By Neicole Crepeau, Contributing {grow} Columnist

You’ve probably heard the term “content marketing.” You’ve certainly heard of social media. How do these two trends fit together in your sales and marketing plan?

Here’s a method you can use to determine where content and social media fit into your online sales strategy.  Let’s start with your good ol’ sales funnel.  These vary somewhat by company, but here’s a typical B2B sales funnel showing the steps a customer typically experiences:

B2B Sales Funnel

Once you’ve documented your sales funnel, look at the customer touchpoints where your website is important. Your website is usually the hub of your online strategy. Determine where the user is likely to interact with your website.

Website touchpoints in Sales Funnel

Next, look at where content can provide a good touchpoint. Remember that content can be distributed allowing the customer to discover it in their own online contexts. Assuming you can reach customers at the various points in the sales funnel, where can content add value?

Sales funnel with content touchpoints

In this case, content could be valuable in the early stages of the sales funnel, to make customers aware that there are solutions to their business problem. It can also be useful when customers are trying to get buy-in for a purchase, doing detailed research, and during the demo or trial process.

Now, let’s see where social media/social interaction can play a role in the sales process.

Online social contact, not surprisingly, can be helpful at all stages of the sales funnel.

Now you know where the different elements can contribute to the sales process. Let’s look at how they can contribute–keeping in mind the basics:

Compared with content and websites, social engagement is obviously the most personal type of online contact with a customer. It often takes the form of a conversation. Your website, on the other hand, is the least personal form of contact.

At the same time, social media tends to be the least self-promotional. It’s generally frowned upon when companies promote themselves strongly on social media. It’s perfectly acceptable to promote your business and your products on your website, however. It’s both expected and accepted.

Given these caveats, here’s how you might try to leverage content and social engagement in your sales process:

Sales funnel with content and social

Awareness. At the top of the funnel, you can be present in communities where customers are talking about their business problems, and use social media and content to make them aware that products and services exist. Of course, that means walking the line of self-promotion. You need to be a little more hands-off and neutral when informing customers through social media and content.

Early research. At these early stages, you can try to move the customer to your website through both social communications and content. You use both social contact and content to give basic information about your products and services, the kind of information a customer at this stage of awareness can best benefit from.

Buy-in and short-listing. When the customer is getting buy-in to make a purchase, you can provide support and information. You can develop content that provides data, arguments, case studies, or executive summaries the customer can share with decision-makers. The idea is to specifically target the decision-maker and provide content developed for that person, who may not be the same as the person who discovered the content. On the social side, you can be present and responsive, answering questions that arise.

Likewise, at the short-list stage, you can be available to answer questions, direct the user to appropriate information, and otherwise assist in that decision.

Research and demo. Obviously, the research stage is one that can benefit from a rich set of content and strong social connections. One goal may be to encourage the customer to try the product. If the user demos or downloads a trial version, you can be available to answer questions, provide support, and address any problems. You might want to develop supporting demo content or data sets for specific verticals or roles.

Purchase. Of course, you want to be available before and during the purchase process to make sure it goes smoothly.

That’s how you can use the sales funnel as a way to evaluate the role of content and social media in your sales process.

Of course, there are other tools to use as well, and lots of work to do after this. You’ll need to research your audience and segment them, in order to develop targeted content and social offers. You’ll need to update the website to support these touchpoints, at a minimum creating landing pages to support your content and social strategy. Ads and email may be added to the mix. Etc.  However, identifying these customer touchpoints and the methods you’ll use to integrate content and social media can provide a solid start to your planning and form the basis for your work.

P.S. If you prefer to consume your content via video, here’s a video tutorial of this post:

Neicole Crepeau is a partner in Coherent Interactive, which specializes in web, mobile, and social media design and implementation for small and mid-size businesses. You can read more of her original material at her blog, Coherent Social Media or on Twitter where she is @neicolec.

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