Here’s a secret: 99.9% of the products offered in B2B markets are, by any traditional definition, boring. Really, really boring. And prospects—even the ones who desperately need exactly what you’re selling—know it.
The reality is that anyone in a decision-making position is inundated daily with emails promising 10% bumps in productivity, InMail touting better accuracy, better analytics, and a funnel so full they’ll be forced to turn people away. Yet, still, they don’t buy, they don’t respond, and they don’t click through.
And honestly, that’s not a huge surprise. We live in a culture so jam-packed with ads that South Park recently dedicated an entire episode to exploring what it means to be human in the age of ads. They’re everywhere, and every day we learn new strategies to ignore them.
But that doesn’t mean we, as lead generators, should give up on lead gen.
Instead, we need to take lead gen beyond the “percentage increase” promises and infographics demonstrating our “disruptive” models and remember that it was our great storytelling that brought our visitors to us in the first place. It made them feel like something different—beyond a few measly percent points—was possible.
And that’s what I want to talk about: building great stories within lead gen/automation flows that sell your brand promise with your product, wrapping data and humanity into a neat, irresistible package.
The key to storytelling in lead generation
Before you ever create a single piece of content or map a single user flow, you’ve got to know the story you’re telling, and how all of the parts—1) your customer story, 2) the story of your customer’s industry, and 3) the story of your product/brand—fit together.
Really, thinking of it like a math problem helps:
the best product story = customer story + industry story
When all three parts work in unison, you can ensure the story you’re telling is striking the right chords with your prospects. When they don’t, you create multiple opportunities for potential customers to drop out of your funnel.
Understanding your customer’s story
Your customer is the single most important piece of this story. They’re your hero, your frame of reference, and (most importantly) your paycheck, so don’t waste any time and get to know as much as you can about them.
Start by revisiting your customer personas and cross check with your analytics platform to determine that these are the exact segments you want to build your stories for. Not doing so can lead to the creation of irrelevant stories, and that won’t do you any favors.
Once you have a broader understanding of your personas, pick a few from your personal network and do a little reconnaissance on who they are holistically. Check them out on LinkedIn, on Facebook, and even add them to a tool you use to track employment/role changes in real time to get a better sense of where they come from and where they’re going.
What’s important is that this should be fast, should fill in a few gaps that personas can’t account for, and should give you a great sense of what’s actually important to your audience.
Understanding your customer’s industry
You probably already know a bit about the ideal industries for your product/service, but it’s always a good idea to brush up a bit on the key challenges your potential customers are facing right now. And for that, there’s one key solution: blogs.
Breaking into and discovering the most relevant blogs for a given industry can be a bit challenging, but Googling terms like “best [industry] blogs 2015” yield great, relevant lists you can use. If you want to go a step farther, you can check out blog aggregators, like Bloggeries, and begin to piece your understanding together. For whatever you find, create persona-specific RSS feeds (for example, one for product marketers in the tech industry), adding the blogs that you think are the most relevant for that persona.
That way, before you map your different automation flows within and across your segments, you can get a good sense of which stories are important to their industries and how to best position your product/service as a lifesaver.
Understanding your product/brand
Though this is obvious (and you’re likely thinking to yourself, "I already know the product just fine"), correctly understanding your product and/or brand—and, in return, gaining the ability to let your customer and their industry totally inform your product story—is a pretty complex process.
Let’s take it in short steps:
Think about your customer takeaways in terms of the “how” and the “who” of the story. Intel on the customer him/herself provides you with the words to use, the kinds of stories that are the best received, and an idea of how personal/impersonal you should be, etc. You’ll also get a good sense of how best to approach their personal part in the story. Because any good story makes the buyer a “hero” of sorts, you’ll want to understand what heroism might mean to them.
Think about your industry takeaways in terms of the story’s plot. Every great story has a conflict and, in the world of business, that conflict is always a problem with the job that could be done better. Using your “customer language”, develop a story about an industry problem worth solving (both economically and ideologically); one that makes their personal lives better, but also positions them as a hero of the business.
Let your product be the sword that kills the dragon. By adapting your story to both the persona and the industry you’re selling to, you’ve created a pretty great plot. There’s a problem (revenue, productivity, transparency of process, etc.), and you’re approaching that problem in the way they would, in their language. Just make sure you don’t kick them out of their own story!
What I mean is this: you’ve built this story for them, not for your product. Your product is just a tool—a tool that transforms businesses, sure, but still a tool. You’re selling them the reality of being a better marketer or accountant or leader. The tool itself is just a vehicle for their success that happens to check all the right boxes.
Once you have all of this, you’ve got a clear understanding of your story: you’ve got the plot, the hero, the sword, and the language: everything you need to build impactful, story-driven lead-gen flows that create better customer experiences and drive revenue growth.