A recent Forbes article* examines the current hot trend of content marketing in light of historic shifts between hard- and soft-sell cycles. The articles notes that marketers’ needs for concrete ROI metrics has periodically swung the pendulum back to hard-sell approaches, concluding that content marketing – without a similar and strong ROI – could quickly lose popularity. Arguably, content marketing, with its focus on relationship-building via the creation of authentic brand stories, is a style of soft selling. But why should the success of this approach be reduced to an either/or scenario? Each approach has its merits, as well as its time and place, and should best be used in concert.
The current popularity in content marketing has been shaped by buyer trends, which in turn have been shaped by the accessibility of online information. Recent statistics** validate the need for a content-based strategy in today’s crowded and largely virtual context:
- 90% of consumers find custom content useful.
- 78% of consumers believe that companies providing custom content are interested in building good relationships.
- 7 in 10 consumers say they prefer to learn about a company through a collection of articles, rather than in an ad.
- B2B companies with active blogs generate 67% more leads per month on average than non-blogging firms.
Clearly trust is a primary issue for buyers, and while this isn’t news to any marketer, the statistics underscore, not just the importance of making that vital connection, but how. Precisely because a content approach doesn’t feel like traditional advertising and selling, it lends itself to being perceived as information which is more genuine and trustworthy. While various content approaches/soft-sell tactics (e.g. white papers, webinars, case studies, articles) can help build trust, authenticity, and relationships, the challenge is indeed measuring the efficacy and ROI of such activities.
Conversely, hard-sell tactics such as cold calling abound with clear ROI metrics, but buyers are often wary of, or outright put-off by, this more aggressive approach. A hard-sell approach can be tempered with empathy by reading your buyer’s signals and knowing when to push – or not. Additionally, understanding their perspective, needs, and challenges can help you frame the hard-sell with soft-sell content of real, practical value for your target audience. And this is where perhaps the happy medium lies – in a well-rounded approach, balanced between brand- and relationship-building and clear Calls-to-Action.
Ultimately, making the sale is the goal, which all too often gets lost or obscured in the more extreme soft-sell approaches. The path to that goal should be in gaining buyer interest through content/soft-sell approaches, but then encouraging them to engage with overt and explicit CTAs and following up with “warm” calls. Soft approaches have the benefit of a wider appeal, yet there comes a point in the buying cycle (or even several points) when a conversation is necessary to help guide a hesitant buyer to the next stage. The challenge is understanding your buyer well enough to know what to say when, in order to continue building trust, authenticity, and credibility. The beauty in mixing a hard-sell approach with a soft-sell/content benefit is that you can overcome the obstacles each approach poses when used independently.
SimplyDIRECT’s account-based survey services provide the means to engage directly with individual C-level executives and to better understand their needs and challenges. Survey results are easily turned into insightful content such as survey reports, infographics and webinars, which can be used to engage non-responders and other prospects. Surveys also provide the customer intelligence sales needs to make those warm calls. The combined result is a soft and hard engagement model that yields significant ROI.
See how Oracle | Eloqua used SimplyDIRECT’s account-based survey services to deliver both hard and soft-sell approaches. – Case Study.