Content may be king; relationships are personal

Since time immemorial selling has been about relationships. From the three martini lunch to immeasurable rounds of golf and scads of tickets to sporting events, salespeople have used every method possible to connect with and cultivate prospects (and clients) at a personal level. Now we’re being asked to believe that a new, disruptive technology has somehow altered the landscape. We no longer have to connect with people at a personal level to establish a trusted relationship. Now we can do it with content; a powerful, less expensive alternative – marketing automation! Content is king; no handshakes required, thank you very much.

So, how do we know what content to send them? What are they interested in and how do we know that? Exactly how interested are they? Where in the journey toward obtaining a solution are they? Where’s the pain?

If you follow the marketing automation model, and many do, you send out dozens of emails to people each month, each with a content offer. And then you track what they respond to and act accordingly. You send them whitepapers and round them up into webinars. Each time you gather more and more information about them (although, in practice, it always seems as if they ask the same questions each time I respond, no matter how often I respond, almost as if they really don’t know me at all).

Sounds to me like a lot of investment in creating content (although they tell you that you can “repurpose” the content you already have) and not so much invested in asking me the important, simple questions like: Why did I ask for that whitepaper? Why was that webinar topic of interest? What’s keeping me and my colleagues up at night? Where are my priorities and my company’s priorities at the moment?

They don’t bother asking me any of that, but they do send me lots of free content. The problem is that, when I look at the content, I discover that it’s either relatively shallow or, even if it has merit, it generally doesn’t quite apply to me or my specific challenges.

Eventually, I stop clicking and stop asking because I have actually soured on the relationship. It doesn’t give me what I need. I get no value from my time investment.

Of course, other than having to pay for creating the content (a substantial cost if done right), on the surface it seems as if it hasn’t cost them very much to generate highly qualified leads. I suppose if you are already investing in scads of content creation, then repurposing it will work. But, for most companies, that’s not the case.

No doubt, some people find that strategy hits the spot for them. The content they use is on the mark; it meets the needs of prospects and brings them into the fold through a self identification process. They may even make a purchase and become customers. When you measure the acquisition cost of that sale, it may seem attractively low, especially when compared to the cost of having to engage people personally from day 1 (excluding, of course the substantial investment in content and software/services).

But what about me, my needs and a sale to my company? That’s lost. Who’s measuring lost opportunity cost? Who’s assessing what might have happened if someone had taken the time to engage me directly, asked the salient questions, cultivated me at a personal level and earned my trust and my business? How does that figure into the cost per customer acquisition matrix?

It seems to me that if I’m going to buy into the marketing automation model, I want to do it on the basis of knowing what interests a prospective customer BEFORE I send them content. I always want that content to be relevant to their needs, and I want every single touch to bring value to the relationship – a clear statement that I listened, I heard and I have responded accordingly.

I can’t risk basing my relationship development strategy on inferences – on remote behavior from a distance. I prefer proactive to reactive. I need to speak with them first, understand their needs, concerns and aspirations. I need to establish a detailed profile of who they are, how they go about making decisions, how important to them is finding a solution and, most importantly, what are they trying to accomplish and what have they tried already that has failed. I need to know them – personally.

With knowledge of who they are and what’s important to them in hand, I can build a regimen of delivering exactly the content they need, knowing that it will bring value to them and establish the beginning of a trusted advisor relationship. And to achieve that most effectively, I need to invest in my own resources or hire a company like ETI Sales Support that has the people, skills and experience to engage them personally, consultatively and reliably to build a positive brand image, assess the level and quality of the needs they have for the solution we represent.

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