If you don’t understand your audience, you can’t market or sell to them. This is true for all sales and marketing. If you don’t understand how and why people make decisions, you will have little luck in creating products and services that they will like. You need to understand why someone shops at Whole Foods or Walmart.

From a marketer’s perspective, people would jump from lead to sale in the marketing process. It just doesn’t work that way. When you think about the entire marketing process, I really like John Jantsch’s concept of the Marketing Hourglass. It reflects how people buy things rather than how we’d like to sell to them. Let’s consider the typical stages of sales: Know, Like, Trust, Try, Buy, and Refer.

Lead Generation – Getting People to Know You

So your future customers don’t even know who you are. You want to get out there and spread the word. People talk about advertising (ppc, newspaper ads/radio/tv) as a way to start that process. Ads are not always a bad thing, but until you have a fully developed marketing program from lead generation to referral generation, you are not ready to spend a lot of money on ads.

Traditional advertising has become known as interruption marketing. You are interrupting what someone is doing to get them to watch your ad message. For this to be effective, you need to offer some value immediately. Most TV commercials offer an opportunity to save money. Some go for the hard sale suggesting that the product will change your life for the better immediately. While this can be effective at times, we are all interrupted with marketing messages all day long. As a result, we’re less likely to trust what we’re seeing, hearing or reading. We are also try to avoid those messages altogether.

Content marketing or inbound marketing is a response to both the technological changes in our world and the trend of avoiding advertising. This often takes the form of blogging, social media and email marketing campaigns. You develop an audience through social media, begin to spread content and hope that your audience also shares that content. As you start this process, you need to identify an ideal client. This is not a one time process. Your understanding of your ideal client will evolve over time. As your business evolves, your ideal client will change.

How do you find out more about your customers? Tell us in the comments.

We love our service and products. We strive to perfect them. When creating a marketing positioning statement, we also often fail to grasp (or remember) that we don’t really sell products or services. We sell the benefits. I recently helped some companies set up an email marketing system. I wasn’t really selling email marketing campaigns. I was giving my clients the ability to connect with their customers and grow their business more efficiently without the hassle of learning how to setup Mailchimp.

Marketing companies like Hubspot sell “inbound” marketing services. Look at the 9th point on slide seven on this presentation by Hubspot on Slideshare. Hubspot knows that they sell the ability to grow your business without becoming a used car salesperson. With the opinion that many hold of marketing and sales, this is a particularly powerful benefit. It allows people to say, I’m a marketer but I’m not like those other bad marketers. They get to stand out from marketers in a positive way and at the same time be accepted by the rest of us.

Benefits or Features in Content Marketing

People tend to talk about the features of their new gizmo or service. Massages that last 90 minutes rather than 60. Cars that go faster with better sound. These are features and people spend a ton of time reviewing these when purchasing a product or service. However, people do not purchase something for the features. They purchase for the benefits behind the features. You buy the faster/more luxurious car and the nice suit because you feel more attractive when driving/wearing it. Every step of your product development and delivery process should focus on the benefits of your products and services.

The One True Benefit

We want to feel good about who we are and what we do. This drives everything we do. The problem is that what makes us feel good is unique to each person. There are definitely trends. We are constantly joining (and leaving) tribes. Do you drink coffee, wine, beer or water? What are the real benefits of this choice. Belonging to the crowd working/meeting and talking at Starbucks? Feeling healthier and safer? When we make these choices, we become a part of a group. Seth Godin called them tribes. Your identity becomes intertwined with whichever group you joined. You are now a member of the coffee drinker tribe.

Connect with Your Clients

This is your true product or service. What do your clients become when they use your product or service. Make your content marketing materials more powerful by focusing on this over your features. Blog articles telling stories about how people benefited from your product or services can be incredibly powerful.

Let’s consider the CRM company Salesforce. Who is their customer? At first glance, it might be sales people, but that’s not entirely correct. The target market is someone in charge of sales at a company. This might be a VP of Sales. Now, take a look at Salesforce’s website feature list. Notice that the first headline, “Run Your Sales Organization From Anywhere,” is written for sales managers not sales people. The entire page is written with the decision maker in mind. Based on the marketing copy, it is a reasonable bet that Salesforce’s ideal client is not a small entrepreneur, but rather a large company with sales teams. I won’t list them here, but there are less successful (but really good) CRM companies that spend a lot of time on features over benefits.

What do you really sell? Tell us more in the comments!