“Content is king”. I’ve heard that phrase for years. But what does it mean? Does it mean that by offering thought-provoking, useful, creative information buyers will be motivated to contact you at the right time along their complete (including pre-sales) decision path? By sending out veiled advertising in the form of ‘articles’ to random email addresses you can convert readers to action? How is ‘conversion’ defined – opening the email? Making a purchase that can be directly tracked back to the email? Let’s look at the problems.
- Wrong Time: Content is useful only at the time it’s needed and won’t be opened otherwise, even if your solution is needed later. Even when offering options, research, or educational benefits, your content currently targets the activity of product/vendor selection; you miss key opportunities to enter earlier, during the buyer’s necessary pre-sales activities – assembling the correct Buying Decision Team members, sorting out change issues and responsibilities, getting consensus, etc. – to become a true trusted advisor and support partner. Imagine offering the type of content that drives buyers during every decision and pre-sales activity. Then you’ve part of the solution, every step of the way, as they approach a final purchase. And they trust you.
- Wrong People: You get a 1% (or less) conversion rate because your missive connects with only those whose email addresses you have and, even if they might eventually be part of a Buying Decision Team, who consider it spam. It’s possible to offer content that readers seek out because it’s vital to their path toward excellence.
- Wrong Focus: Content is often merely an ad vaguely concealed as an ‘article’. Buyers know this. It’s possible to use content to facilitate the non-solution-focused consensus and change issues readers must attend to as they ready themselves to make a purchase.
The way you’re doing it now
- neither attracts nor retains a specific audience,
- ignores ways to enter and influence buyers early in their pre-sales decisions,
- doesn’t drive customer action unless they are at the specific point of readiness,
- merely annoys.
You’re finding the low hanging fruit who would have found you anyway. Content marketing can help prospective buyers dispense suitable information 1. into the hands of the right people 2. at the time they need it while 3. coaching them to get their ducks in a row to move forward.
It’s possible to write content on important relevant topics that readers WANT to read – i.e. the pros and cons of concrete over glass for housing, or how we can hear others without bias – and will help them go from an idea to a purchase through linking to your site, reading and saving other articles, and using them to help traverse their action route.
I get anywhere from 40-51% conversion with my content marketing. My readers take action from my articles: click on linked articles or sites; download free books/chapters; buy a product; share/RT/Like daily. Here’s what I do:
- I write well-written, provocative, 750-word articles that may have little to do with my services or books specifically but are of real interest to that population who may ultimately be buyers. (You found the title interesting enough to read this far, right?) I offer links that tie in to my books /services: I’ve written about diversity, leadership, collaboration, questions. Yet my services focus on facilitating buying decisions and bias-free communication.
- I only send articles to subscribers, and Friends, LinkedIn, and 15 ezines, such asHR.com, Sales and Service Excellence, StrategyDriven, who often publish them to vast readerships. (Sometimes 3 or more of my articles appear each week.) I have 3 blogs that often get onto best lists, such as top innovative content, top sales blog, top business blog. Net, net, I’m getting large distribution in really targeted fashion: those folks most likely to read and potentially need my services/products. Sort-of ‘hot leads.’ No spam.
- Like you, I let social media splash my content to enable interested folks to find it and start conversations. I get many new subscribers and ‘friends’ weekly. My lists grow with interested folks. Daily, I get Thank You notes that begin conversations and sell products.
- Why would people open your content if they consider it spam?
- How can you compose true thought pieces that people want to open?
- How can you use your content to facilitate each stage of the pre-sales and buying decision path?
- Seriously: are you willing to try something different to get a higher ‘conversion’ rate? Seriously.
What you’re doing now only converts the low hanging fruit. It’s possible to enter earlier by offering valuable intelligence that will encourage curiosity; introduce, explain and target the full set of decision stages; and keep your name topmost in buyer’s minds. You’re currently taking the lazy route: throwing spaghetti on the wall hoping enough of it will stick. Do you want to write? Or enable real business opportunities?
Sharon Drew Morgen is a writer/author of one NYTimes Business Bestseller and two Amazon best sellers, 7 books on Buying Facilitation® and how buyers buy, and 1500 articles (www.sharondrewmorgen.com). She is a trainer, speaker, coach, thought leader, and content writer. Sharon Drew is also the visionary thinker behind What? – her new book on how to avoid the gaps between what people say and what is heard. (www.didihearyou.com for free download and online assessment tools). She can be reached at www.sharondrewmorgen.com.
After spending 30 years deconstructing the inner processes of how people decide, and training a decision facilitation model used in sales, coaching, and leadership, I’m always amused when I hear anyone deem a decision ‘irrational’.
Only outsiders wishing for a different outcome designate a decision as ‘irrational’. I doubt if the decision maker says to herself, “Gee! I think I’ll make an irrational decision!” I could understand her thinking it irrational after reaping surprising consequences. But not at the moment it’s being made.
