Aligning your email marketing with the buying cycle

Work the funnel

You know it’s essential to consider an audience’s demographics and psychographics as you draft marketing plans and create materials for your clients. But just as important is the need to recognize where in the buying cycle — or sales funnel — your potential customers are. There are certainly various interpretations of the buying cycle — some very detailed and complex. And while it’s important to be strategic and thoughtful, the concept of the buying cycle is hardly rocket science. (Which is why I’m writing about it.)

You experience it yourself all the time … any time you, ya know, buy something. For the sake of simplicity, let’s break it down to three main phases: awareness, evaluation and purchasing.

Think about the way you make a large purchase — for example, a car. If you wanted to buy a car, your first step would be to decide which cars you want to consider (based on your awareness of the vehicles). Next, you might consider the five vehicles you know about and compare and contrast their features (evaluation). Then, of course, your final step is making the purchase.

At each stage of the buying cycle, customers seek different kinds of information. This is especially important for products/services that are costly and/or complex. So, as you’re developing your email marketing content, it’s important to consider what information customers might need before they buy — and when.

Awareness

Before they can even enter the top of your sales funnel, potential customers have to have some awareness of your client and the issues they help solve. In fact, some customers might not even know they need the product you’re selling. At this stage of the buying cycle, your emails will be educational/informational.

Let’s say you represent an IT security company.

For the prospects in the awareness stage, it’s premature to directly sell a product. Instead, your marketing emails might share the latest news on malware and other threats. In addition, they might contain links to white papers, reports and other informational content. One report could be: The Top 5 Tools to Protect Your Business from Data Breaches. Such a report might not even mention your client’s business by name, except perhaps for a strategically placed logo.

When you use email marketing and its linked content to educate your audience, you help position yourself as a thought leader. You stay top of mind among your prospective customers, and you get your audience thinking about whether they might need your product.

Evaluation

Once a prospective customer is aware of your product or service and is contemplating a purchase, they enter the evaluation stage. In our IT example, they’ve read your news and updates on malware and security breaches, and they understand they need to better protect their data. By tracking your email marketing, you can see the amount of early-stage content they’ve downloaded. Depending on your client’s business model, a sales consultant might have even reached out to gauge their interest.

When you move a prospect from the awareness stage to the evaluation stage, the types of messages you deliver to their inbox change. There’s less need for general education and more focus on specific information about your product.

At this stage, your emails might highlight one key feature that sets you apart. Or you might link to white papers that compare your product’s features and benefits with your competitors. You could also send an article on “7 Things You Need to Know Before Purchasing an IT Security System.” This, of course, is your opportunity to provide useful advice — skewed in your favor. (I mean, it is your marketing after all.)

Ultimately, your marketing messages to prospects in this stage should be designed to help them evaluate their options — and pick you.

Purchasing

Further into the buying process you’ll find prospects who have pretty much decided they’re going to buy your product. Pretty much. Maybe they need help overcoming a concern or two. (“I like this Widget, but I’m not sure it will fulfill XYZ need.”) Or perhaps they’re waffling between two products.

The goal of your emails now is to convert these prospects into customers. You can use this opportunity to communicate about common concerns or address the skeptics. (“Yes, we really do have technicians available to serve you 24/7 in case you need us!) This stage might also be the perfect opportunity to offer a free trial. Or you could send a coupon for 10-percent off or free shipping to help nudge them. Be sure to add an expiration date to encourage action NOW.

Sometimes all people need is a simple reminder. For example, have you noticed those “You left something in your cart!” emails you receive from online shops? It’s an automated way companies use email marketing to close a deal. And at this point in the process, that’s your objective: close, close, close.

Depending on your client’s business model and product, the buying cycle could be a few weeks long — or it could take months. Be sure to keep this in mind as you develop your email marketing material, so that you have enough content to communicate effectively through each stage of the process.

Now that you have this blueprint, it’s time to start brainstorming. Have fun!

Image by: El Bibliomata via Compfight cc

Stephanie Conner
Stephanie Conner is an award-winning writer and editor who helps organizations create content that gets read. She has taught writing at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, her alma mater. When she’s not chasing after or wiping food off of her soon-to-be-toddling son, she enjoys yoga, cooking and wine (not necessarily in that order). Find her on Twitter or LinkedIn.