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2021 communications trends for Companies Digest

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By Ryan Haynes, founder of Haynes Marcoms

 

In recent years the way we communicate has changed vastly and continues to evolve as new challenges arise to attract, connect with and engage new customers. Digital transformation has been thrust centre stage over the past year as companies adapt their digital offering to meet the expectations of buyers.

The low-touch economy has required businesses to assess their go-to-market plan and identify the touch points for feeding prospects through a digital sales funnel. This has required a rethink on how to address and communicate with audiences, and while there are a myriad of tools and channels available, it is important to first focus on the key value pillars of the product to connect with the most relevant buyers. Gaining clear insights to target audiences will help form a robust and productive marketing communications plan with the most relevant content and engagement for maximum impact.

By addressing the following aspects in sales and marketing strategy will ensure marketing investment is targeted and optimised while customer-facing teams are armed with the right insights to support the sales process.

Value frameworks – confronting buyer pain points

Products and services should focus on addressing buyer paint points to reduce the barriers to purchase and present the benefits to the customer. A value framework will help highlight the problems you solve while understanding the buyer procurement process that enables effective communication of the value proposition at each stage of the sales journey.

A value framework should consider target organisational profiles and buyer persona types, understanding how each customer touchpoint can communicate the value provided through sales, customer service and marketing.

It’s important to first start with commercial goals, to know what will contribute to the success of the company, this will help identify the most profitable audiences to reach these targets. Look closely at commercial drivers, and develop a value framework for each one for a communication stream that delivers consistent and relevant messages that chip away at communications challenges and goals.

A value framework needs to resonate with the appropriate audience and give teams the insight to transform the message into a clear and engaging narrative. Value frameworks have been born out of sales playbooks, and rather than being a list of questions and answers, tackles the actual pain points with clear proof points and value messaging to alleviate buyer concerns. This allows sales and marketing teams to take a consultative sales approach to better support customers’ wider strategic goals.

The key aspect of a value framework includes:

  • Buyer pain points; what are their challenges, what problems are they dealing with, what do they need to achieve, what restrictions do they have in place. Get insight by researching the market, existing customers and prospects and deep-diving into success stories to truly understand the pain points the product/service solves. This is what will be important to the buyer.

 

  • Competitor benchmarking; buyers will be exploring what is available in the market, it’s important marketing and sales teams are armed with clear product and value differentiators. The product may not be better but maybe the support, insight and service is. Identifying how to present the additional value offered will help build stronger relationships with prospects.

 

  • Buyer personas; consider the procurement process, the people involved in decision making and how to address each person’s specific pain points. Economic decision makers (budget holders) will have different expectations to the User (the person who will be using the product on a day-to-day basis), track each type of influencer in the buying process and what pain points are relevant to them in their role. Also consider the individual, what are their personal career motivators or commercial drivers? Remember that if you work with different markets, motivations will differ.

 

  • Success use cases; proof is in the pudding, the buyer will want to hear evidence of customer success. How do you measure the impact of the product and the key metrics to success? Case studies, testimonials, success metrics aligned to the pain points and needs of the buyer will help them reach a quicker conclusion. Ensuring these are within value frameworks means marketing and sales team have consistent proof points to share.

Sales funnel – establishing a clear buyer journey

In a low-touch economy we need more ways to connect and engage with our sales targets. Often when selling B2B products and services the sales cycle is long and involves multiple stakeholders who have different levels of influence requiring us to address pain points and purchase barriers in the sales funnel.

The world constantly changes, and with new generations of the workforce adopting different approaches to buying, selling and digital engagement – it’s important to look at how your marketing and sales outreach can address these. CRM tools like HubSpot and Salesforce provide the infrastructure to set up and manage a sales funnel where you can keep track of each prospect or contact in your database and where they are in the sales journey.

Take the time to understand the criteria influencing purchase decisions and key milestones in the sales process and set these as key sales stages. Create content and marketing/sales triggers to engage with prospects at each stage to push them through the funnel, by tracking engagement you can understand how each stage, contact and touch point is performing so you can further refine and optimise.

By centralising all sales activity in the CRM will centralise all marketing and sales team activity to give greater transparency to how sales members are performing and how marketing is delivering on core KPIs. This will take time to set up, and training and support of your team to ensure the CRM is used correctly so your sales funnel is actually effective. Furthermore, numerous aspects of the sales funnel can be automated, meaning prospects can be pushed through the funnel without needing human interaction – so sales teams come in at the most poignant decision making moment.

Content diversification – using the right touchpoint

There are so many ways in which to present content within the sales funnel. The key is to know exactly who your clients are and how they ‘consume’ information and make procurement decisions. In many cases it will not just be one element, you may have to use multiple content outputs and mix and match as necessary to provide multiple touchpoints. Tracking the performance of content will enable you to see which are the key sales drivers.

Lead generators – Capture the right interest

Lead generators can be used throughout the sales cycle as part of your content plan to build interest and awareness of the product and service. Use them at the top of the funnel, offering insightful Eguides, Whitepapers or market reports, to help buyers address key pain points in their role or within the organisation while building awareness of your offering.

