If you approached the average marketing or sales professional, and told them they needed to get better at chasing people away from their business, you’d likely be met with skepticism, at best.
I could understand the reaction. For people who live on commission, and are faced with ever-increasing sales goals, the idea of turning away any potential prospect must sound insane.
But the reality is that, as marketing has evolved over the years, the philosophy of “everyone is a potential customer” has been pushed to the backseat, if not rejected outright. Through research and feedback, we’ve become more aware about who is, and who isn’t, buying from us. While there’s a market for every product or service out there, the reality is that there are certain groups of people who will never, ever, buy what you’re selling.
So why would you waste your time, money, and effort trying to get their business?
To get the most out of your marketing budget, save time, and prevent the headache of trying to reach an audience that may or may not ever buy from you, you need to focus on who is buying from you, or who you want to buy from you, teach those people how to be smarter in their shopping methodology, and how buying from you is the smart decision. At the same time, we need to turn away browsers who will never become buyers, and those who will create more hassle, and eat more time, than their money is worth.
We accomplish this by emphasizing our brand value in our content.
What is Value?
People automatically assume that when you say value, you mean money: getting a better deal; more bang for your buck; huge savings. However you’ve heard others phrase it, it’s the most common association made when people mention value.
But value encompasses far more than the price placed on a good or service. Value, as the customer perceives it, is the degree to which a product or service improves their lives or fulfills a desire. Without establishing where you bring value to your customers, and where you need to do a better job, you’re essentially opening the gates to your business and praying that people will find it on their own. If customers could do that, we wouldn’t need sales or marketing, would we?
The Elements of Value
The Harvard Business Review wrote an excellent article outlining what value is and the elements that contribute to value, probably the best I’ve ever read on the subject.
Based on Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs,” HBR identified four distinct categories of value, along with 30 separate elements, and used a pyramid structure developed by Bain & Co. to illustrate them.
Image courtesy of Bain and Company – Explore the B2C Elements of Value
Even just glancing at this pyramid, it becomes obvious that price and cost, while certainly important elements that can’t be ignored, are not all that constitute value.
This should be encouraging to you, because it offers you many different elements and options to consider to when you design your content to build value. At the same time, though, it can be challenging. You’ll never capture all of the elements with your product or service, and trying to do so will only mean you won’t connect well with any of them.
So what elements should matter the most to you, and how do you determine which ones to focus on?
You can only answer these questions once you’ve answered the following: who are my potential customers, and what do they care about?
Figuring out who buys from you is both an art and science that marketers and CEOs the world over have been trying to establish for centuries, some far more successfully than others. It requires not only the ability to analyze and understand hard sales data, but a basic grasp of psychology and empathy on your part.
The first step in identifying who buys from you, or who you want to buy from you, is to establish a Buyer Persona. This is a representative snapshot of your target customer base: who they are and what they care about in their lives, not just in their relation to you as a customer.
For example: when a prominent veterinary college in the southeastern U.S. launched their redesigned website in 2015, they had developed their content based on four separate buyer personas for their target audiences, and identified which of the elements of value mattered most to each persona.
Vicky the Vet Student was a hypothetical prospective student wanting to attend the college. She cared about quality education, the amount of relevant information she’d receive, getting access to the veterinary field as a career, making money with her chosen career, affiliation/belonging within the veterinary community, and self-actualization through realizing her dream of becoming a veterinarian.
By contrast, Debbie the Dog Owner, who would bring her dog to the college’s small animal teaching hospital, cared more about quality medical care, reducing risk for herself and her pet, reducing anxiety, wellness for her pet and family, and hope for a full recovery to keep her ‘fur baby’ in the family for years to come.
Notice that price and reduced cost wasn’t included in either persona. Both attending the college and receiving treatment at the clinic could be costly, but for the best veterinary education, or the full recovery of a beloved pet, the college deducted that it would be a worthwhile investment that both personas would be willing to make.
It’s perfectly fine to have multiple personas that you work around, as the veterinary college did. You may only focus on one if you’re just starting out or want to grow your current audience, but you’ll need more to expand and break into new markets.
Determining What Your Customers Value
Depending on your target audience, and what niche your products/services cater to, you can use a combination of primary and secondary research to gauge the perceived value (or lack thereof) of your business.
If you have a broad, general market that you can access, secondary research will work very well, giving you both the information you need while saving you the time and money of doing your research.
However, if you operate in a niche market, with a very specific customer base, you’ll need to conduct your own primary research, through surveys, customer reviews of your products, looking at online forums that cater to your community, etc.
When you’re engaging directly with your customers and prospective clients, ask them direct questions not only about your brand, but similar products and services they use, and what matters most to them. Do they mind paying more if it saves time and hassle? Is your service perceived as fun or entertaining? Do your customers consider your brand to be the most relevant or authoritative in a given field, or is a competitor more trustworthy?
You shouldn’t automatically change what you’re doing with your product or service based on what your competitors are doing to draw in customers; they may be capitalizing on values that you can’t compete with. Instead, determine what elements of value your competitors are tapping into (and which they aren’t) and create content that addresses those elements.
The Value of the Buyer Persona in Screening Customers
I think we’ve well established that constructing an accurate buyer persona is key in determining how we can create content that draws our ideal customers in, educates them in how to buy, and results in increased sales. But going a step further, we can use our content to not only draw in our target audience, but weed out the browsers who won’t buy from us, as well as those who are willing to buy but aren’t a good fit for what we offer.
Knowing who you can’t support, or don’t want to market to, is every bit as important as understanding your target audience. If you’re throwing ideas at the wall to see what sticks, or taking an hour per sales call from people who turn you down every time, you’ll waste the time and efforts of your sales and marketing teams. You’ll also quickly drain your marketing budget, with few conversions, and an even lower ROI, to show for it.
If you’ve been thorough in your research and constructing your Buyer Personas, you should have a good idea of what your customers care about. That also means you should know what they don’t care about, and what values your products and services don’t support.
If you operate a premium service, or produce a product, that places quality, simplifying a process, avoiding hassle, and reducing anxiety at the forefront, then you accept that your business may take more time to be effective, cost more, and require more work on the part of your team and your customers.
In this example, to screen out browsers who won’t convert for you, put clear copy on your site: make it clear that your business isn’t for everyone – you take your time to check quality, you’ll need a lot of input and communication with your customer to be effective, and you charge a premium fee to deliver that high quality. You’ll turn away anyone who wants to buy cheap and quickly, don’t want to have to speak with you at length, and will be left with customers ready to spend, invest their time, and patiently wait for great results.
You could also check with your sales team to see what questions they’re asking prospects – those screening questions, such as “How much are you willing to spend?” “How long are you willing to wait before we deliver?”, are key to make your pre-screening effective and automated.
Regardless of what methods you use, and how you choose to develop your content, you need to understand that, while there is always a market for you, whatever your business is about, you will never appeal to everyone. You need to begin by understanding the elements of value, developing a Buyer Persona to key in on the most relevant elements, develop content that appeals to your personas, and screen out browsers who will waste your time, money, and effort.