Expert Stories are for Closers

FOLKS KEEP ASKING me whether they can find more leads for my business.

The queries come in spam emails mostly, but also via bombardment of the contact form on my business web site. Several times a day, they promise a never-ending flow of mythical golden leads, which pisses me off.

I already know who my prospects are. I’ve been meeting them at conferences and expos for many years. What I want – what all of us need – are more closes. Expert stories are the key to making this happen.

Why I counsel B2B clients to flip the funnel

Spray and pray

Conventional marketing wisdom tells us that droves of customers are out there just waiting to hear from us. If we inundate the market with enough messages, a percentage of folks will catch on, a few will learn why we’re great, some of those will consider us, and a small fraction will Venmo us some cash.

At each stage of the journey from awareness to purchase, content marketers apply their special magic, offering ads, promotions, email blasts, social posts, landing pages, gated downloads, “hero” assets, explainer videos, memes, tradeshow exhibits, webinars, and podcasts to invite involvement. They employ marketing automation platforms to generate, distribute, test, and track each activity and determine their rates of return.

It’s understood that it takes very large numbers of unqualified prospects to improve the chances of guiding a very few all the way to the pay line. This has considerable validity for consumer products and services, where initial interactions are very numerous, very automated and almost entirely anonymous.

In the B2B realm, however, spray and pray techniques are, in my opinion, all wet.

Funnel or a commode?

The simple math of content marketing lends itself to the familiar “funnel” metaphor. There are many versions of this. AIDA, an acronym for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action, could be the most fundamental rendition, as Blake expounds in David Mamet’s classic drama, Glengarry Glen Ross.

Software and solutions companies – the kind I most often help in my consulting practice – very often ascribe to a melded sales and marketing funnel with approximately six stages:

  • Awareness: Create a great many opportunities to see and interact using the many methods listed above.
  • Interest: Can be hard to definitively gauge, but page views, clicks could be proxies.
  • Consideration: Downloads, registrations, accept the introductory meeting.
  • Intent: Accept the next 5 – 10 meetings.
  • Evaluation: Invite the RFP response and/or product demo.
  • Purchase: Sign the contract and hand over a check.

Your definitions may vary. The exact line between what marketing does here and when sales takes control can sometimes be fuzzy. Commonly, once interest is established, marketing hands over the precious few, somewhat “qualified” leads (MQLs) to the sales organization to validate that they are decisionmakers (SQLs) and carry forward.

In B2B tech and solutions sales, what sales attempts to do next can take enormous time and effort. Some retail tech firms I work with report cycles as long as 18 months or longer, with a dozen or more sales meetings and consultations before a deal is even put on the table.

How valuable might it be to your organization to streamline this process?

Identify your 750

I know it makes some B2B marketing pros uncomfortable when I say this, but what if that lead-gen activity could be bypassed much of the time? This is not as radical as it might sound. After all, in most industries you already know who your prospect companies are. They are already in your CRM system. Right?

If not you’ve got some homework to do. A good industry marketing team can research and assemble a list in a few days. Buy one if you have to.

A good example of this is the supermarket industry in North America. There are 350 accounts at most, ranging from giants like Walmart, Kroger and Albertsons-Safeway, down to a couple hundred independent operators with 10 or fewer stores.

Setting aside the operators who are too small to invest in advanced retail solutions, that leaves maybe 125 true prospects with enough resources to be worth the effort.

Within each potential account, there is a group of about five decision makers you will need to persuade to buy your software. They are generally the leaders in five silos within the organization – Operations, Merchandising, IT, Finance and Corporate Strategy. You need nods from them all to close a sale.

All told, that’s about 750 individuals who matter across an $811B industry.

Whoever your B2B targets are, your 750 should already be in your CRM system. Your sales pros are already engaging with them. Right?

Flip the funnel

I say flip the funnel on its head and focus first on your 750.

Begin by identifying the types of conversations your front-line people need to have to advance the sale. Ensure they are prepared with winning stories at every encounter. These generally fall into four broad categories:

  • Stories that adroitly defuse difficult objections
  • Stories that clearly and credibly answer tough questions
  • Stories that enlighten prospects with relevant industry insights
  • Stories that amplify proven reasons to buy

Create expert story assets for the sales team first, so they confidently carry demonstrable value into every selling encounter. But don’t stop there.

Expert Stories first – then the cascade

Even spectacular, finely-crafted “hero” assets designed to cinch the sale must also deliver as lead magnets and brand awareness vehicles. A program of content marketing activities, gated and un-gated downloads, events and campaigns should always be coordinated, each with all the metrics needed to understand and document its contribution to success.

Each expert story asset thus becomes the fount of a content “cascade” – a full range of derived content and distribution activities. Each story will lend itself to its own particular range of campaigns, posts, social, paid and other assets. Cascade elements maximize exposure, duration, return on effort and industry reputation.

When a cascade of numerous derivative assets flows from B2B Expert Storytelling, the content marketing team is massively empowered in their role as publisher. Their efforts ensure that the story gains maximum distribution and awareness – even among audiences who are not yet among your target decision makers.

Today’s new followers are tomorrow’s decision influencers and the loyal customers of the future.

Mopping up

B2B Expert Storytelling, aimed at the focal point of the customer journey, is the place to begin.

Maybe some content marketing leaders will think I’m all wet about prioritizing expert stories. They have been in charge of the messaging at many organizations for some time now. They have the numbers to prove they have been fulfilling their lead-generation mission.

To them I’d like to say, listen actively to the needs of your sales pros. It’s unlikely they are much impressed with how many email opens or clicks you scored on your last campaign. If they seem fatigued at the prospect of rehashing the same old product marketing lines at their upcoming sales calls, consider that they may need some more energizing and empowering topics to talk about.

Invest in original research. Tap your internal SMEs for insights. Hire storytelling pros with deep understanding of your target industry.

Expert stories are for closers.

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