In steps 1, 2, 3 and 4 of the five step plan to developing influence and trust, you will have learned:
- The overarching principles which support the development of relationships
- How to develop content which positions you as a thought leader and helps build credibility and engender trust
- Which platforms you should use to communicate with your prospects; and
- How to build the communities you will communicate with
In this final step, Nurturing your contacts until they are ready to buy, you will learn how to keep in touch with your prospects on a regular basis in order to nurture (i.e. help or encourage the development of) your prospects.
If executed correctly, this nurturing process can be your biggest differentiator from your competitors, enabling you to stand out and stay “top-of-mind” with your prospects. During the nurturing phase, you will be constantly educating and informing your prospects, building credibility and trust in your knowledge and capabilities relating to your area of expertise.
If we equate the nurturing phase with dating, the nurturing phase is the series of dates that may occur subsequent to your first date. This series of dates is when the two people get to know each other better, during which time the relationship strengthens and develops. If this goes well, the series of dates will culminate in an engagement and marriage. The nurturing phase in the five step plan to developing influence and trust manages the same “dating” process with your prospects. The “engagement” is a “request for proposal” and the “marriage” is the “long-term, mutually beneficial business relationship”.
A business relationship developed through mutual trust is sustainable and rewarding to both parties. When you enter into a business arrangement based on these principles, the there is a balance between the cost incurred by the customer and the value they derive from your product and services. The opposite of this is a business transaction which takes place and if these are any disputes, each party will immediately reference the service contract. In a true business relationship, each entity refer to each other as partners. In a short term, opportunistic business transaction, you will be referred to as the “vendor” or “supplier”. Everything revolves around the contract and the “costs” incurred by the customer. If a company is treated like a “vendor” or “supplier” they behave as such. This is not a win-win situation and should be avoided by both parties.
Important rules which apply at all times during the nurturing phase, which apply across every communication platform, are as follows:
- Publish content regularly and at times which are suitable to your prospects
- Never talk about your company, products, people and customers, unless asked by a prospect
- All communication during the nurturing phase relates to value-adding content shared with prospects
- Never enter into arguments, disagreements or disputes
- Your tone should remain consistent across all communication platforms.
- Do not respond to heckling or abusive comments
- Treat all prospects across all communication platforms exactly the same
- When sharing other thought leader’s content, always credit them
- Always reciprocate. If someone supports you, support them back
- Social media influencers will support you eventually, if you persist in supporting them
- When you feel you need to give up, that is only the beginning
- Remember the Karma rule. What goes around, comes around
- Be patient. Real relationships and instilling trust takes time
- Put yourself in your prospect’s shoes when communicating
- Provide access to information relating to your company, products, people and customers which prospects may access when convenient to them.
- During those times when you think that no-one is consuming your content, remember that the majority of people in most communities consume content without responding
- Be rest assured that as your communities grow and you continue to share value-adding content, your influence grows
If you get the nurturing phase right, these are the types of benefits you will derive:
- Prospects exhibit “buying behaviour” which offer you the opportunity to ask for a meeting
- You receive invitations to present at conferences
- People contact you, enquiring about job opportunities at your organisation
- Like-minded people contact you, exploring business partnerships and ways to collaborate
- New prospects are introduced to you through existing contacts
- In larger organisations with a diverse portfolio of products, you establish yourself as the go-to person for work colleagues
- Editors and journalists will publish your thought leadership
- Prospects contact you, asking for assistance, a meeting or a proposal
There are numerous ways to nurture your prospects, each of which is explained below.
1. Personal or company blog
Publishing blog posts
Your blog is an ideal environment to publish short posts where you may voice your opinion, thoughts and advice relating to your area of expertise. You can also use a blog post to introduce a more detailed article you may have written, a Youtube video you produced, a Slideshare presentation you developed or a podcast or screencast you recorded. Remember that prospects who subscribe to your blog will receive an email notification every time you publish a new blog post.
How many blog posts should you publish every month?
Benchmark data provided by www.hubspot.com found that the more blog posts companies published per month, the more traffic they saw on their website. Companies that published 16+ blog posts per month got almost 3.5X more traffic than companies that published between 0 – 4 monthly posts.
When you segment the above results by company size, the results get even more interesting.
Companies with 1 – 10 employees: The small companies that publish 11 or more blog posts per month drive much higher traffic than companies of the same size that publish fewer than 11 blog posts. Those that published 11+ posts per month had almost 3X more traffic than companies publishing 0 – 1 monthly posts, and about 2X as much traffic as those publishing 2 – 5 monthly posts.
Companies with 11 – 25 employees and 201+ employees: Like the companies with 1 – 10 employees, companies with 11 – 25 employees saw the largest jump in traffic numbers when they published more than 11 blog posts per month. In fact, when the companies with 201 or more employees published 11+ monthly posts, they got 3.5X more traffic than those publishing 0 – 1 blog posts per month.
