The Three-Legged Stool for Business Development – Content marketing. Marketing automation. Consultative sale.

I’m a big Benjamin Franklin fan. His down-to-earth and practical style of problem-solving often rendered the most complex of challenges simple and easy to understand. More than anything, Franklin provided a framework for how to think about and resolve difficult questions.

Franklin’s three-legged stool is how I have come to think of what is probably your company’s most perplexing challenge right now. For virtually every professional service firm, the big question over the last few years has been: How do we get more of the right clients? We call these ideal clients, not just any old client, but the one type of client that is really right for your firm.

I think the right framework for addressing this challenge is comprised of three legs under the proverbial stool:

  1. Content marketing.
  1. Marketing automation.
  1. Consultative sale.

Content marketing

Content marketing is easy to identify based on the form it takes when presented to the market:

  1. Articles.
  2. White papers.
  3. Webinars.
  4. Videos.
  5. Blogs.
  6. The list goes on.

What is not so obvious, however, is the connection between content marketing and the acquisition of ideal clients. I know several companies who have poured thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars into content marketing only to be frustrated.

Yes. They have good content. Yes. Their content focuses on the goals, challenges and opportunities of their ideal client. Yes. They have gated the high-value content so prospects have to register for it and give up their contact information, causing them to be identified as a lead.

But then what? Far too often, nothing happens. Even if sales people call on those leads, the calls fall on deaf ears. This is very frustrating and it’s enough to make some marketing and business development professionals believe that content marketing is a hoax. But in our experience, many of these companies have not taken the necessary next step.

Marketing automation

Marketing automation is a buzz word to describe software tools that provide a range of functionality including:

  • Lead scoring.
  • Lead nurturing.
  • Integrated analytics across web pages, webinars, registration forms, email broadcasts and media downloads.
  • List management.
  • E-mail marketing.
  • Automatic lead follow-up.
  • Easy and fast provisioning of new content, web pages and emails.

In other articles, I’ve suggested that this is the missing ingredient for many professional service organizations. If you haven’t fully integrated marketing automation into your environment, you’re missing the boat.

Consultative sale

A consultative sale is a different beast from the traditional sale in professional services where the people selling spend an entire meeting talking about their company, why they’re great and why the prospect should choose them versus the competition. Consultative sellers are prepared to allow a sale to progress in stages that are comfortable and appropriate to the service buyer. Usually those stages are:

  • Awareness. Where prospects become aware of your brand and how you can help them achieve their goals, realize their opportunities and resolve their challenges.
  • Interest. Where prospects express a willingness to engage in dialogue and explore how you can help them.
  • Evaluation. Where they request a proposal, evaluate it based on their needs and compare it to competitive solutions.
  • Selection. Where they select your brand and move ahead.

On the other side of the desk — your side to be exact — this is what that process looks like:

  • Discovery. Where you ask prospects to identify their top goals, opportunities and challenges. In this stage, you mostly listen and take notes.
  • Needs definition. Where you articulate back to the prospect what you’ve heard and demonstrate how well you’ve listened.
  • Proposal. Where you unequivocally demonstrate that your services are the best possible solution to help your prospects achieve their goals, realize their opportunities and resolve their challenges.
  • Refinement. Where you refine your proposal based on any final feedback from the client.

How the three work together

Content marketing, marketing automation and the consultative sale work together seamlessly — if you link them effectively. Here are some examples:

Scenario 1: the hot lead. A lead clicks through to your website, downloads a white paper, clicks over to a service profile page, registers for a webinar and yet still does not request a meeting. Your marketing automation software assigns this individual a high score and a sales person contacts them to discuss the topics outlined in the white paper. The lead takes the sales person’s call and a discovery meeting ensues.

Scenario 2: the warm lead. A lead clicks through to your website, downloads a white paper and registers for your newsletter. Your marketing automation software assigns this individual an initial low score that does not merit a phone call from a sales person. Over time, this contact clicks through on several items from your newsletter and the contact’s cumulative behavior results in a high lead score. A sales person contacts them and says, “Hey, I’ve noticed that you’ve registered for several items over the last couple of months. Can we talk about your interests?” A discovery meeting ensues.

Scenario 3: the cold lead. A lead clicks through to your website, downloads a white paper and then goes completely dark. You know, because of your marketing automation software, that the lead has not opened a single email since the initial download. Then, out of the blue, the lead starts clicking on web pages and reading articles on your website. Because they click on more than 25 web pages, most of them related to one service, a sales person contacts them and says, “It seems like you’re interested in service X. Can we talk about your goals?” A discovery meeting ensues.

When content marketing, marketing automation and the consultative sale are integrated in this fashion, they yield meaningful sales opportunities. So let me ask you some questions.

How integrated are these functions at your company? How effectively do they support one another? Do you have some work to do?

About the author

Randy Shattuck is a senior marketing executive and founder of The Shattuck Group, a full-service marketing firm that specializes in growing professional services firms.

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