One of the biggest mistakes I see marketers make is focusing their communications on how they want to sell versus how their potential customers will buy. I refer to this as an “inside-out” approach to marketing versus a much more effective method, which is “outside-in” – selling based on the market and potential customers, not how you operate internally.
The value of the outside-in approach
If you do this work upfront, you’ll never need another customer acquisition strategy. Instead, all your efforts will be dedicated to building and refining your tactics until you add a new product, add new markets, or the buyer fundamentally changes the way they buy.
To help entrepreneurs take an outside-in approach, we developed the Conversation CanvasTM, a framework to think through mapping everything from what you want to tell a buyer about your company and product to how a potential buyer purchases.
The Conversation CanvasTM is your roadmap for developing marketing campaigns, content, and offers. It helps you think through and determine the conversation you want to have with a prospective buyer and identify everything they need from you to successfully motivate them to move from becoming aware of your product to purchasing.
Your tactics will change over time as you get these activities into the market. Your mission is to continually test and refine the message, content, and offer at each stage to optimize your results. The critical KPI to measure at each stage of this process is conversion rate.
Step 1: Who’s the buyer?
Easy. Who has money and decision-making authority? Depending on what you’re selling and the price point, it could be:
- Users – although unlikely in a large enterprise; users are typically influencers
- Management if the product is limited to a team or organization, or
- Executives if the product will be used company-wide or has strategic importance to a particular group, division or function and is a significant investment for the company
Step 2: Profiles or Personas
Once you identify the buyer, your mission is to create a profile (or persona) detailing everything you know about a person that best embodies that role. We’ve created a quick study for creating personas that you can find here.
Step 3: The purchase process
Do some primary and secondary research into your persona. Make hypotheses based on what you’ve learned about how, for example, the CIO in a Fortune 500 financial services company decides they need software like yours. This step should include everything from what triggered the search to purchasing.
Step 4: What’s your story?
Based on your research, write down what your persona needs to hear from you at that stage to grab their attention. This is the basis for everything you write in your communications.
Repeat this for every stage you identified in Step 3. You may have lots of ideas – great! Capture them because this becomes part of your testing strategy.
Step 5: What do they need to see?
Based on your research, write down what your persona needs to see from you at that stage to engage them and keep your product in their consideration set. This is the basis of your content strategy. Content can include a one-sheet, video, calculator, customer story, case study, white paper, etc.
Repeat this for every stage you identified in Step 3. You may have lots of ideas – great! Capture them because this becomes part of your testing strategy. Initially, focus on the 80/20 rule, what’s essential to the majority.
Step 6: Where do they need to see it?
Based on your research, write down where your persona usually gets this information. This is the basis of your channel strategy. Channels can include your website, email, digital advertising, friends, subject matter expert blogs, analysts, partners, Twitter, Linkedin, and even TikTok.
Repeat this every stage you identified in Step 3. You may have lots of ideas but a limited budget. Capture your ideas because this becomes part of your testing strategy. Initially, focus on the 80/20 rule, where the majority of people go.
Step 7: What action do you want them to take?
Be specific about your desired outcome at each stage. Do you want the buyer to download a piece of content, play with an ROI calculator, view a customer story video – whatever it is, be specified because this is how success is measured.
At every stage, people will fall off! Have a conversation canvas for them too. Many marketers refer to this as a ‘nurture track’, typically a series of emails or text messages. I prefer to think of this as a conversation because our goal is brand experiences, not just emails.
Step 8: How’s it working?
To see a positive return on marketing spend (MOS), continually test and assess the most effective mix of message, offer, and action. Then, invest in what works. For each stage of the buying process, establish a conversion rate goal, baseline, and optimize by stage over time.
A word of advice
Don’t attempt to execute all stages at once – you’ll never be successful with that approach. Start with one or two stages. Hit your goals and move on. You’ll always want to improve, but initially focus on “good enough” and then continue testing and refining to improve results over time.
If you’ve invested in sales (CRM) and marketing automation platforms, use this framework to develop your campaigns and sales sequences. You’ve done all the hard work! Thinking through the conversation and experience to engage potential buyers. Programming it into the technology is the easy part!
Will this work with PLG?
Even if you have a FREE product with a PLG (Product Led Growth) strategy, this framework will help you think through the messaging and experience you want to have with your users as you get traction.
If you’re successful in getting people to use and advocate for your product, at some point in an enterprise, you’re going to have to sell to the people who make purchase decisions for the larger company. This is where many startups fail because they can’t successfully transition from engaging users to selling to buyers.
Tell us what you think!
We’d love to hear from you! Did you use the framework? Did it help? Where did you get stuck? Your feedback will help us continually improve the content we offer.
Thank you for reading!
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