Empty pipeline. Anemic pipeline. I’m guessing one of these is a pretty good description of what yours looks like right now.
We survey readers on our website, asking them what their biggest agency challenges are, and 42% of respondents say it’s the pipeline.
Filling that pipeline is going to happen in one of two ways: prospecting or marketing. And when we break out the detail in our reader survey, we see that you know this as well. The 42% who note pipeline as the biggest challenge is split right down the middle between filling the pipeline (21%) or marketing to attract new prospects (21%).
Both have their pros and cons.
Also see: “EBA’s 10 must-read lists of 2016.”
The benefit of prospecting is that it can fill your pipeline immediately. The challenge is that it’s hard work. It takes a lot of consistent, and often uncomfortable, effort to put yourself in front of people and strike up conversations they probably aren’t expecting and/or ready to have. But you’ve done this in fits and starts for your whole career and you know it works.
The benefit of marketing is that a lot of it is a behind-the-desk activity and doesn’t create the personal discomfort that prospecting does. The challenge is that it’s a longer-term way of developing leads and nurturing them to the point they’re ready to talk with you. You’ve probably never done much more than a basic website mimicking your printed brochure and it’s never generated any prospects. So you “know” marketing doesn’t work for prospecting.
But this isn’t a story about marketing versus prospecting because you need to do both regardless of what you “know.”
One thing I know is your skepticism. You don’t understand how marketing could possibly bring prospects to you. But you know that marketing is somehow necessary, so you dip your toe in the water by declaring, “We need a new website!” And that’s the end of the effort. And it results in no new prospects.
And this is the basis of the whole idea that “marketing doesn’t work.”
However, marketing directly influences buyers and selling. The purpose of marketing is to communicate your value proposition in a compelling enough way that potential clients want to have a conversation with your sales people to learn more.
The beginning of the conversation
This makes marketing the beginning of the sales conversation.
It also makes marketing the critical connection between the business model/value proposition and the delivery of the sales process, which, done in a convincing manner, results in new business. Set-it-and-forget-it marketing doesn’t do much to fill the pipeline, but interactive activities that persuade readers to take small steps of action will eventually turn into legitimate leads when performed consistently over time.
Achieving this marketing and sales nirvana is possible. However, I can’t say how much time it will take to get there because that depends on the quality and the quantity of your activity and how targeted it is to your buyers’ needs. Following are two essential marketing ideas you need to master to create this nirvana and drive sales results.
1) Create core messaging for your website and sales conversations. Business-to-business buying decisions are heavily influenced by what buyers read/watch online, so a strong online presence is imperative for capturing buyer attention.
A website is often the beginning of that attention-grabbing and it needs to represent your value proposition and entice your targeted buyers. At minimum, the goal is to encourage your targeted readers to stick around, learn more and take some small step of action.
To create this website experience, dig into your agency knowledgebase and create quality, educational content that allows your readers to begin seeing you as a potential adviser. Ask yourself:
· What are my clients most challenged by?
· How are we able to help them with those challenges and needs?
Both your website and your sales process should center around the answers. Prospects and clients need to hear the repetition of the message and see the continuity between what you write and what you say. If not, then one just simply becomes lip service and you end up with a messy brand that lacks credibility.
And if you at all question that people aren’t influenced by challenge/solution information and conversations, consider this from Forrester Research: 74% of executive buyers select companies who get in early and help create a “solution vision.” Employers have challenges and they’re looking for someone to help solve them.
2) Extend your message. Just as marketing should not be considered a stand-alone function, nor should any individual marketing activity be considered a functional marketing program. Good marketing integrates many different mediums and tactics to repeatedly share your targeted, educational message with your ideal audience. It’s not until after repeated attempts at a similar message, often from multiple people in your organization, do we see buyers willing to take those small steps of interaction.
With a collective approach to marketing, it can become the fuel to influence your prospecting and fill your pipeline consistently with qualified prospects. But the longer you take to get started with a fully functioning, robust marketing effort, the longer it will take to return the dividends you’re looking for.
Only committing to a website or one-off activities makes marketing an expense.
Developing a comprehensive, quality program and executing on it consistently will turn marketing into an investment. An investment in your pipeline.
It’s time to make marketing a critical function in your firm and give it the level of importance and authority that will allow it to be a core driver of your sales results.
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