We all make the best decisions we can at the moment we make them. It’s only when someone else compares the decision against their own subjective filters and standard, or using some academic/’accepted’ standard as ‘right’, or judging the decision against a conclusion they would have preferred. But outsiders don’t have the same criteria, beliefs, or life experiences the decision maker uses to evaluate.
Indeed, there is no such thing as a decision maker making an irrational decision. The decision maker carefully – partially unconsciously – weighs an unknowable set of highly subjective factors including 1. Personal beliefs, values, historic criteria, experience, future goals; 2. Possible future outcomes in relation to how they experience their current situation. There is no way an outsider can understand what’s going on within the idiosyncratic world of the decision maker, regardless of academic or ‘rational’ standards, the needs of people judging, the outcome as viewed by others.
CASE STUDY OF AN ‘IRRATIONAL DECISION’
I recently made an agreement with a colleague to send me a draft of his article about me before he published it. Next thing I knew, the article was published. How did he decide to go against our agreement? Here was our ensuing dialogue:
BP: I didn’t think it was a big deal. It was only a brief article.
SDM: It was a big enough deal for me to ask to read it first. How did you decide to go against our agreement?
BP: You’re a writer! I didn’t have the time you were going to take to go through your editing process!
SDM: How do you know that’s why I wanted to read it first?
BP: Because you most likely would not like my writing style and want to change it. I just didn’t have time for that.
SDM: So you didn’t know why I wanted to read it and assumed I wanted to edit it?
BP: Oh. Right. So why did you want to read it?
SDM: My material is sometimes difficult to put into words, and it has taken me decades to learn to say it in ways readers will understand. I would have just sent you some new wording choices where I thought clarity was needed, and discussed it with you.
BP: Oh. I could have done that.
While a simple example, it’s the same in any type of personal decision (vs. those decisions that get weighted against specific academic or group criteria – such as coordinates to drill a well): each decision maker uses her own subjective reasoning regardless of baseline, academic, or conventional Truths. In our situation, my partner wove an internal tale of subjective assumptions that led him to a decision that might have jeopardized our relationship. I thought it was irrational, but ‘irrational’ only against my subjective criteria as an outsider with my own specific assumptions and needs.
And, although I’m calling this a personal decision process, anyone involved in group decision making does the same: enter with personal, unique criteria that supersede the available academic or scientific information the group uses. This is why we end up with resistance or sabotage during implementations.
STOP JUDGING DECISIONS BASED ON OUR OWN NEEDS
What if we stopped assuming that our business partners, our spouses, our prospects were acting irrationally. What if we assume each decision is rational, and got curious: what has to be true for that decision to have been made? If we assume that the person was doing the best they could given their subjective criteria and not being irrational, we could:
- ask what criteria the person was using and discuss it against our own;
- communicate in a way that enabled win-win results;
- ensure all collaborators work with the same set of baseline assumptions and remove as much subjectivity as possible before a decision gets made.
Of course, we would have to switch our listening skills for this. We’d need to become aware of an incongruence we notice and be willing to communicate with the ‘irrational’ decision maker. I have written a book called What? (free download www.didihearyou.com) that explains why we hear with biased ears, and how to hear others to understand their intent. Because if we merely judge others according to our unique listening filters, many rational decisions might sound irrational.
Sharon Drew Morgen is the author of 9 books, including one NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and one Amazon #2 bestseller Dirty Little Secrets – why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell. Her latest book What? is about how we can hear each other without bias. She is available for training, speaking, coaching, and consulting on helping buyers buy, Buying Facilitation®, and listening collaboratively. firstname.lastname@example.org
Part 1 redefines buying thus: The process a buyer goes through to get their ducks in a row to manage all of the factors involved prior to, and including, making a purchase. It explains why the sales focus of seeking appointments, gathering information, offering solution data, and understanding needs doesn’t lead to a higher percentage of closed sales:
- you’re asking biased solution/problem-focused questions
- based on what you want to sell, and listening for problems you can resolve,
- that probably captures partial or incorrect data
- about problems that may not may not be recognized by the prospect,
- (someone who most likely doesn’t know or trust you) and
- may not represent the group of people who may or may not be the ultimate buyers
- who may only have partial knowledge of, or authority over, the final situation
- and may only partially represent a larger group
- who may not have officially assembled or reached consensus yet
- to seek answers they don’t yet have questions for.
You’re connecting with potential buyers who aren’t at a point where they can buy: regardless of your skill set, or the validity of the solution, questions or need, buyers can’t have useful data to share until
– whoever touches the final solution (Buying Decision Team) assembles and
– agrees to resolve a problem
– with an effective route to managing any change issues with minimum disruption.
Otherwise, even those who need your solution won’t take a meeting, speak with you, or possibly even know they have a need: the adjustments/consensus/change management necessary for making a purchase is so much bigger (regardless of the prize, size, or type of solution) than choosing a solution. To understand this better, read Part 1.
