In 1998, marketing guru Seth Godin estimated that the typical consumer came in contact with an average of 3,000 marketing messages per day. Even though that sounds like a lot, that number is only accurate for a world before social media, before smartphones, and before our dependence on e-mail was fully developed. The number has likely skyrocketed.
Because of the rapid growth of channels and the additional marketing messages that accompanied them, today's consumers don't take kindly to sales-related interruptions. The CMO Council found that 86% of people skip TV commercials, 44% of direct mail goes completely unopened, and 91% of people have unsubscribed from company emails they once voluntarily opted into. Clearly, today's consumers won't listen to a sales pitch or sit through a phone call that isn't relevant to their specific needs at that moment.
That's why, to close sales today, you need to know exactly to whom you are selling, and provide them with tailored messages that address their individual concerns. It's a matter of getting the right message in front of the right person at the right time—specifically, a time when they are open to hearing it. To do this you must have more information about your prospects and what they need during each phase of the buying process.
So, how can you learn more about your prospects without overwhelming them with messages and marketing? Look to your online community platform.
Using Your Online Community to Learn More About Prospective Customers
Once you have an active online customer community established, carving out a dedicated section for prospective customers is a natural next step. While you don't need to grant access to the entire community, you can create and fill a prospect segment with discussions about your industry, informational content relevant to their current stage in the buying process, and access to forums where they can connect with experts and peers.
By making the experience valuable, you can encourage prospective customers to participate in your community throughout their research and decision-making process, which keeps them engaged and earns their trust.
Engaging potential customers is intensely valuable, but the biggest bonus of having a prospect section in your online community is leveraging the activity data you collect to gain insight on how to make better sales decisions and messages.
4 Insights About Prospective Customers in Your Online Community
Insight #1) What Information Is Most Valuable to Prospective Customers
To earn a prospect's business, give them all the help they need to make a decision. Doing this effectively means that you have to understand what information will best help your prospects accomplish their goals, learn about your products and services (especially the value they provide).
Since each buyer is unique, making assumptions and blanketing them with general content can quickly cause you to lose their interest - and their business. Fortunately, with activity data from your online community, understanding the individual interests and needs of your customers doesn't have to be a guessing game.
By tracking a prospect's behavior and engagement in your online community, you can learn more about their challenges and which factors are impacting their buying process. Tailor your communication, including sales and marketing messages, based on this information. For instance, if a prospect posts a question about customer satisfaction or product reliability in a discussion forum, you can send a follow-up email directing them to a case study or customer testimonial on that topic.
Insight #2) Where Prospective Customers Are in their Buying Process
Understanding where your prospective customers stand in the buying process allows you to create a custom experience that makes them feel comfortable. Since they need different types of information at different points in the research and buying journey, prospective customers can get the information they need for their specific mindset.
For example, if a prospect's behavior clearly indicates he or she isn't ready to be contacted by your marketing or sales department, you can send a low-pressure invitation to read through a few educational blog posts or check out the comments on a discussion board. As prospects begin to engage further you can continue to help them move down the sales funnel by providing more detailed information on your product or an opportunity to ask a company executive a question.
Prospects' online behavioral data helps you learn how far along they are in the buying process so you can respond to their needs appropriately, and help your sales team and support teams nurture customers.
Insight #3) Who Is Ready to Buy
It is likely that most prospects that you invite into the prospective customer areas of your customer community will not be ready to make a purchase immediately. Your goal is to educate them and give them the resources they need, so that when they are ready to buy, you know it and can reach out to them or show them the path to purchase online.
As you track your prospective customers' behavior in your customer community through the buying process, you'll be able to identify who is ready to make a purchasing decision and who still needs more time. Use this to determine which prospects should be nurtured and which should be passed along to your sales team.
This distinction will likely become even easier to make the longer you collect data on prospective customers within your online community. Eventually, you'll have a list of behaviors and patterns clear patterns that indicate how prepared a prospect is to make a purchase.
Insight #4) When Your Sales Team Should Contact a Lead
Your sales team will have a much better chance of closing the deal if they are contacting a lead who wants to talk to them. According to Marketing Sherpa, 79% of leads never convert into sales, often because they are not ready to talk to sales people and are not adequately nurtured.
When you do nurture your prospects and they begin spending more and more time in your online community, you'll be able to gauge how their interest is transitioning from curiosity to sales-ready lead.
These insights can help set your sales team up for success. Not only will they know the right time to make contact, but they'll also have key data about each lead, including what product the lead is interested in, their potential concerns, and the research they've completed. With that, your sales team can ask the right questions, provide personalized information, and make a quicker sale.
Online Community Insight Takeaway
The process for attracting and nurturing prospects has drastically changed over the last several years. What worked 10 years ago doesn't work as well today.
Prospective customers want to engage with valuable resources when they are researching a product, and opening a segment of your online community to serve their needs can help them reach a purchasing decision.
Your current customers aren't the only ones who benefit from having access to your community. The insights you gain from their behavior allow you to market better, communicate better, and identify the most promising sales opportunities.