In my last post on this topic, I made a bold claim. I stated that if you use digital marketing effectively, you will be a more productive company with higher profit margins from the exact same set of people. This is the game-changing opportunity that digital marketing offers us today.

But this raises an important question. How can you know that you are using digital marketing effectively? Most service-based organizations today are deploying some combination of analog and digital marketing strategies. Yet very few are realizing the outcomes of greater productivity and profitability from the same staff. If anything, their expenses are going up while their profits are shrinking or holding steady. What’s the secret to better profits and productivity from digital marketing?

If your company engages in complex selling and you want digital marketing to make you more productive and profitable without adding staff, here are three key strategies you need to manage very well: content marketing, marketing automation and sales and marketing alignment. Let’s explore how you can do this.

Key Take-Away:

To get the greatest value from digital marketing, you need to align the sales and marketing functions around the sales funnel

The complex sale and digital marketing

Before I jump into those three strategies, I want to make sure we are on the same page concerning a couple of key concepts: the complex sale and digital marketing.

Here is a quick review of the stages of the complex sale:

  • Discovery: to establish client needs, budget and fit.
  • Requirements definition: to specify the client’s desired outcomes.
  • Roadmap development: to define steps to realize outcomes.
  • Client buy-in: to get consent before formalizing an agreement.
  • Proposal construction – to document everything in a formal agreement.
  • Refinements: to make final adjustments to the agreement.
  • Launch: to get all the paperwork ironed out.

That’s how the complex sale works. My claim, in my last post on this topic, is that digital marketing can now be used to move people through the first three stages of the complex sale: discovery, requirements definition and roadmap development.

The reason you can use digital marketing to do this is because most service-based organizations only solve a handful of problems for their clients. Our research suggests that most service firms really only offer 3-5 broad categories of service. Usually their approach to addressing client needs will boil down to just a few strategies and tactics per service. While the nuances may be unique from one engagement to the next, the roadmap to achieving client goals will probably look very similar.

Digital marketing, unlike analog marketing, is about people engaging with your counsel through digital channels such as:

  • Social media
  • Websites
  • Email marketing
  • Blogging
  • Webinars
  • Videos
  • E-books
  • White papers
  • Action guides

You can now provision content and ideas through all of these channels with the goal of pulling people through the early stages of the complex sale and preparing them for meaningful sales conversations. This is how digital marketing works. But this raises three very important questions.

  • How can you tell whether or not your content is effective at moving people through these stages?
  • How can you tell who is moving through these stages? 
  • How do you know who sales people should be talking to so you get the greatest return on time for your most valuable consultants and business development staff? 


Effective content marketing

Most service firms are using content marketing today. They are building blog-sites, hosting webinars, developing white papers and using case studies. But if you were to ask the senior-most marketing executive for concrete proof that their investment in these tools is producing value for their company, you might hear crickets chirping.

Most marketing functions today struggle to demonstrate real ROI for content marketing, in uncontestable ways that matter to senior-most executives. Yes. Marketing leaders might be able to show downloads and registrations and pageviews. But if you ask how those tools caused someone specific, John or Jane client, to enter into sales dialogue or even protected profit margins in specific accounts, most marketing leaders fall silent. They don’t have the proof.

The reason I know this is because I have been in meetings with marketing executives when these very questions are asked. I have watched them squirm under the pressure of scrutiny. It’s incredibly uncomfortable.

If you’re thinking that I am making here a pitch for better analytics, let me clear the air on that right away. What’s needed here is not better dashboards or analytic tools or even fast reporting. All of those are necessary, but they won’t fix the content marketing issue.

The biggest problem with content marketing today is ideation – the brainstorming component of figuring out what content to create and the best way to create it. I see marketing functions putting tons of resources into content production and breezing right past the most important question – what content do we create and why?

For your content to deliver uncontestable value to your organization there is a simple question you can ask and it goes like this. Does this content address a major goal, opportunity or challenge of our ideal client? A goal is something the ideal client must achieve, usually the reason they get paid to do their job. An opportunity is something that excites their imagination. A challenge is something that prevents them from reaching their goals.

If you want the outcomes of better profits and productivity from digital marketing, your content strategy has to address the goals, opportunities and challenges of ideal clients. 


Marketing automation

A moment ago I said that analytics tools won’t make better content marketing. But these tools will help you prove, incontestably, that your content is adding value to your company. If you don’t have marketing automation today, it will be nearly impossible to demonstrate the full impact of your digital marketing initiatives.

The real value of marketing automation is not, well, automation. There are a lot of platforms that claim to be marketing automation that don’t really fit the bill. Here is what I mean.

Marketing automation platforms allow you to track the digital footprint of every user in your ecosystem and translate that behavior into a score: every email send open and click, every webinar, every white paper, every case study and everything else that you provision. It is this ability to track that produces the proof. It is the ability to score the behavior that produces the efficiency for sales and marketing alignment.

I’ve written lots of other articles on marketing automation and the benefits they provide. You can check out our blog for more reasons about why digital footprint tracking and lead scoring are so important to digital marketing success.


Sales and marketing alignment

I know that sales is a dirty word for a lot of consulting and service-based organizations. So when I use the term sales, I’m talking about those people who carry responsibility to generate revenue for their organization.

I have interviewed, over the last several years, hundreds of people at service firms who fit this definition. I often ask them this question: what are your expectations of the marketing function?

A lot of sales people struggle to answer this question. They say somewhat generic things like, I want marketing to generate leads, or, I want marketing to build awareness of who we are and what we do. But it is very rare that a sales person sees their day-to-day activities as tied to or dependant on what marketing people do. Sales and marketing staff are often two ships passing in the night.

For you to get the greatest value from digital marketing, you need to align the sales and marketing functions around the sales funnel. Here is what I mean.

Most service-based organizations have a five-stage sales funnel:

  • Awareness – people become aware of your services and content.
  • Consideration – people sample your content and consider how it can help them achieve goals, realize opportunities or overcome challenges.
  • Interest – a person raises their hand to enter dialogue and a proposal is generated.
  • Evaluation – they evaluate the proposal against their needs and competitive offerings.
  • Selection – they accept the proposal and move to next steps.

So if this is the path that most people take to becoming your client, what kind of experience are you delivering along the way? Is it smooth and flowing with no gaps, with no one saying – that’s not my job? Or is it inconsistent and bumpy for prospects coming in-bound?

While sales and marketing people often believe that their jobs are very different, prospects don’t see it that way. They don’t care that marketing people own content creation and that sales people own proposal development. Until you begin to look at the world the way your prospects look at the world, you’ll never achieve your company’s potential.

So if you want to realize better outcomes from the same sales and marketing staff you have today, you have to unite them around the sales funnel. This is how you move prospects through the funnel faster and with better yields to your organization, with more people saying yes to your proposals. 


Building your plan

Digital marketing holds tremendous potential to transform the productivity and profitability of your organization. But to realize the potential you have to use content marketing effectively, deploy the right marketing automation platform and align sales and marketing teams around the sales funnel.

To help you build a plan to accomplish this, I’ve developed a powerful and free E-Book called Ten Things Service Websites Must Do To Drive Revenue. This E-Book goes into much greater detail than what I’ve outlined in this short post. I know you’ll find it very useful in developing your plan to get the most out of digital marketing.