue? Developing effective communications programs depends on fully understanding how prospective clients make buying decisions. Too many firms underestimate the complexity of prospective clients' buying processes and therefore the complexity of designing effective communications programs. When communications programs don't work, sales people have to step in and address each buyer's concerns one by one.
If the primary objective of communications programs is moving prospective clients to the next level, then communicators' most important task is pinpointing where buyers get stuck and why. Yet, in our experience, the most common communications mistake that organizations make is addressing the wrong problem.
Does that mean that once a firm figures out what's delaying sales, it's just a matter of getting buyers the information they require to move to the next level? No! This simple solution begs four questions:
- Who at the buyer's organization needs the information?
- What information do they need?
- What's the best way to reach them?
- How do you get them to pay attention to your communications?
Of these questions, the first is the most important because both the messages and choice of media will depend on whom the communicator needs to reach. The second most common mistake we see is that firms assume they know whom to target.
One way to find answers to these questions is to have several clients walk you through the process they use when making similar purchasing decisions. Although everyone varies in their buying behavior, individuals tend to be consistent. Moreover, people tend to be better at reporting past behavior than they are at predicting the future.
The following steps, of course, are to determine what messages and media to use. In-depth interviews are the best way to get at motivation. There are a number of ways to find out where key audiences get their information. Finally, you will want to test various presentation formats and calls to action.
Communicators face many potential pitfalls. Chief among them are addressing the right problem and knowing what audiences to target. Too often, organizations make assumptions and skip steps because they are in a hurry to achieve their revenue objectives. Or, as H.L. Mencken noted, "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong."
Firms, however, that take the time to fully understand their prospective clients' buying processes can succeed in getting the right messages to the right audiences at the right time. Their rewards will include making the most of their marketing dollars, speeding up the sales cycle, and improving sales productivity.
About the authors
Barbara Bix is Principal of BB Marketing Plus, a strategic marketing consultant that works with professional service organizations, and a member of the AccountingWEB Bloggers Crew. Melissa Josephson Edwards is a strategic marketing consultant and an expert in creating marketing communications programs. She can be reached at email@example.com.