Companies with 26 – 200 employees: The larger companies that published 11+ blog posts per month had a little less than 2X more traffic than those publishing 0 – 1 posts per month.
B2B vs. B2C
Both B2B and B2C companies had more inbound traffic to their websites the more blog posts they published.
What days and times should you publish blog posts?
There are varying opinions on this one however, based on advice provided by a number of specialists, the best days and times are Mondays and Tuesdays in the morning. If you have subscribers who are interested in the content you publish, they will consume it, irrespective of when you publish it.
Advertising seminars and events
Your blog is a great place to mention a seminar, conference or event you may be hosting. It is important to note that the event should add value and not be a company or product pitch. There are two ways to introduce the event. You can do so in the blog post you publish, as long as the event relates to the content in the blog post. You can also add a banner in the right hand column of your blog, which provides details of the event.
Invitation to participate in a survey
Prospects are happy to participate in surveys or polls providing that you introduce the survey to them correctly, you specify that you will not share their individual response and explain how they stand to benefit by participating in the survey.
Comments on blog posts
Most blogs provide a section for visitors to comment. Most people will not comment unless you provide a compelling reason for them to do so. If anyone does provide a comment after a blog post, please do reply within a reasonable time period. Your reply will be appreciated. It shows that you are interested in your prospects and subscribers. When you reply, use this opportunity to offer more information or ask a question to elicit a response. You can also refer the person to content in one of your other communication platforms. Invite them to subscribe to your email or connect on social media where you share more information on the subject.
2. Email newsletter
Your email channel, if managed properly, should be your best source of leads, meetings, requests for information, assistance or proposals. Your email channel is your most personal and targetted channel and should be managed as such. Your email subscription form should ask for pertinent information such as the person’s first name, surname, company name, job title, management category (e.g. Finance, Tax, Human Resources, Operations, Sales, Marketing, etc), Industry, Country and any other criteria that will enable you to filter email communication, suitable to niche groups.
It is absolutely imperative that you treat your email subscribers exceptionally well. If your call to action was to share value-adding content relating to specific subject matter, never deviate from this. If you promised to send only one email per week, never deviate from this. It is not easy growing a subscriber list, and once someone unsubscribes, you are no longer able to communicate with them and nurture them.
We strongly advise against using mail merge from your desktop email application and to rather use the services of a reputable email service provider (ESP). The reasons why you should use an ESP are as follows:
- They specialise in getting emails to their intended destination
- You are provided with great tools to manage subscription lists
- Good ESPs provide statistics such as open rates, click through, list interaction, etc
- Following a campaign you are able to download a list of subscribers who interacted with your content
- Reputable ESPs enable you to comply with legislation relating to email communication
Some advice when sending emails:
- Filter your subscriber base so that the content shared is relevant
- Always send emails from a known email address and not a “do not reply” email address
- Use a short subject line that is compelling and grabs attention
- Start your email with a salutation using the subscriber’s first name (eg Dear David)
- Your first paragraph should set the scene and draw the person into the main body
- The main body should be “skimmable” with highlighted headings and/or numbered points
- Always provide a call to action that can be measured (eg Click here to access the full article)
- End with a “Yours sincerely” and an email signature
- Always provide an UNSUBSCRIBE option (this is mandatory if you are using a good ESP)
- Include links to forward the article to a friend or colleague
What should you use email communication for?
Introducing thought leadership
If you have developed a strong call to action, inviting visitors to subscribe to receive value-adding thought leadership, then it is advised to stick to your promise. If you are sharing value-adding content which is targetted, relevant and personalised, your email community will flourish and be highly engaged.
We suggest that you always start your communication with a salutation that includes the person’s first name. Remember to get the spelling of the name correct and do not include their surname. Make sure to start with a capital letter and follow with lower case (e.g. Dear John).
The primary objective of your email channel is to provide an introduction to insightful, value-adding, educational, compelling content, NOT product pitches. Never deviate from your promise to only share value-adding content.
If someone has subscribed to receive your emails, this does not guarantee that they will open your email, so your subject line is extremely important. Use a subject line that is short and grabs the attention of the recipient. Email subject lines need to the following eight elements:
- Self-interest (e.g. How to sell tickets to live events)
- Curiosity (e.g. Still doing it the old way?)
- Offer (e.g. Our best email copy)
- Urgency/Scarcity (e.g. I’m closing it down!)
- Humanity (e.g. I was wrong…)
- News (e.g. Big Celebrity Announcement)
- Social proof (e.g. [CASE STUDY] AZ shoe store 20X’d sales by sending what?)
