Educating Online Prospects
By James Atkinson, LLB and Sarah Jamieson
Educating Online Prospects: When prospects want to solve a problem or need, they really WANT information about that topic.
People go online to find out about things – to educate themselves about all sorts of subjects. Educative content is information that educates.
I show above that surveys help you find out exactly what the distinct segments of your market are, what each segment wants, and what drives them to buy - see Market Segmentation. Thus, market research creates a blueprint for your products and marketing messages. It is the foundation of all successful persuasion and marketing.
When searchers seek information they are NOT particularly receptive to advertising or sales letters – they are looking for information!
This is a golden opportunity for you to engage your market as they search for solutions. You can use your content and interactions with them to shape their views of the market and then position yourself as an authority in that market.
Most of all, you can gain their trust. Trust is the foundation that must be in place before you make a single sale. That’s why web sites spend so much time on testimonials, credentials, sales numbers, proof screenshots, and so on. It all builds trust.
In this pre-buying stage, prospects are most responsive to non-sales content that builds trust – things like informative, useful and relevant blog posts, videos, and articles.
The Power of Content
Your prospect segmentation survey should have already pinpointed the exact problems that your market wants to solve, thus providing you a golden opportunity to help prospects – and position yourself as a trusted authority at the same time.
You can publish the content on your web site, blog, and social networking profiles. The content may be text, videos, audios, images - any medium really that is going to grab your prospects’ attention.
Your main vehicles to get visitors to your content are the search engines and social networks. You need an integrated strategy to position yourself high on the search engine organic results and to make yourself highly visible in the social networks.
As they continue to consume your content, you should be influencing and shaping the views of your prospects and placing yourself in a position of strength – as a trusted authority.
Producing lots of excellent, useful free content can be highly persuasive and enables you to activate a number of the influence and persuasion principles I discuss above. When you are genuinely educating people about how to solve their problems you can do this without the pressure of the sales environment.
Positioning yourself in this way provides a number of advantages. From free content pages you can get followers to join your email lists - so you can communicate with them whenever you choose. Pre-sales relationships result in more sales, less resistance, and no need to use hard sell tactics.
Because they already like and trust you and see you as an authority, prospects will naturally give you their business. In so doing you can position yourself as the best choice when your prospects are ready to buy.
Relevant Content Leads to Huge Traffic and Sales
Search engines know that users are only interested in one thing: relevance. You’ve got to give the search engines what they want – relevant content that meets searchers’ needs.
Once you do that, the search engines give you what YOU want – lots of targeted visitors. The same rule applies to social networks. You simply can’t fake your way to social prominence using sales messages!
The only way to harness the enormous power of the search engines and social networks is to follow a strategic plan to provide - on a regular basis - two things:
- High-quality, relevant content
- Relevant social interaction.
The prospect’s information search starts long before the sale and often continues well after the first sale for as long as the person remains interested in the market.
They Google it, and in many markets they identify and read / watch the new information on their favorite content sites daily, or sign up for email lists so they can get content delivered regularly.
Above, I’ve explained in The Search Continuum how you can take advantage of the prospect’s search for information. We can now influence prospects throughout the buying process which can be presented in different places – for example:
"Pre-Buying" Education Content
This is the stage where prospects have identified a need and are searching for information and solutions. They are still forming opinions and assessing which features and benefits are important. The keywords prospects enter in the search engines at this stage are called “information” or “educative” keywords.
Virtually all traffic originates from a search engine (organic and PPC) or social network! The pre-buying stage is important because information gathered at this stage actually creates buying decisions. In the past, prospects would have gathered this information from their circle of friends or going to a shop, but now the information search has primarily moved online.
Thus, the internet allows you to put your message in front of prospects and shape their perceptions of the market.
So what’s the best way to influence prospects?
At the pre-buying stage prospects use search engines and social networks heavily because those sources are believed to provide unbiased, transparent, and non-sales information. It is for this stage that you create high-quality educative content. The results of your prospect segmentation survey should provide the answers to questions that prospects are seeking.
Your answers are then perceived to be ultra-relevant to prospects’ needs.
During this pre-buying stage, prospects are researching the market and the available solutions. At this point, they aren’t ready to buy yet, so ads and sales letters that aim to get an immediate sale won’t be effective. Something more subtle is needed – namely influence and persuasion. Using your survey, you’ll find out exactly the topics people in your market want toknow more about.
Use this knowledge to create irresistibly relevant content that speaks directly to prospects. The content must be free and have no apparent sales message. Your goal is influence: to position yourself so that when they are ready to buy, they naturally come to you.
This is the educative process that directly leads to sales. I try to keep my pre-buying educative process separate from my sales education process.
Probably the easiest way to do this is to run sales education via autoresponder email and video campaigns. But of course this is a matter for your own online business model. In addition, WHEN you start your sales education is also a matter for your own business model.
This is the process that directly leads up to the sale.
It includes direct response elements designed to make the sale, like ads and your sales letter.
The prospect segmentation survey will tell you the “buying” keywords that can lead to an immediate sale so you can put your ads in front of the prospects who are ready to buy right away.
Sales content should not simply STOP after the sales - you need to confirm the buyers decision to buy and reduce 'buyer remorse' - see: SEO Copywriting and in particular the article "Building Web Content Funnels".
Many online business models rely heavily on the backend – that is, they’ll take a loss on creating a customer through say Adwords in the hope that the customer will buy more products on the backend. Because you can contact customers directly by email, marketing costs fall in the backend. Thus, conversion rates are higher when you sell to existing customers.
Your content goal in the backend is to continue building strong relationships that create powerful loyalty to keep your customers buying. I suggest you strengthen your relationship with customers with lots of quality content and personal contact.
As you continue to create first-rate content such as blog posts, articles, and videos and distribute them socially, you’ll achieve some important benefits. You will:
- Deepen your relationship with your customers
- Increase familiarity, an important component of influence
- Control mindshare
- Remind them of your unique benefits
- Strengthen their loyalty
- Increase their willingness to buy from you again.
All of these are important embellishments to your overall persuasion and sales process strategy.
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