But the secret to winning customers is often in thinking small – and meeting a number of smaller needs. If buying your product involves careful consideration, your customers will have frequently changing needs throughout the course of the buyer journey. The marketers who recognise this are the ones who will deliver the best results.
Whatever industry you are in, whatever you sell, and however you sell it, you should be able to summarise what your company promises to do for the customer in a single sentence. This promise is typically defined in terms of the single need that you meet.
But while this is a useful reminder of what we are ultimately doing for our customers, it is way too broad to be useful in the world of demand generation. If we want to really pull in the leads and get people talking to us, we have to be much more detailed and consider their “mini-needs”.
Demand generation is really a question of ‘onboarding’. The sales process is often extended over a long period, and the science and art of demand generation is doing something that gets people to make contact with you during that process. You want them to raise their hand and declare an interest as early as possible.
This is why we need to consider the different stages of that process, and how your prospects’ needs change as they move through it. Each mini-need is a magic moment – a fleeting opportunity to answer a question they have and therefore make that essential contact that will ultimately lead to a sale.
These mini-needs correspond to the ubiquitous ‘sales funnel’. As buyers move through the process – or down the funnel – they are looking for different things, so mini-needs can be mapped against the classic AIDA (awareness, interest, desire, action) model.
To deal with mini-needs requires a lot of organization and planning. You need to deliver the right information in the right way at the right time. This is best illustrated by three real-life examples, shown in the diagram. These are B2B examples, but the same principles apply for considered consumer purchases.
David the trend-spotter
As part of his job as CEO, David has to keep a strategic viewpoint, so he needs to stay abreast of what’s going on in his industry. So he listens to the speakers at the trade show, he checks articles and videos on LinkedIn, and reads the odd blog and whitepaper if it seems relevant to him.
He doesn’t even know if he needs your product, so he will not take time out of his busy day to read anything about it. However, his need for general information remains, so you offer information that explains how companies like his are reacting to recent developments. You are perfectly placed to comment on this because you talk to customers and you know your industry. All you are doing is sharing the level of information that David needs right now.
Giles the short-lister
Giles, on the other hand, knows he needs a certain kind of solution – he just doesn’t know which companies provide it. So he needs something to guide him, and therefore sets a day aside for his research – starting with a Google search. One of the links he sees is for your company but, unlike the others, you don’t simply state why your product is great. Instead you offer a guide on how to evaluate the kind of product that you sell. You position yourself as a knowledgeable, helpful brand and a company that is willing to help Giles find the product that is right for him. Giles fills in a form and gives you his email address in exchange for the guide. One lead captured.
Jennifer the number cruncher
Finding herself in the key, latter stages of the buying process, Jennifer knows what she wants, she has drawn up a shortlist (and you’re on it) and her job right now is to compare prices and products in a meaningful way. If, during this critical phase, you email her offering a cost/benefit comparison, or a case study focusing on how to calculate the ROI of your product, she may pause for a moment to read your email. She may click on the call to action button. Still further, she may take the phone call from the sales team (triggered by their click). She had a specific need, and you met that need at the precise time that it was there.
So how do you meet all of these needs all of the time?
You need two things: a full set of answers to their questions, and a plan for delivering those answers to the people who are likely to be asking them.
This is often referred to as downstream marketing. By anticipating the changing needs of your prospects through the buying cycle, you have done the upstream marketing – it now remains to put the activities and campaigns in place that connect with the people you want to reach. And at the heart of your downstream marketing will be your content that answers your prospects’ questions.
Another way of looking at the buying process is to consider it as a series of tiny sales, leading up to a big sale at the end. Each of those tiny sales differs from the ultimate sale because you are not usually giving anything more than information (or perhaps service) and they are not parting with any cash – all they are doing is paying with their time and attention.
And so on. They are all transactions, but if we can make any of these sales – helping the customers with the mini-needs, by getting them to say “yes” to a series of mini-transactions, we will be better placed than anyone else to make the sale at the end – i.e. we’ll give you the product/service that will meet your need in exchange for the price we ask.
This is the main transaction. This is the sale. Get the rest of the process right, and you’ll close it.
As we have seen, needs change through the buying process. But it’s also important to remember that the buyer who sets out on the purchase journey is different to the one that makes the final sale in many ways. Understanding the ways in which your buyers grow, and the way in which their attitudes evolve will help you to ensure you speak to them in the right way at the right stage. Broadly, they will evolve in 5 ways:
They become more expert:
The buying cycle is a learning curve. Buyers know that the more they know, the more successful their purchase will be, and they appreciate any help they can find to do that. At early stages, they are keen to learn – but beware of patronizing the expert buyer later on.
They want greater detail:
Because they are learning as they go, buyers require a different level of detail as they go. Early in the process, they want the bigger picture. They want education. They want someone to help them establish terms of reference so they can learn more. So forget the detailed product info early on, however compelling it may be. Be the buyer’s friend by helping him or her to get up to speed, and they will thank you for it.
They get to know you (and vice versa):
Don’t forget that it is a human process too. At first, you are just another face in the crowd, because they don’t know you. Equally, you know little about them, and assumptions are dangerous things. But by the later stages in the process, not only will you will be more familiar to them, which will gradually change what they expect from you, but you will also understand their situation better.
You get easier access to them:
Your communication channels will also mature, which will make a huge difference to how you connect. Initially, for example, you may rely on your website: most buyers will look you up online before you have any idea they are even out there.
But once two-way contact is established, the touchpoints will multiply. You will pick up their email address, their phone number, their social media profiles. This in turn gives you more opportunities to nurture them through the buying process, and to meet their ongoing mini-needs at each stage.
They get increasingly nervous…
This is the important one. Put yourself in the shoes of the buyer and you will understand how attitudes to risk change as they go along. Early on, it is frequently an information-gathering exercise. It is pretty much risk-free: no one ever lost their job because of the early findings they reported to the board. But at some point the individual in charge of the buying process will have to back their decision with either the company’s money or their own. Understand that they are increasingly weighed down by risk, find out what worries them and work to reassure them.
So you will generate more leads if you can empathise with the changing moods, attitudes and needs of your buyer – but you still won’t be able to capture every lead every time.
To convince someone to buy from you (whether in a mini-transaction or a major transaction), you still need to satisfy other conditions and potential customers (or leads) will slip away even though yours may be a perfectly acceptable option. It’s worth remembering that buyers may consider you and then discount you for three broad reasons:
Remember that it is a ‘numbers game’ – that is to say that a carefully planned marketing strategy that considers each of the stages and anticipates your customers’ specific needs at that point will maximize your ability to bring them on board. They may be tiny percentage improvements but get it right and the sales volume will go up.
Make that first contact, and the dialogue has begun: it’s then up to you to nurture that relationship to a point where they become a loyal, profitable customer with a significant lifetime value.
From our offices in Exeter and Bristol, Wall To Wall Sunshine provides marketing advice that is totally focused on commercial business objectives. Quite simply, that means we put our clients first and focus entirely on achieving their goals. So when we help our clients with their marketing strategy, it’s not about high-level theory and jargon; it’s about helping them to do better business.