5 hours of sleep. 150 new emails, 30 of which require immediate response. 6 a.m. call with freelancer. 10 web pages to be created by 6 p.m. 2 invitations to write for the upcoming conference. 11 a.m. call with graphic designer. 3 ill-defined projects due yesterday. Presentation due for the board meeting at 4 p.m. Conduct training session about new project-planning software for 6 employees and 1 contractor. 10 minutes to catch up on social media. 4 meetings. 30 phone calls from vendors. 16-hour work days. 80-hour work weeks.
This is a typical day in the life of one of my customers, by the numbers. How close is it to your work life? To that of your customers? In fact, this is the reality facing most buyers at most companies, according to sales guru Jill Konrath, in her book SNAP Selling.
Konrath argues that this new normal has had a profound impact on the way buyers respond to vendors’ marketing and sales efforts. Because buyers are so frazzled, they’re hard-pressed to pay to attention to your solutions—no matter how beneficial those solutions might be. They’re resistant to change because they fear it will make their lives more complicated. They believe most of their options are the same and default to price as a key factor. The result: while people spend hours researching solutions, they’re ultimately afraid to make changes and buying decisions grind to a halt.
This isn’t to say that customers don’t want to solve their problems. It means that reaching these customers requires a new approach. Rather than focusing on your products, you become hyper-focused on customer needs. With every marketing and sales interaction, Konrath says, you need to be prepared to answer the following questions:
- How simple is it?
- Does the person or company provide value?
- Is it aligned with what we’re trying to accomplish?
- How big of a priority is it?
This article describes Konrath’s four principles for getting in the door with today’s frazzled customers and how high-quality content can help.
As buyers become more overloaded, simplicity becomes more important. People simply can’t stand to add more complexity to their lives. Even a small perceived complexity can squash their interest.
Konrath says that most sellers rarely, if ever, take this into account as they plan their strategies and interactions with customers. Yet failure to minimize customers’ effort sets you up for a major derailment. You need to constantly monitor everything you do to ensure simplicity.
This principle applies to content marketing.
Most technology marketers are aware that up to 70 percent of the sales cycle occurs before customers ever speak with a salesperson. In 2015, 93% of technology marketers turned to content to reach potential customers as they conduct their initial research, according to the latest Content Marketing Institute B2B trends report. This means content must do some heavy lifting until customers are ready to speak with a salesperson.
Yet, when I recently did a spot check of content assets on technology vendors’ websites, many failed the simplicity test. As I reviewed white papers, solution briefs, case studies, and other resources, I found myself reading the content two, three, four times to trying to follow what they were saying.
While each piece had different issues, many were plagued by complexity. In some, the copy was disorganized, which made it hard to follow. In some cases, redundancies that made copy confusing; when paragraphs in different sections of a single document say basically the same thing, using slightly different terminology, the reader is left wondering, which version is correct. Sentences in many assets were long. And many were in passive voice which made them extremely difficult to follow.
Go to any high-quality publication, say the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, and you’ll see how to do things right. The first paragraph makes it crystal clear what the article is about. The writing flows logically and seamlessly from one topic to the next. The writing is lean and clear and active. You’ll find a lot of stories and concrete examples to further clarify abstract concepts.
Even if you succeed in making things simple, you must still differentiate yourself. Customers are well aware that they have many good choices. Even if your company has strong differentiators, they believe your lead will be short lived and that competitors will quickly close the gap.
Konrath argues that the only chance you have to truly differentiate yourself lies in the value you personally bring to the relationship. Customers want to work with smart, savvy people who bring them beneficial ideas, insights and information.
Content is a perfect way to demonstrate value to customers during the long dry summer before customers speak to a sales rep. But content is only valuable if the customer thinks it’s valuable.
Customers tune content out when it:
- Contains lots of hype. Words like mission-critical, industry-leading, cutting-edge and other superlatives are sure to put customers’ BS meter on high alert.
- Uses lots of jargon and unfamiliar terminology. I recently edited a datasheet describing the partnership between two technology behemoths. The initial draft touched on the other products from one of the partners that enhanced the collaboration. But the vendor simply listed the products, assuming that everyone knew what they were. The first thing I did was edit the draft to briefly explain what these products did and how they benefitted customers.
- Is self centered. Content that only talks about the wonders of your solution or methodology is sure to meet an untimely end at the hands of the delete key.
- Tries to be all things to all people. With solutions like databases, spreadsheets, business analytics, collaboration solutions, and so on that can benefit any business, there’s a temptation to create one document that applies to all customers. Big mistake. Don’t expect busy people to connect the dots for you. You need to pick specific target markets and describe exactly how the solution applies to them.
Content is valuable and will help you differentiate your when:
- It specifically addresses their concerns. The best marketers increasingly create personas to gain insights into specific buyer profiles. They then use these personas to determine how these buyers make their purchase decisions and what information they need to make those decisions along the way. These smart marketers are also taking into account buyer preferences when it comes to the format of the materials—some buyers prefer presentations, others longish white papers, others podcasts, videos, webinars, and so on.
- It answers particular questions or solves a particular problem that they face. Content that customers will find useful include thought-leadership content that describes new solutions to old problems, answers to common questions, not to mention actionable information and tips.
One caveat. Valuable content alone isn’t enough. For example, in my survey of technology vendor resources, one vendor’s resource page was chock full of titles proven to garner interest, “10 ways to…” “How to…..” and so on. However, while the ideas were great, the papers themselves were poorly written, which meant they were difficult to read and understand. Customers won’t stick around and read content with a good headline if it’s poorly written.
Frazzled customers only care about content they deem relevant. If you don’t explain how your content aligns with customers’ business objectives, you run the risk of being eliminated from consideration before you have a chance to demonstrate your true value.
Konrath says that prospects will consider you irrelevant when you:
- Present information about your product, service or solution before you understand their business directions and challenges.
- Know little about your prospect’s business, industry or market trends—but try to sell them something anyway.
- Use proof points (case studies, testimonials, white papers) about customers whom the prospect believes are fundamentally different from them.
To demonstrate your alignment with your customers, you content needs to:
- Show that you understand the customer and their role or industry. Begin documents with a brief description of the problem that you solve. The idea is to get the customer nodding and saying to themselves “Yeah, that’s so true” as they read your copy.
- Carefully analyze your target markets and then create case studies or testimonials that match the key characteristics of that market. For example, I helped several healthcare IT vendors create case studies about physicians in every specialty imaginable, obstetrics, oncology, endocrinology, pediatrics, radiology, and so on.
Customers will always act on urgent priorities. But priorities change all the time. When they do, prospects shuffle things around and previously urgent projects lose steam.
As a result, you’ll get the best results if you continually monitor the highest priority issues your customers face and be sure every communication you send blends your offering’s value with your customers’ priorities. Clearly this is easiest when you’re in a one-to-one sales situation with a large customer. Your sales reps will need to do their homework and identify the individual issues, so called “trigger events” these customers face that will lead them to take immediate action.
But marketers can apply this principal as well by continually incorporating feedback regarding typical customer priorities into their marketing materials.
SNAP to it
As customers put off talking to salespeople until late in the sales cycle, marketing efforts must extend deeper into the sales process. Yet selling to today’s crazy-busy customers is tough. Their time has become their most precious resource, and they guard it ferociously. They’re also less likely than ever to want to put in the time and effort required to make a change. Nonetheless, customers still want to solve problems. This means there’s a tremendous opportunity for marketers whose efforts are aligned with what customers are looking for—those who can create content that’s effortless for customers to understand, provides real value, is aligned with their concerns, and addresses their highest priority issues.