The traditional sales process goes something like this: market research hands over some leads, sales contacts the leads and discovers who's interested in learning more.
Then there's follow-up, when the sales rep goes over the product in more detail with the prospect, educating him or her about what it can do and why it's important so they are in a position to make a buying decision.
Findings from Gartner, IDC, Forrester and others show that a buyer's journey is anywhere from 40 to 70 percent complete before a discussion with a human being even starts. There's a good chance that if a leads are qualified and get a call from sales, they'll already know a lot about your product.
There are two reasons for this phenomenon: PR and content marketing.
Earned Media, Educated Prospects
PR has been adapting to the digital landscape for years now. Alongside traditional newspapers and magazines, there are increasing opportunities in blogs, online news outlets and analyst websites. At the same time, people today are reviewing companies and giving feedback about products...without PR necessarily being involved at all, although PR can certainly accelerate the process.
All of this means that when your brand is online, there's likely to be a wealth of third-party information available about your products and services. If you don't have a strong PR team behind you shaping and influencing this process, then you're letting your brand be defined by whoever has a keyboard and access to the Internet- friend or foe.
With a PR team, companies can ensure that journalists understand the story behind the solution and offer accurate, informative coverage. Since just about all of these stories are available online now, getting the messaging right is more important than ever. When prospects are researching your brand, earned media is the first place they'll go, because they'll be looking for an unbiased, third party opinion from a quality source.
Owned media is where content marketing has started to come into play. That's all the media that you control directly, from blog posts to social channels to white papers and case studies. Increasingly, that content is being used to generate leads.
Content marketing is all about education. Businesses that fall behind in content marketing will likely fall behind in search results, too. The fact is that 93 percent of B2B tech purchasers use the Internet for product research today. Educational content creates a brand experience well before prospects have actually looked at product features.
The Art of Inbound
Earned and owned media tell the brand's story and educate the prospect about the product. In a digital world, both have become integral to sales today, because the vast majority of people do research before ever talking to a rep. But many companies are still treating prospects as if they have never heard of the solution or the company.
As the research shows, there's a very good chance that prospects have already done their research. That puts the onus on companies to make sure there's positive material out there, both across third party sources via earned media and on the company website.
When done right, owned media can be used to create a content marketing funnel that employs the power of inbound marketing. In that case, sales won't even have to reach out to leads -- the leads will come to them, through the power of content alone.