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Toward a Best Informed Prospect™: People can’t engage what they don’t know, let alone understand.

 

Research and best practices literature have demonstrated that prospect engagement, evolved to customer satisfaction, is key to sustainable success in an intensely competitive global business environment. Additionally, responsive access to information and meaningful prospect involvement in the sales process are becoming increasingly important in today’s information-centric marketplace and society. With nine out of ten business prospects searching online for product and company information, prospects today seek to be extremely informed in matters related to business decisions. Further, nearly instant, and very viral, reporting of experiences and product/company issues, coupled with cost containment necessities at every level, create a critical need for meaningful prospect involvement and engagement in the sales and marketing process.

Satisfaction studies of prospects, customers and employees consistently point to one factor that can raise satisfaction: communication. The reason is simple: people can’t engage what they don’t know, let alone understand. Information is empowering; communication is the mechanism for empowerment.

Baptist Healthcare is a good example. Baptist is the only hospital system to ever win the Malcolm Baldridge Award for Quality. In his book, The Baptist Health Care Journey to Excellence, Al Stubblefield, President and CEO of Baptist Health Care, calls it building a “WOW! Culture.” According to Stubblefield, “Communication—with employees, with customers, with physicians, with board members, and with the community-at-large—is at the heart of a WOW! Culture.” He goes on to say, “Public perceptions of the organization are shaped by information that the community receives from a wide variety of sources. I keep this in mind by frequently invoking a simple mantra: ‘Communicate, communicate, communicate!’“

Stubblefield is right: communication is the key to successfully improving engagement, and by extension, satisfaction. It is especially important — no, critical — when you consider the practical realities involved in actually creating a culture of excellence amid the over-taxed, over-stressed, under-staffed “thousand fires” that is everyday life in business. Therefore, to effect meaningful results in the sales and marketing process, the strategy must include a strong emphasis on communication – externally, sure; but also internally.

Moreover, to be effective, communication requires more than a mere transfer of information. It requires dialog, and more specifically, communication that builds and engages dialog. In our view, there is no other way. Ironically, too often, organizations may pay lip service to the importance of communication, but do not have the evangelistic commitment to communications that Stubblefield exudes. They launch internal initiatives with little or no budget for communications and even less of an engagement plan — and then wonder why they don’t see the results they want.

There needs to be a leveraging of strategy and resources to create full engagement and commitment — top-down and bottom-up; inside-out and outside-in. The vision, described with passion and expressed with genuine evangelistic conviction, motivates more effectively than a thousand sales meetings.

Our view is that the desirable and realistic objective for many marketers is to create a prospect engagement model that also stimulates trial and cross-experience across the organization while it builds loyalty — one designed to get important and key information directly into the hands of prospects at strategically chosen touch points. We call our approach Best Informed Prospect.

Because people are over loaded with information today, it’s important to determine and prioritize what outcomes are desired; then, in order to realize those outcomes, what strategic information each prospect type wants to know, what they need to know, and finally how best to deliver that information to them efficiently, consistently and effectively. Best Informed Prospect acknowledges and respects the concerns and wants of prospects at all stages of their brand experience and creates meaningful dialog — driven by strategic communication — at key touch points. Essentially, there are four opportunities to engage and dialog with prospects in the sales and marketing process:

Before an encounter
During the “courting” and development process
During the brand delivery encounter
After the encounter

In each case, it is important to examine and be responsive to the prospect’s needs at that specific touch point. Applying strategic communications against these touch points can remarkably improve prospect engagement, and by extension, sales. That thinking and opinion, that definition of, and delivery on, Best Informed Prospect, shapes our approach to brand development, marketing planning and marketing communications execution for all of our clients.

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Email: tomsheehan@tomsheehan.com

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