- Story (e.g. How to Build an Unstoppable Business)
These subject lines also work well with business people:
- The dangers of being too decisive
- Strategies and tools to win in middle-market banking
- Strategy, not technology, drives digital transformation
- The global economy in 2016 and consequences for businesses
- Five reasons to bring brand into the boardroom
- The four biggest challenges facing mining in 2016/2017
- How to create value in manufacturing by combining IT and operations technology
- How to sustain or regain top-level performance
- The people dilemma of analytics
- The power of advanced audit analytics
- Three steps to sustainable and scalable change
- Creating Synergies through Shared Services
If you have published an article, do not share the whole article in your email. You want to drive traffic to your website, so that information relating to your company, people, products, customers, success stories, case studies are exposed to your email subscribers. Rather provide an introduction to the content and a link to the full article on your website.
Invitation to participate in surveys
Your call to action to subscribe to your email channel promises that you will add value to your subscribers. Inviting email subscribers to participate in a survey will add value if you do it properly. When inviting email subscribers to take a survey, explain the purpose of the survey, how you will manage the results and how survey participants will benefit. You must make it very clear that you will not share individual responses but rather overall results. In specific industries, companies are always interested to know how they are performing against their peers. A promise to send personalised feedback will be welcomed. Business leaders will also welcome an analysis of the results rather than just the results.
Invitation to seminars and events
Email subscribers are happy to receive invitations to seminars and events as long as they add value. A breakfast event where you are hosting a small group of decision makers is a superb way to build relationships. You can use these forums to discuss specific business challenges, present the results of a survey and your analysis thereof, industry predictions and trends or training.
With all email communication, always provide a link to your website for those who should require more information about your company, if they have specific questions or require a more detailed discussion on the content presented in your thought piece. Remember this is not your primary reason to communicate but rather your secondary reason.
As with all other channels you use to nurture your connections, followers, friends, subscribers and contacts, your participation on LinkedIn will focus on publishing and sharing value-adding content and having value-adding interaction. There is the exception where you may reach out to your LinkedIn connections to congratulate them on life events, however this needs to be done properly. LinkedIn is a great platform to connect, build influence and trust and encourage connections to visit your owned platforms and content.
There are a number of ways to engage and interact with LinkedIn members. Before you start interacting with anyone on LinkedIn, it is imperative that you have an updated LinkedIn profile which contains a professional image of yourself (head and shoulders preferable), a headline which articulates your value proposition and brand promise, a summary, experience, education, training, awards, recommendations, endorsements, etc. Secondly, you should be connected with as many of your identified prospective clients as possible, social media influencers, editors and journalists from publications your target market read, current and past business colleagues, customers and business partners.
Here are a number of options available to interact with and influence LinkedIn members.
Share an update
This function enables you to attach documents and share links to content together with your comments. This is an ideal way to share content you may have published on one of your platforms or where you have been published. Remember to maintain a balance between sharing your own content and content posted by other LinkedIn members. If you share other LinkedIn member’s content, there is a good chance they will reciprocate. This extends your reach on LinkedIn and exposes your content and your LinkedIn profile. Be sure to put aside a few minutes every day to share updates.
The other option is to monitor your LinkedIn feed. This will provide you with a stream of your LinkedIn member activities which can include posts they have shared, content trending in your particular industry, content trending at a specific company, members who have been mentioned in the news, content published on LinkedIn Pulse, content your network is talking about.
LinkedIn provides you with an option to Like, comment on and share all updates in your LinkedIn feed and posts published on the LinkedIn publishing platform. If you follow specific people using the “Follow” option on their LinkedIn profile, you will receive notifications when they publish posts from the LinkedIn publishing platform. Your Likes, comments and shares are noted by the person who shared the update or published a post, which exposes you to these members. If you are going to share, attempt to add a value-adding comment. When commenting, you can also Mention LinkedIn members in the comment. You do so by typing an “@” followed by there name.
If the relevant information is provided by LinkedIn users, you will also receive notifications when a person has a birthday, a work anniversary or a new job. If you are going to contact anyone to wish them, we advise the following:
Do not use the standard LinkedIn message. Prepare a message that shows that you put some thought into the content.
For job changes, check the person’s LinkedIn profile to make sure that they have actually occupied a new job role. When person’s update existing job details, LinkedIn sometimes send a “new job” notification when in fact the person is still occupying the same job.
Do not include an invite to meet or subscribe or to view content. People will appreciate the birthday, new job or work anniversary wishes but not anything else. Remember this is about them, not you.
If you are connected on LinkedIn, you are able to send messages to your connections which appear in the LinkedIn inbox. If you are going to use this, do not send mass messages because you are not able to personalise the messages. Also, be very selective about who you message, how often you message them and the relevance of the message. If you abuse this facility, members are at liberty to block you, report you for spam and remove the connection.
