Like the cold days of winter, the days of cold outreach are numbered. But, for the moment, your prospects are still being inundated with sales pitches from all sides, every single day.
And when they’re overwhelmed with options, they won't respond, no matter how appealing your offer. If your target doesn't feel a personal connection to your content, that clever email you composed to catch his or her attention will be cast aside, along with thousands of other such attempts.
Data backs this up: According to Demand Gen Report’s 2016 Content Preferences Survey, nearly half of all responding B2B buyers will consume three to five pieces of content before interacting with a salesperson.
The same study found that a staggering 96 percent of buyers wanted that content to come from thought leaders in their industry; indeed, the trustworthiness of the source was cited as highly important by all respondents.
Fortunately, none of us ignore a message from someone we already know. But, of course you don’t have enough personal contacts, friends and family to keep your business growing sustainably; so how can you get to know prospects you’ve never met before?
The answer is that the surest path to warmer outreach entails building familiarity and credibility with the right people; and that occurs when you become a trusted voice in your field. When you take the time to position yourself as a leader in your industry, what you have to say about what you’re selling suddenly carries more weight. In that context, you’re not just another person hawking his or her wares; you’re someone your prospective customer or client knows and trusts.
The more familiar buyers become with you, the more likely they are to listen to your pitch. You’re looking for more leads and sales, but what you really need are more strong relationships.
Own the conversation by being the highest authority.
Imagine you sell software to commercial construction companies. Even if you have a great list of leads, good luck getting a foot in the door if no one on that list has ever heard of you. Now, let’s say instead that you’re the founder of a popular LinkedIn group called “The Commercial Construction Leadership Network.”
The more well-known and active a group is, the more likely its members will be to listen to the person who started it and to recommend that person as a leader in the space. Establishing this kind of “authority leadership platform” on social media can really boost your marketing initiatives.
Hosting recurring local meet-ups or conference series and other traditional methods of broad outreach takes a lot of time and effort and produces limited results. LinkedIn and Facebook groups, however, allow you to reach a larger swath of your target audience without a huge time commitment or travel on your part.
Following these steps will help you create an online space where your target audience wants to be -- and where you lead the discussion.
1. Zero in on your targets.
“Small business owners” is not a real demographic. Neither is “everyone.” Trying to please everyone will make your messaging seem generic and, sadly, leave it unread. Think about the kind of person you want to reach. What does that person do? What kind of purchasing power does he or she have? What industry is this person in, and what city or town? Think about what this person searches for, and include those keywords in the content you create.
The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, for example, created a LinkedIn group targeted specifically to its members. This group saw tremendous growth, with 15 percent of the institute’s membership joining up, according to the Institute. By identifying its niche and taking charge of the conversation, AICPA not only strengthened its brand, but also provided a new community resource for its members. Added bonus: Most of them now view being included in the organization’s LinkedIn group as a major perk of membership.
2. Build to their specifications, not your own.
Don’t make the mistake of creating something that’s all about what you do. The only people who care about that are you and your competitors. Instead, think about what would resonate with your audience. What do they care about? What conversations do they want to have? Decide whether to provide a thought leadership platform, a network hub or something else that fulfills a need your audience has.
One of our clients, an IT business, realized that most of its buyers worked in manufacturing. Rather than start a group about IT -- the focus of his business -- this man started a group called “Midwest Manufacturing Leaders,” which focuses on what his clients want to talk about. This puts him in a position to engage further with an attentive audience.
3. Follow them to your place.
Among B2B buyers, 50 percent use LinkedIn to help make purchasing decisions, according to the social media site itself. HubSpot, meanwhile, says Facebook is about more than socializing, with 73 percent of users reporting they use the site for professional purposes to some degree.
You can find business on both platforms, but you have to figure out which one is the most likely place for your prospects to engage. CEOs of construction companies probably don’t spend much time searching for business conversations on Facebook; that’s more of a LinkedIn audience. On the other hand, people in consumer marketing are all over Facebook. Don’t try to drag your audience to the platform you prefer. Figure out which one they like, and make it easy for them to interact with you by setting up a group on that site.
Once you start your group and get your target audience signed up and talking, all that’s left to do is consistently provide content they crave. By engaging with you outside of a sales channel, they’ll come to know you as a trusted advisor -- someone whose emails will never end up in their spam folders.
Create the right group on the right platform, and you’ll not only position your company as an industry leader, you’ll also supercharge your leads.