What College Visits Teach Us About Demand Gen

My oldest is 18 and a senior in high school, which means that the past few months have been filled with conversations about college.  Recruiting letters, calls from admissions folks and college visits have become a new normal for us.   My son wants to study film and cinematic arts, so included on the list of potential schools is Full Sail University in Orlando which we visited last week. Both my son and I were impressed with the campus, the offering, and the laser sharp focus Full Sail seems to have on getting students ready for a career in media.  But beyond all that, there was another aspect that, as a marketing coach, stood out to me: during the entire visit, I never felt like I was being sold to. From the tour to the collateral to the one-on-one visit, the admissions team made my son and I (not their campus or programs) their primary focus. I’ve been pondering our experience at Full Sail to see if there are any lessons here for demand generation and lead management.  I think there are.

The main takeaway was “put the buyer first”!  After a 90 minute tour of the entire campus, we met up with the admissions rep for a one-on-one meeting.  I braced myself in “defensive-poker-face-stone-cold” position to guard against the heavy handed salesy onslaught.  But, to my surprise, it never came. Instead, she asked my son question after question:  How did you like the tour?  What jumped out at you?  Where do you want to focus your studies?  What are you hoping to do after college? What questions do you have for me?  And at the end of the conversation, she said, “If you think that Full Sail is a fit for you, we’d love to have you.  However, if you don’t think it’s a fit, then find a school that is a fit for YOU, one that will help you reach YOUR goals”.  And she meant it.

I compare this interaction with so many of the marketing messages that I see today.  Too many of them scream “BUY US…NOW!  ”, without any thought on what the buyer may be looking for.  Yet, messages that address the buyers’ felt wants and needs are the ones buyers embrace. This was my experience with the rep.  The more she sought to understand my son’s wants and needs, the less defensive, and the more engaged I became. Demand gen marketers that take this same approach with their audiences will experience higher levels of engagement.

So, how does one put the buyer first within the context of demand generation?  Below are a few ideas…

  • Develop buyer profiles or personas.  This is the first step in understanding your buyer.  Take the time to categorize your buyers into groups.  Seek to understand,  through research, who they are, where they come from, how they behave, what’s important to them, and what challenges they face. Taking the time to gather this insight will position your organization to speak to your buyers based on what they want to hear

  • Define THEIR buying process. It is indeed valuable to map out the marketing/sales phases each prospect goes through.  However, mapping out the marketing/sales journey is looking at things from your point of view.  If you want to put the buyer first, you have to map the buying decision phases from their point of view.  Yes, this will take time and research.  But how are you going to speak to them based on where they are if you don’t know where they are.  Mapping the buying process will help you understand their mindset while they are in the buying mode.

  • Develop Buyer Centered Content.  Once you have defined your buyers into categories, and have defined the decision steps they go through, then you are well positioned to develop content that meets their needs.  A matrix is usually helpful here, with profiles or personas down the “y” axis, and buying stages across the “x” axis.  As you fill out this matrix, seek to define what content/message is appropriate for a given persona at a particular buying stage.  For example, “If the Engineer persona was in the ‘Research Options’ stage, what kind of information do we have that would be helpful for him/her”.  Developing your content plan this way will help you keep your communication focused on the buyer

  • Create a Lead Management Process. If you are really serious about putting the buyer first, then it’s essential to have a defined lead management process in place.  This operational component is the process whereby you qualify leads according to their needs and route them to the communications channel (lead nurturing, telesales, field sales, etc.) that best suits their needs and buying process stage.