Depending on your LinkedIn membership, you are provided with a finite number of Inmails you can send every month. Inmail is useful for messaging LinkedIn members with whom who are not connected. Bear in mind that when sending a LinkedIn Inmail, be selective about who you message and ensure the message is relevant and adds value.
Response to Likes, Comments and Shares
If you are sharing updates and publishing posts from the LinkedIn publishing platform, make a point of monitoring likes, comments and shares. LinkedIn provides you with notifications and analytics which you can react to. If someone shares or comments, you can reply to their comment and thank them for sharing or commenting. Again, by doing this, you expose your thought leadership, LinkedIn profile and content to LinkedIn members with who you are connected and beyond.
LinkedIn company page
If you decide to create a LinkedIn company page, you will be able to provide information relating to your company and your products. In addition you may publish updates which will be seen by those who are following your company page. LinkedIn provides analytics on Likes, comments, shares and mentions on your updates. If you would like to promote LinkedIn updates to specific audiences, you may use the LinkedIn sponsored update feature, which you have to pay for. The great thing about sponsored updates is that it goes beyond your followers and you may filter by geography, industry, company size, seniority level, etc.
LinkedIn groups are a great way to extend your influence beyond your existing connections. If you plan to join groups and create your own groups for people to join, make sure you have a strategy and stick to it. Groups are great for having discussions, not dumping content which many people do. Most groups have thousands of members but no interaction.
Treat LinkedIn groups as you would a live networking event. You need to approach specific individuals and draw them into a discussion. Focus on quality, not quantity. Manage your members carefully only inviting like-minded individuals who can learn from one another and add value to their peers. Seed discussions regularly and manage the conversations.
When joining other groups, be sure to stay relevant. Do not provide links to content unless there is a very specific reason. Be sure to articulate the reason.
Twitter is a great environment to have conversations and share content with prospects, social media influencers, journalists and editors, business partners and clients. If you plan to use Twitter, use it for sharing value-adding content and contributing value-adding comments to existing conversations. Do not promote yourself, your company or products.
If you tweet without attempting to interact with other Twitter users you will find that your number of followers will not grow. Make a point of identifying relevant people and share their content and interact with them. If you want to be noticed by influencers, you may need to support them for a long while before they reciprocate. Many influencers have published books or sell training. If you really want to get noticed make a point of buying their book and let them know. Provide feedback on the book whilst mentioning the influencer in your tweets.
There are services available which enable you to promote your Twitter profile. This is not to be confused with services who sell Twitter followers. You achieve nothing by buying Twitter followers because in most cases they are dormant accounts or not relevant.
Services offered by Twitter which assist you in getting noticed include pinning tweets and promoting tweets. Promoting tweets comes at a cost however you will be able to reach a large audience as the promoted tweet extends beyond your followers.
When using Twitter, here are a few rules to consider:
- Do not use the automatic direct message (DM) when feel follow you unless you can provide a message that adds value to the follower
- If someone follows you, follow them back unless they are an undesirable Twitter account, of which there are many. Focus on Twitter accounts that provide value-adding content you can retweet.
- If someone supports you by mentioning you in tweets or retweeting your content, reciprocate. The more influence the person has, the more you need to reciprocate.
- Never promote your company, products, services and solutions on Twitter. You can include a link on your Twitter profile which can direct people to your website, if they so wish.
- Monitor likes, mentions and comments and follow these accounts if they are relevant
- Never enter into an argument or hate speech or anything controversial. If someone sends you an unwelcome tweet, ignore it.
- Put time aside to look for great content to share every day. Besides sharing content look for content shared by your followers to retweet. Make an effort to reply so you are noticed.
- When tweeting, maintain a balance between your own content and content published by others.
- There are many statistics available which will provide you with a good indication of how many tweets you should produce a day, which days of the week are best to tweet and what time of the day you should tweet.
- Develop a Twitter #hashtag strategy. A hashtag is a great way to promote weekly Twitter conversations or events. The idea is to get people to diarise a specific time to get involved in a Twitter conversation which will include your hashtag. Adopt the “cocktail party” approach. If you are planning a cocktail party, you have to invite people to the event. Once people are there you need to provide content.
5. Employee advocacy platform
For larger organisations, an employee advocacy platform is an ideal way to democratise the marketing departments direct marketing channels to their workforce. If implemented properly, participating employees will access content you post on the employee advocacy platform and share the content with their personal networks on social media and email. Case studies that have been published indicate that companies can benefit immensely by utilising an employee advocacy platform. Benefits include:
- Greater brand exposure
- Potential employees attracted to the organisation
- Higher attendance at events
- More meeting with clients
- More requests for proposals
- More prospects and sales revenues
Your employee advocacy platform is great for sharing thought leadership, invitations to events, invitation to participate in surveys and press releases. Content being shared by your employees will provide calls to action to subscribe to your email channel, like your LinkedIn and Facebook pages, follow on Twitter and other channels.