When you think of marketing, what comes to mind? Some of you may immediately think of branding, design, or advertising, but for most small, to mid-sized business owners, the term marketing is often interchangeable with lead-generation.
Thinking of marketing and lead-gen as interchangeable isn’t necessarily a bad way of thinking about it, at the end of the day most businesses live or die by their lead-generation efforts.
It’s just that, in reality, lead-generation is only a piece of marketing, regardless of how important that piece it may be.
Your marketing should touch a person at every point in their journey to become your customer and beyond. Or, in marketing-speak, it should shape the experience of every person at every lifecycle stage of their customer journey.
So, does your marketing end where your sales funnel begins?
In this post, we’ll look at the different stages of the customer lifecycle and touch on a few ideas for your marketing efforts at each stage of the lifecycle.
The Customer Lifecycle
If you’re a regular reader of our blog posts, you should be familiar with this concept as it relates to inbound marketing. If you’re new to our blog, welcome, let’s dive in.
Below is a visualization of the customer Lifecycle as put forward by HubSpot, a top player in the inbound marketing software world and a valued partner for MARION.
As you can see, it begins before a person is even aware of your company. Strangers, as HubSpot calls them, are individuals that are more or less floating in the business ether and are in the marketing for your good or services.
Once these strangers come into contact with your brand, they become prospects. Given that HubSpot deals exclusively with digital marketing, they refer to them as visitors because this stage refers to someone who has visited your website.
If you’ve done your homework and offer something of value to these visitors or prospects, you can convert them into leads. At his point, that anonymous individual floating in the business ether becomes a very real, known quantity as they enter your sales funnel.
For many small to mid-sized businesses, this is where their marketing efforts end. The lead is handed off to sales, and the marketing team dusts their hands off; job well-done. But leads need to be nurtured too, and marketing is a major factor in converting leads into customers and customers into promoters or brand advocates.
After you close the deal, these leads become your customers, and now it’s your sales team’s turn to dust off their hands; job well-done.
But, you guessed it, customers should be marketed too as well. And if you play your cards right, you can convert your customers into brand advocates or promoters, and they will act as extensions of your marketing and sales team as they spread the good word about your company.
So, let’s check in. Are you marketing to all of the stages of your customer lifecycle? Most likely, you’re doing a little bit of it here and there, but you may not have been thinking about it from a holistic perspective.
Marketing to Strangers
If you’ve got a business that’s at least keeping the lights on, then you’re probably doing a fair amount of marketing to strangers. So, we won’t spend too much time on this.
Marketing to strangers is where we spend a lot of our time when we discuss marketing. In this stage, you will find your traditional advertising like tradeshows and direct mailers, or it’s your digital advertising like search engine optimization or pay-per-click.
In this lifecycle stage, you’re just trying to get in front of people who have a need for your goods or services.
The best advice offered at this stage is similar to the advice you might get from a financial adviser about your investment portfolio – diversify.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Without question, you should go digital with your marketing efforts. It’s 2018, and your potential customers are online and looking for you. But also mix in those tried and true traditional marketing techniques. Don’t skip the tradeshow, and send out that mailer. Traditional marketing still exists because it still works.
Marketing to Prospects
Marketing to prospects is really all about the experience. This stage is where a person will decide if your company is in the running for their business or not.
If you’re operating a storefront, think in terms of your shopping experience. Is your storefront, clean and inviting? Are you making it easy for customers to find what they are looking for? Are you promoting what you want them to buy?
Take grocery stores for example. The cheap stuff, aka the raw ingredients – aka the good-for-you-stuff is on the outer edges of the store. If you want milk, you most likely have no choice but to walk past of plethora of tempting goodies to get there. It’s brilliant marketing.
If your prospects primarily interact with your website, you still want to try and think about it as an experience as well. Is your website clear, concise, and inviting? Is your website easy to use? Are your conversion forms asking for too much information or the wrong information?
If you focus on the quality of a prospect’s experience with the same intensity as you focus on what you want them to do, your prospect to lead conversion rate will improve.
Marketing to Leads
There are two types of leads. There are the leads that are ready for sales, we call those marketing-qualified leads, and then there are the tire kickers, they may or may not be ready to speak with a salesperson.