Sellers currently waste over 90% of their time trying to understand needs or gathering data (or seeking an appointment or presenting to ‘decision makers’) before a buyer would even know how to accurately respond to their questions. It’s like trying to guess a picture on a jigsaw puzzle with only 2 pieces visible.
Here’s a Case Study in which I used Buying Facilitation® (a model I developed to facilitate the pre-sales processes) with a global bank. Note: even though the buyer was the ‘The Decision Maker’ with the budget, there was a complex set of behind-the-scenes issues that needed resolution and wouldn’t have been uncovered had I begun by trying to understand his need or gathering information. In this scenario – as in most, even in a small sale – until the full Buying Decision Team was formed (many of whom my client hadn’t thought of including) and discussed their unique problems, the full set of needs couldn’t have been defined. And I would have wasted about a year and possibly never made the sale.
BANK: I’m the head of Commercial Banking at B Bank. I wonder if you can help. Our tech guys are creating a program for customers in our 4,000 branches so they can choose the most appropriate of our 200 products. Is there a way to add Buying Facilitation® to help them?
SDM: Sure. But what’s stopping your techies from wanting to do it themselves?
BANK: Nothing. They’re reading two or three of your books and trying to get the essence of Buying Facilitation® into their programming.
SDM: So how would your decision team know that working directly with me would give them a different capability than working with the tech guys using my books?
BANK: They wouldn’t. They would prefer to use the in-house guys.
SDM: So how would they know which route would best get their goals met effectively?
BANK: I would have to put together the Buying Decision Team so they could determine what they need to figure out. Would you be willing to have a conference call with them?
SDM: Sure. Who do you think should be involved?
BANK: We only need the Head of Technology I think.
SDM: Well, with 4000 branches [represents at least 40,000 employees] I bet HR might want to be involved.
BANK: Oh! We always forget her, and when we finally bring her aboard she creates havoc because she demands so many changes. Good to bring her in in the beginning!
SDM: And do you have user groups to represent the 4000 branches?
BANK: Ah. Let’s bring in the representatives of the two user groups.
Four days later we had a conference call that included: the heads of HR, Branches, Technology, Retail Banking, Commercial Banking, Training, Internal Consulting, and Marketing. During introductions the President of the bank got on the phone! He wasn’t a decision maker; he didn’t have a budget; he wasn’t part of the project.
BANK: What are you doing on the phone, Mr. X?
PRESIDENT: I saw all you heavy hitters on one call and wanted to find out what kind of trouble you were getting into.
During the call the President kept objecting: “I’m not letting you folks do that!” “What a mess that will cause!” I intervened with Facilitative Questions that got them to collaboratively think about how to manage that issue and move forward. At the end of the call I was firmly on the Buying Decision Team. I had not mentioned my solution; there was not enough consensus among them for them to understand their needs. I helped my prospect assemble the right people in 10 minutes (might have taken him a year), and then help them recognize the issues they needed to contend with before they could consider buying or changing anything.
FACILITATING THE CHANGE AND CONSENSUS FIRST
For a month emails went back and forth. I kept posing Facilitative Questions to help them figure stuff out. Within the month, they had consensus, decided what they needed and how they would move forward – with the blessing of the President. They then paid to bring me to the UK – and THEN I gathered information from the right people – all of whom were present and understood their needs – and THEN I made a targeted sales pitch to all of the decision makers! Without my expertise, the buyers would have been bogged down with their change issues and internal objections and the sales cycle would have taken more than a year. If they were ever going to buy, they needed to do this anyway: This is the stuff buyers do outside of our purview; we’re just not usually there when it happens.
I facilitated and expedited their change in the area that my solution would fit. It would have been inappropriate to pitch during the month-long decision facilitation process – they had no idea what they were going to buy, if they could buy, or if they couldn’t do it themselves. I would have missed the opportunity to help them get ready to buy, earn their trust, and understand the full complement of needs they didn’t initially know they had. I had nothing to sell until they had something to buy.
My job – which took me just a few hours for a 6 figure engagement – was to first facilitate their ability to change, and then buy.
I’m not suggesting you give up information gathering or understanding needs, although starting here gives you a paltry close rate and wastes 95% of your time. I am suggesting that you first facilitate the complete decision path (some folks call this pre-sales) – and then use sales. Buyers have to do this anyway, with you or without you. You might as well learn a new skill and stop chasing the low hanging fruit.
I’ve developed Buying Facilitation®, which is an add-on to the sales process to help buyers understand and collect their pre-sales decision factors. It includes a different set of skills than sales, including Listening for Systems, and uses a new form of question called a Facilitative Question. Contact me to discuss training, coaching, and consulting: email@example.com. Or read Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell at www.dirtylittlesecrets.com or Buying Facilitation®. Or read my newest book What? on how to hear others without bias: www.didihearyou.com.