Every company needs to convert more prospects, because growth usually comes from new customers. This book doesn’t explore many sales techniques. However, here I discuss how content marketing should complement the sales process.

Where do we start to find the solution to the problem of how to convert more prospects into customers? It all happens during the first meeting with a prospect. Is the goal of that meeting to provide an overview of your company? No, though that will come up. If you want to sell to more customers, the main objective is to know the challenges and pain points of your potential customers.

Even if doing so feels comfortable, don’t share the same presentation with every prospect—it’s a waste of time. To sell more, your company must overcome the particular problems of prospective customers. This is also the foundation of an effective content marketing program. How do you accomplish this? By taking the following steps.

Step 1. Identify the problem.

Traditional sales techniques push the company’s perspective onto the prospect. The same approach is applied over and over again. It’s like an arm-wrestling contest in which your opponent must eventually give in and declare you the winner. Content marketing is different. Sure, the goal is to close the deal, but you’re not trying to overpower the person. You’re trying to get the prospect to buy your solutions to his or her problems. 

To get prospective customers to buy from you, you need to offer a way to solve their problems. You’ve probably experienced this yourself in an interaction with a salesperson. You may have thought afterward, “I don’t feel as if I was being sold to at all. I was in charge the whole time.” In reality, you were being sold something. The salesperson was out front, leading you down a path rather than pushing you from behind.

What’s the best way to uncover customers’ pain? By asking good open-ended questions. Great salespeople ask great questions, such as the following, to uncover the pain:

  • What’s the biggest challenge you face in the next six months?
  • If I gave you a magic wand, what’s the one thing you would change?
  • What's keeping your company from growing faster?
  • What’s the biggest challenge your customer faces?
  • What intrigued you most about meeting with us today?
  • What’s your CEO's biggest challenge?
  • What's broken in the relationship with your current provider?

When asking these questions, don’t just get an answer and then move on to the next question right away. Ask several follow-up questions. Dig deeper. Sometimes it might take four or five follow-up questions to uncover the real source of pain. Think of yourself as a detective interrogating a suspect—in a nice way, of course.

Using this technique will give you essential insights into a prospect’s pain. Sometimes, your questions can even lead the prospect to discover something that’s new to him or her. You will hear things like, “Wow, I have never even thought about it that way. I guess that is my problem.” Such a conversation earns you lots of points, because you are then perceived as someone who can deliver value, and it didn’t even cost the prospect anything.

When done the right way, your first meeting will feel like a therapy session, with you as the therapist. You want the prospect to lie down on a nice comfortable couch, feel at home, and talk about his or her anxieties and describe the problems encountered on the job every day. Listen intently. Nod your head. Show empathy. The more the prospect understands you’re there for him or her, the more the prospect will open up to you.

The goal of the first meeting is commonly described as ”dragging ’em through the glass.” You want your prospect to share all the pain his or her company is experiencing, and to extract that information, you want the prospect to describe all the terrible problems he or she is up against. As I’ve said before, the key is asking great questions.

When you have a good understanding of the prospect’s pain, you can build trust by using what I call the “you're not alone” approach. Once it becomes clear what the pain is, tell the prospect that his or her problems are not unique, that in fact you've helped similar companies solve similar problems. Say something like, “What you're saying sounds similar to something we helped company X with.” Sometimes this technique will be enough to secure your next meeting.

This point is an excellent time to share a piece of content with the prospect—which is why it's a good idea to have on hand case studies about how you’ve helped other companies. When you ask, “Would you like to see a case study on your issues?,” it’s hard for the person to say no. Sharing any piece of relevant content, whether a precisely targeted case study created by your team or an article from an outside source, is very helpful at this point.

You might be amazed to find out what’s really important to your prospects. Sometimes you will discover that their pain points are completely different from what you had thought they were. And that’s a good thing! Why? If you hadn’t uncovered the truth about their pain, your follow-up activities would have been irrelevant. All of your follow-up communication and content should be based on what you have learned in that first meeting about the pain points of the prospect and the company.

Step 2. Build the content marketing plan.

Now that you have an understanding of the pain points, you can build your content marketing program. The first thing is to draw a timeline. On your left is where you are today. And the endpoint is a closed sale. 

You now must ask yourself what content would show the prospect that we understand their pain and that their pain can be alleviated? You must consider the content to share in your next meeting with the prospect—and what content to share in between the meetings. You're essentially asking yourself what combination of content is most likely to convert the prospect into a customer—and, in the aggregate, what will have the biggest impact on the conversion rate?

Here are the three things that your plan must include, and that will be reflected in your timeline:

  • What do you say to prospects at different moments?
  • What type of content formats should you use to communicate what you’re saying?
  • How often should you communicate?

Bear in mind that there are usually no strictly right or wrong initial answers to these questions, because you’ll have the opportunity to tweak these variables later in the process. You can only start with your best assumptions, based on your or your team’s experience.

Step 3. Create the content.

How to go about creating the content is covered in Part VI: “Content Execution.” 

Step 4. Distribute and monitor the program.

Once the plan and timeline have been completed, you’re ready to launch the program. This is the fun part, because you can see how the content is working in real-time, assuming you are using the right tools. Hopefully, you're using a CRM and web-management platform that shows how each prospect is responding to your outbound communication. 

Any time you launch a piece of content on your timeline, you will know right away what has happened as a result. Did prospects open your email? Did they forward the email to anyone else in their company? Did they click on a link? Did they visit your company website? If so, how much time did they spend there, and what pages did they look at? Tracking these actions will let you know how engaged your prospects are with the content.

You are looking for an incremental rise in the conversion rate. You will find that some pieces of content work better than others, which will help you figure out how to refine the content-marketing program. Now I have some bad news for you: You’re never going to be done making tweaks. Improvements can always be made, of course, and some techniques or pieces of content that work at first will stop working later. 

Use the tools in place to test various approaches. Experiment by changing one aspect of the program at a time for a subgroup of prospects. Perhaps you want to test the frequency of emails, the time of day they are sent, or the wording of the subject line. Perhaps you want to see if the audience prefers videos to article PDFs. 

The goal of this testing is the eventual development of a control group of approaches that perform best. Companies that do a great job with this apply their winning content-marketing formula to 80 to 90 percent of their prospects, and new approaches are tested continuously using the remaining 10 to 20 percent of prospects.

Figuring out how to convert more prospects can be hard work. There are many factors to analyze—where leads have come from, the industry the prospects are in, how your content timeline looks, changes in the marketplace, and more. The list can seem endless. But with the aid of a content plan and timeline, as well as technological tools, you will be able to see what’s working, make the appropriate changes, and convert more prospects.

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