Too often businesses fail to properly identify where PR can have an impact and what that impact should be. The reason for ‘doing PR’ becomes fluffy and isn’t aligned to business goals. And the result is that campaigns fail to deliver and attempts to prove ROI are impossible.
But it doesn’t have to be this way, especially with the rise of the web, making it easier than ever for PR professionals to help companies attract and retain customers. A perfect example of how this works in practice is some thinking I’ve been doing around the B2B sales process and how (and where) PR has an impact in and around it.
PR has a vital role to play at various stages of the sales process, but the role is different at each stage and therefore the tactics need to be different too. A one size fits all approach won’t work.
So let’s look at a typical sales process. I don’t like to use the word funnel and, instead, like to think of ‘it’ as three distinct buckets:
- Audience – this is your potential universe, the people (and yes, even in B2B, it is people that will be making the decision) you want to reach. It’s a broad spread. Some will be very receptive. Others will be longer-term prospects. But, at this stage it doesn’t matter so much, they are all potential customers for your business.
- Prospects – the second bucket contains people that have shown an intent to buy and an intent to (possibly) buy specifically from your company. They’ve identified a need. This part of the process can be long with some leads much warmer than others. It’s why, for companies with long sales cycles, the stage often needs to be broken down into two or more sub-buckets.
- Customers – an often neglected part of the sales process; your actual customers. There are two key aims here. The first is either to retain a customer and/or get them to buy again from you (repeat purchase). The second aim is all about evangelism – to get your customers to help you sell more to more people.
So, having identified the three buckets, how can PR help at each stage? PR is all about changing mindsets. So, before deciding what tactics to use, it is necessary to think about the different PR objectives you have at different stages:
In the first bucket, we have a very clear objective – to motivate someone to think about buying. We want to encourage them to take an action that will move them from ‘audience’ to ‘prospect’. There are two key goals here:
- You might need to inform the market that whatever it is you offer is something they need and/or want (preferably both). For example, as a PR agency, we might be educating a business that PR is something that could help them. We might also be educating businesses that currently use PR that there are other options available. Other options they haven’t considered that might motivate them to take action in our favour. This process is particularly important and challenging for startup companies or businesses that are working in disruptive industries or industry sectors. But it’s also tough in commoditised markets where everyone is pretty much selling the same thing.
- You don’t just want to inform the market about your product or service category only for them to go and buy from someone else though, so it is also important to build brand awareness. To use the same example, there’s no point informing businesses about PR only for them to go and buy from a competitor. So you need to tie whatever you do back to you and your company.
There are many traditional PR vehicles that work very well in the motivate stage. In fact, it is probably the most natural fit for ‘traditional’ PR and is where the vast majority of PR activities are focused. Whether it is working with the media, running thought leadership campaigns or wider awareness building efforts, PR can help create broad brush awareness that reaches a wide range of targets.
Of course, it is vitally important that whatever you do has a key call to action that will bring targets back to your business – often through your website. And again, it is often this last vital step where many campaigns fall down.
Help prospects INVESTIGATE
Now we get to the interesting bit. Google recently published a fascinating ebook called ZMOT – or Zero Moment of Truth. It argues that, in pre-web days, we would usually have gone through two ‘moments of truth before making a purchase: one when we were stimulated into buying, for example, a new kettle (e.g. through a TV ad) and then a final decision when we found ourselves in the shop choosing between the different brands.
The first stage was very important in pre-web days (hence traditional advertising). But that has all changed and has ushered in ZMOT. Now when you are stimulated into buying a kettle you’ll most likely jump online (possibly via your mobile or tablet device) and check what shows up in search, read some reviews and possibly even ask your friends on Facebook, as our recent consumer research found. Clearly this is a B2C example, but I think ZMOT is even more important to B2B and I term it the investigation phase.
We might think that XYZ widget will be perfect for our company, but we all want to make damn sure and that means investigating all the options. PR is perfect for the investigation phase. It can help build the reputation of your brand across all the different channels that someone might use to investigate their purchase. Whether that is through analyst whitepapers, third party reviews or blogs on your site. And, of course, the great thing is (thanks to Google’s Penguin update) all this has a massive impact on search and SEO too.
The final point to remember here is that (as mentioned above) this process can take a long time, so make sure you put in a number of ‘sticky channels’ that allow your brand to stick to your interested prospects (or vice versa). This could be achieved by encouraging them to follow you on Twitter or getting them signed up to your email newsletter (and of course then distributing great, engaging content to them).
The final bucket is all about retention. Keeping customers using your service or getting them to come back and buy again. With the rise of social media, retention should be easier than ever. Simply create strong, durable communities of customers that want to stay in touch with you, want to build bonds with you and want to engage with all the fantastic content you produce…
…and, very much related to this (and as alluded to above) there is a final stage here. By building this community of engaged customers, you can then use PR tactics to help you build them into advocates that will go out and evangelise about your brand.
Whether through traditional vehicles such as case studies or testimonials or through digital and social channels, you can tap into the power of word of mouth marketing like never before.
You can probably guess the final coup de grâce; all the work you do here, building advocates, will plug right back into the motivation of your audience and the investigating of your prospects to create a self-supporting B2B sales process. And PR can help.