Late last year, a client prospect asked me to provide a proposal for a marketing plan and lead generation campaign (using their automation software). Two months, three conversations and two proposals later, the prospect says, “What I really need is more visibility on LinkedIn.”

I don’t share this story to disparage the business owner; rather, I should have done a better job of asking the right questions to understand his business needs and buyer journey (more on that shortly).

His confusion exemplifies the sentiments of many who don’t have time (or interest) to follow marketing best practices and understand the latest buzzwords. Even for those who live and breathe the marketing profession each day, the discipline has grown much more complex.

The onus is on us, as marketers, to ask the right questions, explain things better and offer unbiased recommendations to build your business better, faster and cheaper. Here are a few ideas to get the conversation going.

  1. Understand the terminology (as best you can).

Thanks to digital marketing, there are new names for terms that have been around for a while, plus ones that are genuinely new. How many of these terms can you define: inbound, outbound, offline, push, pull, online, digital, traditional, social, lead gen, SEM, SEO, influencer marketing, publicity, automation? Don’t worry. You’re not alone.

Offline marketing, also called outbound, includes more traditional tactics like advertising, PR, trade shows and direct mail. These “push” information about products onto prospects and customers.

Online, inbound and digital are often used synonymously. These are used to “pull” a customer into the fold of your brand.

Social media includes online communities or networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and others. Which social channel is best to promote your business? (See next section, know your customer, and don’t forget that quality and quantity count).

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving where your website naturally, or “organically,” shows up in a Google (Yahoo, Bing) search. Paid search is when you pay Google or Bing to higher or sooner on the page.

A whole host of companies are creating software to help automate and track leads, build databases and organize email campaigns (I have heard the term “organized spam” used). Market leaders are Hubspot, Marketo, Pardot and Salesforce, but there are others, too.

How do you know which of these terms – or tactics – work best for your business? First, you need to know your prospects and customers.

2. Know your customer.

You’ll hear the terms persona and customer segment, though they are slightly different terms. This Meltwater article provides a great explanation, but to sum it up as succinctly as I know how: segmentation validates similar customer groups, while personas add fictional details that bring those segments to life. Whatever you call them, it helps so know as much about your prospects and customers as possible, including demographics, psychographics, lifestyle and other interests.

To figure this out, you can observe their behavior on and offline and conduct research to fill in the gaps. Here’s an illustration.

Last summer I worked with a medical equipment company whose potential buyer was nurses. After asking my client a number of profiling questions, they agreed to target both administrative nurses (i.e., CNOs) and bedside nurses (e.g., RNs and LPNs). We then created personas to describe how old they were, how they spent their day, what mattered to them at work, how technologically savvy they were, and on and on. Walking through this exercise was extremely valuable in understanding how these nurses consume information and what messages they might want to hear. We then validated our assumptions with an online study.

After creating personas and building out customer segments, it’s helpful to understand their stage in the buying journey. Let me explain.

3. Understand their buying habits.

Another buzzword, the buyer or customer journey, pretty much means what it implies. This journey includes several stages: awareness, interest, consideration, purchase and post-purchase. If you know where a prospect or customer is in this buying evolution, it’s much easier to provide information about your product (via email, direct mail or other channel) that actually want. Here’s another analogy to help explain:

I did a research project for Mercedes-Benz, and as part of this work, carried out mystery shopping. First, I researched luxury cars online to compare features and prices. Then I went to four dealers to see what was in stock and take some cars for test drives (my Prius will never be the same). One dealer completely ignored me, another acted snobby towards me, another tried to sell me a different car than what I said I wanted to buy, and another was warm and offered just the right amount of information I wanted. Using the right set of questions, a good salesperson will understand what the buyer is ready to do/know. Being pushy or ignoring me altogether is a missed opportunity.

To understand your customer’s journey, you may need to ask questions, observe their behavior, track what emails they open and links they click and watch how and where they browse your site. By doing this, you can give prospects and customers the information (or content) they want, just when they need it.

But you need to capture this data (yes, we’ve all heard the term big data a time or two) and track it so you get better at adjusting the marketing mix.

4. Adjust your marketing mix to keep customers happy.

How to reach customers and prospects is an age-old debate that has become more heated in recent years, especially since digital passed advertising spend for the first time in ‘17. With so many tactical options, how does a company know what to choose? Should you put all your eggs in one basket? What should your budget be, and how much of that budget should be invested in software to help you build that database (see #3)?

To answer that question, you have to get better at #2 (knowing your customer) and #3 (where they are in the journey) and #5 (measuring the tactics you choose). The good news: as you get better at #2 and 3, #5 gets easier, too. And hopefully, you have become much more efficient at divvying out dollars in the process. The bad news: it takes time (and is almost as confusing as my numbering system). And it also takes a carload (actually bus!) of content to get there.

5. Measure, rinse and repeat.

Back in the old days, it was virtually impossible to prove that print or TV advertising worked. (The way we ‘measured’ at Polaroid years ago was to see watch product sales ebb and flow during an ad flight, or rotating schedule). Today, media companies can immediately measure the effectiveness of a radio ad by looking at web stats. Direct mail, email, digital ads – they are all easily tracked. You just need to have staff (or agencies) to do the legwork.

It’s also important to establish metrics that relate to your overall company goals. Otherwise you may end up with mounds of data that no one cares about.

6. Don’t forget your brand.

Despite the increasing popularity of digital media, it’s still important to define your brand. This includes your company/product/service positioning, unique value and core messages.

If companies truly spend $120 billion on digital by 2021, you better have a rock solid brand positioning or you’ll be throwing a lot of money down the drain. For companies who feel the need to make haste and get busy spending money online, a little strategizing upfront can make a for a much better return down the road.

If you have a prospect at the bottom of the sales funnel who is interested in engaging with your business and brand, there needs to be awareness of your brand at the top of the funnel to build trust. Otherwise, they may run away before they ever jump in.


About the author

Melinda is a marketer, researcher and writer. She also has a passion for healthy living, every day.