It’s important to consider your buyer and user profiles, with ebooks that target the different profile types and their differing pain points. Gating content enables you to capture email addresses, but using your CRM intelligently you can begin creating profiles of your leads and track the content they engage with to give you an idea at which stage of the decision process they are at. Ebooks are in fact believed to be the most effective form of content for B2B marketers.

Podcasts

Create an industry or product focused podcast. Podcasts have boomed in recent years, you just have to check out these stats from January 2021 to see the level of adoption. Podcasts have become much easier to record and distribute. Today, subscription-based services like Streamyard allow you to record live with multiple participants in both audio and video with options to stream live on social media. While podcast hosting services on a monthly subscription like Buzzsprout will distribute your content and provide listeners and download reports.

Podcasts allow you to explore complex ideas, technology or new trends in more time and detail, and are often most successful when niche, specialist or intended for a very specific  audience. Podcast audiences grow in time, and require an ongoing investment – just like a blog.

Webinars and webcasts – interact with your audiences

The webinar world exploded during 2020 as companies sought ways to connect with their audiences digitally when live events were not possible, in fact in just a few months of the pandemic hitting the webinar world saw a 36% rise in companies offering them. Webinars are nothing new, but the majority started to see the value in reaching a wider audience and sharing their message. It’s a great way of getting people together to communicate expertise and thought-leadership, offer training and insights, and building product knowledge.

We’ve seen more webinars broadcast live with many traditionally physical events moving to a webcast model. However it’s important not to be put off by attendance numbers, you may hear some companies talk of having hundreds of attendees – and you may only manage to get a handful or a dozen – but remember this is still more people than doing all communications 1-2-1, plus you can make the content available on-demand. In fact we have seen the audience double by making webinars available for later viewing.

Keep webinars to 45 minutes, make them visual and use more than one speaker where possible to add dynamism. Think about how you can include interactive elements including polls, surveys, Q&As, or an open roundtable. It’s important to have a purpose for the webinar and what you hope to achieve.

Zoom coffee mornings – build deeper relationships

Invite a small group of people for a roundtable-style discussion with experts and specialists to discuss specific subjects. It was all about Zoom in 2020, when its use grew 30-fold in just one month, but there are many other platforms like Hangouts, Teams, Skype, and some companies use Whatsapp which can host up to eight participants.

People are missing that connection with people, and when we spend all our time in our bubbles or speaking to colleagues – we have no room for speaking or engaging with other people or making new connections. Create specialist casual events where people can share best practice, their ideas, their concerns and use it as a forum to support one another – this can really help you build a deeper relationship with key contacts or prospects.

Customer Acquisition Cost – managing budgets

Today, digital marketing needs to be considered and thought through to ensure each channel contributes to the core commercial goals. More than ever companies need to be monitoring the customer acquisition cost (CAC), breaking this down throughout the sales funnel tracking the customer journey to understand the value each interaction contributes to the sales process.

The cost relates to the financial and human resources needed to capture the lead and convert to a customer. Cost has traditionally been calculated based on the financial investment made in third party channels either through commission costs, affiliate fees, bidding, pay per click or through flat-rate advertising models.

In a wider digital mix you will need to consider your owned and paid-for channels. Digital marketing provides performance visibility of each channel to track each engagement and visitor journey that gives the insight needed to understand the relevance and value of each marketing investment. When you understand the performance of each channel, you can begin to optimise and improve the return of investment, however there will always be a digital ceiling – particularly where you rely on third-party data and transactional marketing.

To further reduce costs and drive performance of higher value channels you’ll need to diversify your marketing mix. When running a wider marketing programme inclusive of non-digital channels, calculating the cost of acquisition becomes more tricky – where calculations need to take into account longer-term brand marketing campaigns as well as the internal/external sales and marketing resources required to secure the customer.

It’s worth calculating the customer lifetime value (CLV) which will both help you to understand your most valuable customer and what it takes to achieve them.

Knowing your CAC will help you define marketing budgets, particularly if you are aware of the sales and marketing sales goals – these need to be directly connected. The old-rule of marketing spend of 2 – 5% is defunct, it now takes much more to make a sale requiring more marketing than direct sales activity, and should therefore be aligned to your revenue with a minimum of 20% investment.

Invest in infrastructure

The way in which we communicate in business has vastly changed over the past 12 months.  A lot of this has been down to Covid and businesses having to swiftly adapt to new technology but equally, we live in a fast moving world and communications as with everything else is continually evolving and changing.

The key to successful communications in 2021 and beyond is to keep abreast of the latest trends – as we’ve outlined here for the most current – and embrace the most relevant ones for your individual business.  For those who struggle to maintain the momentum, then investing in a marketing agency to assist with this for you will be the most effective way to ensure you have the digital infrastructure and communications frameworks in place to benefit from long term investment.

Ryan Haynes, founder of Haynes Marcoms

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