You should make a clear distinction between the two and market to them differently.
A marketing-qualified lead should interact with your marketing efforts in a sales-supportive manner. Essentially you want to ensure that the sales experience from top to bottom is well branded and intuitive. Additionally, you don’t want to step on your salesperson’s toes by continuing to market to the lead in a more promotional manner.
For marketing-qualified leads, the areas you want to focus on include business cards and printed sales collateral but should also include digital touch points like email signatures and templates. Depending on how you approach the process, on-boarding documents may also be included in this stage.
Do not underestimate the power of well-designed, and consistent collateral during the sales and on-boarding process. Individuals will draw conclusions about the quality of your goods and service from the quality of your marketing efforts during this stage.
For leads who may not be ready to sit down with your salesperson, the goal of your efforts are to nurture them through the process of deciding to speak with a sales representative. Remember to continue to use a mix of value and promotion.
A lead who is not ready to speak with sales is an ideal candidate for lead scoring and email automation workflows. Decide on a number of interactions you want the lead to have with your marketing and then consider the different paths that they may take through these interactions.
Think of it as a choose-your-own-adventure book for marketing. Assign values to the different choices that may indicate where they are in their nurturing process, and decide at what point a lead’s score merits a touch-point from sales.
Marketing to leads can get complex very quickly. Don’t let it overwhelm you. Take it piece by piece and just keep chipping away at it. Over time you will build a system for nurturing leads that will run like a well oiled machine.
Marketing to Customers
A great way for you to change your perspective on marketing to your customers may be to look at the e-commerce industry.
E-commerce is an industry built on marketing to existing customers, and they are masters at it. If you know an e-commerce business owner, ask them if they’d rather marketing to a prospect or a customer… spoiler – the answer is a customer.
The return on investment for marketing to customers can dwarf your other marketing efforts. Quite frankly, you’ve already bounded over many of the hurdles in the marketing process with these individuals so why wouldn’t you continue to market to them?
No one is suggesting that you hit your customer base with constant emails, promotional offers, or low-value touch points. Focus on lower frequency, higher value touches.
Occasional promotional touches are fine, just make a point to more frequently market to them with value-driven touches versus promotional touches.
For example, send them relevant articles that you may have found or written. Are you reading this blog post because you receive our Marketing Insider emails? I don’t want to break the third wall here, but those are marketing driven emails.
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Another great way to have a touch point is to publish a company newsletter or host customer appreciation events. To those millennials among us, it may seem old-school or arcane, but it’s a great way to put your brand in front of your customers in a way that offers value.
At the end of the day, the idea is to stay top of mind with your customers. When they think about the goods or services that you provide, they should think of your company.
Marketing to Promoters
Promoters are a business owner’s best friend, sometimes quite literally.
Think about your best friend. If they were speaking with someone and that person mentioned a need for your goods or services, would your best friend tell them about your company? If so, that’s a promoter. If not, you might need a new best friend.
Promoters are often the customers that come to all your customer appreciation events. They are the ones that respond to your newsletters and blog posts with messages related to their content.
Most importantly, they are your evangelists, spreading the good word about your company all over town. You should treat them as such.
Offer all your customers a referral bonus, but especially your promoters. It could be anything from a gift card, to a discount, to straight cash. The point is, let them know that you appreciate what they do for your business.
Marketing to promoters for many small to mid-sized businesses is harder to scale as it often requires more of a personal touch.
Even so, take the time to sit down with your sales and marketing team and brainstorm ways that you can show your promoters what they mean to your company. A little planning can go a long way.
Marketing isn’t just about bringing in new customers, and it shouldn’t end when prospects enter the sales funnel.
The deeper you go with your marketing efforts into the lifecycle stages of your customers, the higher return on investment you will often find.
If nothing else, increasing the touch points across all lifecycle stages can improve the feedback loop between your business and your customers, but customer feedback loops is another article in itself, and I’ve droned on long enough.
If you’re interested in leveraging platforms like your blog or email automation to improve your marketing across your customer lifecycle, reach out to a reputable content marketing company, I think you’ll find that they will have some great ideas that you can implement right away.