As inbound marketers, we are forever searching for the perfect balance of gaining the trust of our audience and rapidly moving leads through the sales funnel. Often, you might write a piece for your content marketing efforts, and after you're done, you realize it's far too "sales-y" to feel genuinely helpful to the prospect.
That's when you need to adjust the persuasive pressure of your writing. To steal a term used by the Harvard Business Review, "persuasive pressure" is the effect you have on a reader's likelihood to act on an opportunity—whether that opportunity is a purchase or some intermediate action. If it could be quantified, persuasive pressure would be an index of tone, urgency, and authority—all important qualities that marketers and salespeople use to move leads toward the close.
While no one wants to be seen as sales-y or pushy, sometimes content marketers err on the side of not exerting enough persuasive pressure on their audiences. In this blog post, I'd like to provide some insight on how much persuasive pressure is appropriate for each stage of the buyer's journey. Keep in mind, these suggestions vary by industry and length of your sales cycle.
New Prospects: The Awareness Stage
Never make assumptions about how well prospects understand your company when they're consuming top-of-the-funnel content, like blogs or social media posts. Prospects that are just encountering your company are just getting to know you. They're asking questions like "what's the solution to ______?" or "How do I ______?" This means the pleasantries, courtesies, and formalities of good customer service must be observed. You should be on your best first-date behavior, so don't be pushy! Depending on how you handle this initial meeting, it could mean the start of either a beautiful relationship or a "have a nice day."
Your content at this stage should be all about helping the audience answer their questions. They came to your page looking to learn, so rather than persuading them to buy, your pressure should be on persuading the prospect to learn more. Blogs should lead contacts to opportunities to explore further and deeper; that's why calls-to-action are crucial.
Persuasive pressure should be kept at a minimum at this stage. You want three things from them: to keep them on your site, to develop a relationship, and to build trust in your expertise. So, when they're just gaining awareness, the persuasive pressure is so low, it's really just "suggestive pressure." Your offers and guidance should lead them to more easy-to-access content.
If the lead sees you as a strong source of information, they will move to more content, and more likely than not, they'll explore your company's description as well.
Persuading Leads to Move Through the Consideration Stage
During the consideration stage, your persuasive pressure will need to adjust because prospects' questions will become increasingly focused on why one solution is better than the other. They are no longer just perusing content looking to learn; now, they're looking for advice. Opinion starts to matter more to them, and if you're viewed as a trustworthy opinion-giver, they're likely to listen.
Persuasive pressure still needs to be highly educational, but you also need a viewpoint and a tone of guidance. Still, your pressure should be persuading leads toward opportunities to learn, but the learning opportunities—downloadable content pieces, eBooks, etc.—should, themselves, have persuasive pressure.
Persuasion can now be applied more liberally. "This service is essential to growth of your business," "our eBook will redefine your strategy," or "don't wait to capitalize on your new knowledge" are now appropriate. When dealing with prospects with the potential to buy, persuasive pressure can be critical, so that they keep consuming your content and not your competitor's.
Pressure in the Decision Stage
It's only natural that once they're close to making a decision, leads are going to start expecting some extra pressure. I'd argue that the whole purpose of having salespeople is to be able to fine-tune the persuasive pressure on the fly. In the B2B world, nothing about decision-making is automated. When they're starting to ask about the solutions your company offers, your marketing efforts should be ready with high quality offers, like demonstrations, opportunities to interact directly with products, or free consultations covering services.
At this point, your role as a marketer is to ensure the prospect connects with sales. You have their attention and trust, now the goal is to carry that trust across to sales so that they have the momentum needed to exert the pressure required to close.
While you can never forget that "helping is the new selling" no matter your stage in the buyer's journey, your most effective marketing will harness the trust you've acquired from helping and, when the prospect is ready, apply it toward a sale.