Sunday, January 6, 2013

Will Your Marketing Content Help You "Make the Cut?"

I'm not a big fan of professional golf, although I do watch at least part of the four "major" tournaments that are held each year. As I was watching last year's US Open, it occurred to me that B2B demand generation and professional golf have something in common.

As most of you probably know, professional golf tournaments typically consist of 72 holes, with contestants playing four 18-hole rounds over four days. After 36 holes (two rounds) are completed, the tournament field is reduced by eliminating the players with the worst scores. The "cut," as it's called, can sometimes eliminate almost half of the players. To have a chance to win a tournament, the first thing a player must do is "make the cut."

One of the truisms in golf is that you can't win a tournament on the first day, but you can lose it. Because the scores are cumulative, a bad performance on the first day can put you so far behind that it's all but impossible to catch up. A really bad performance on Day 1 may cause you to "miss the cut" and not even have a chance to play in the final two rounds.

For B2B companies that have complex and lengthy sales cycles, demand generation resembles a professional golf tournament. The buying process can extend for several weeks to several months and typically includes multiple buying stages. At several points along the purchase journey, prospects make decisions about which potential suppliers to consider. If your company doesn't "make the cut" at any of these decision points, you won't be in the game when the final buying decision is made.

The critical point here is that prospects are increasingly making these decisions before they've had a person-to-person interaction with anyone in your company. According to research by the Corporate Executive Board, SiriusDecisions, DemandGen Report, and others, the average prospect is 50% to 60% through the buying process before he or she meets with a sales rep.

So how do prospects decide which potential sellers to consider? To a great extent, these decisions are based on what prospects learn about and from a potential seller when they take initial steps to get information about the products or services they may be interested in purchasing. This is what Google has called the Zero Moment of Truth.

Most of this early research is performed online, via web searches, anonymous visits to company websites, reading or viewing online content resources provided by prospective sellers, reading online user reviews, and, increasingly, interacting with peers via social media.

This new buyer behavior means that what is said about and by your company online plays a critical role in your demand generation success. While you can't control what others say about your company, you can control the quality of the content you publish. If the content you provide demonstrates that you understand your prospects' problems and that you have the requisite expertise to help solve those problems, your odds of beginning a meaningful sales conversation with those prospects will be a lot higher.

What about your marketing content? Will it help you "make the cut" and stay in the game as your prospects move closer to a buying decision?

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