Selling is harder than ever before. Prospective customers are inundated with emails, voice mails, ads, etc. that are all attempting to sell products. How do you rise above the noise and engage prospects and customers?

The first step is developing messaging that is clear and easy to understand. If your value proposition is more than a simple sentence that a junior high school child kid can understand, then you have a problem.

I’m a huge fan of, the wildly successful on-line shoe sales company. Their tag line is “Powered by Service” and they have built their business by providing outstanding customer service. They offer free shipping (both ways), 24X7 customer service availability and a one year 100% return policy on all shoes. They are a great example of easy to understand messaging and clear differentiation from competitors (no one else offers the one year 100% return policy and free shipping both ways). In all fairness, it should be noted that you do actually have to deliver outstanding customer service if that is what you are touting as your differentiator and the core of your messaging.

The next step in engaging prospects & customers is developing content that your target customers find valuable. It sounds relatively simple but most companies fail miserably at this vitally important business development stage. Why? One reason is that the market is flooded with free offers and trials. The vast majority of which are crap. As a result, people are understandably cynical about what the free offer or trial actually delivers that is of value to them. A good litmus test for your free trial or offer is to do a simple google search on what it is that you are providing to the prospective customer through the offer/trial. If there are lots of similar offers that you find in your google search results, then most likely, you don’t have an “engaging” offer and are wasting your time.

A big part of developing content that successfully engages prospects is to tailor the content to different target customer sets and their specific needs. I’ve never been a big fan of the top ten reasons that you should buy our product approach. Bad sales people constantly throw out features and benefits hoping that one of them will resonate with the customer. Good sales people talk about the most important reason that you should buy their product. And they do so knowing your buyer profile and based on what is most important to you.

An example is two sales people selling similar products to a CFO in a F1000 company. The first sales person sells on performance, ease of use and scalability. The second sales person sells on mitigating risk knowing that the company recently paid a huge fine and had their stock price drop 15% because of financial exposure that their solution addresses. The first sales person reports back to management that the pitch and subsequent demo went well and adds it to their forecast. The second sales person offers to provide a risk mitigation proof of concept that will help to mutually build the business case for purchase of their solution. The scary thing is that this happening every day and there are lots of bad sales reps adding “qualified sales opportunities” to their pipelines and forecasts that will never convert to revenue and new customers because they were never really properly “engaged” with the customer.

There are a host of other considerations that you need to think about. One such item is to develop tiered content offerings where the value is higher and subsequently you can ask for more from the customer in exchange for the perceived value that you are delivering. For example, if I have a simple ROI calculator on my web site then I might reasonably expect the customer to provide their email address. But if I’m going to provide the customer with access to domain expertise that is rare and expensive, then I have the right to expect that the customer will agree to provide me with an audience with the decision maker to present the findings and recommendations of the assessment. This helps nurture your leads based on where they are at in their evaluation process and promotes incremental commitment from the customer based on the increased value of your content offering.

There are a lot of great e-marketing solutions out there these days such as Marketo, Eloqua, Genius, etc. and they have done an excellent job of promoting themselves. The issue is that most people get sold on the tool and think it is a panacea for lead nurturing and growing their leads and sales pipeline. The reality is that these are tools and they are only as good as the content that you develop and use with them. Lead nurturing and e-marketing are vitally important in today’s selling world, but don’t expect these tools to magically create great, compelling content for you.

I leave you with a sobering question. Does your company do a good job of creating engaging content? The sad reality is that most companies don’t do a good job in developing fresh and provocative content that engages their prospective customers. And the downstream implications of this are inadequate lead flow, sales pipelines and ultimately revenue.

The bottom line is that you need this content expertise or you won’t like your bottom line:-)

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