5 Reasons online is critical to your offline success

According to Marketing Sherpa, the number one marketing challenge for business-to-business organisations in 2011 is generating high quality leads (78%), which is up 13% from 2010 (69%). (Source: MarketingSherpaB2B Marketing Benchmark Survey). The report goes on to say “the majority of B2B organizations are increasing their marketing budgets for inbound marketing tactics”, and lists the top 6 marketing priorities as online including website design, content and optimisation, social media, virtual events and webinars, search engine optimisation and pay per click advertising.

The reason? In simple terms, using online to generate quality leads via inbound marketing is more cost effective than traditional outbound marketing, particularly when combined with established processes around ongoing lead-nurturing and sales conversion. It’s true in my business, as well as my clients who are all service-based businesses.

If you’re not already harnessing the power of online to generate high quality leads and increase your offline sales, here’s 5 reasons you should reconsider.

1. Your prospects are searching for your product or service online

In case you’ve been living under a rock, people go online everyday to search for, well… everything. And they’re not just searching for ‘big business’ products and services; they’re also searching for local businesses in their area. And new services such as Google Places are becoming increasingly important to being found online, particularly with increased mobile search, as Google works to deliver the most relevant search results for the individual based on their location.

2. Online is central to The Marketing Hourglass

The Marketing Hourglass maps out the 7-step process a prospect goes through when considering buying your product or service (Know), all the way through to post-purchase when word of mouth starts to happen (Refer). The full process is Know, Like, Trust, Try, Buy, Repeat, Refer.

When you Embrace the Marketing Hourglass and commit to producing content that builds trust and educates, you simultaneously increase leads by providing keyword-rich content the search engines love, as well as increase your sales conversion by producing content your prospects value.

3. Online brings your brand to life

People buy from people, and a prospect has to like you before they buy. Using a number of social media tools, you’re able to inject your brand with some personality. Whether that’s through your blog posts, your tweets or Facebook page, you have the ability to take your brand beyond the ‘corporate’ image and turn it into something your prospects can connect with.

Similarly, by having a constant stream of new content via your blog or social media tools, you’re able to keep your brand fresh. Not only will the search engines like it but your prospects will know they’re not looking at out-of-date copy that was written for your website 4 years ago.

4. Online puts your business in the right place, at the right time

All of these social media tools (such as your blog posts, twitter, facebook, videos on YouTube, iTunes podcasts, directory listings, etc) provide valuable links to your website, and these links increase your chances of your business appearing on Google when someone is searching for what you provide. They’re the key to you being found in the right place, at the right time.

5. Online makes it easier for people to refer you

Your business is much easier to refer if you have a strong online presence via your website and blog, and the other social media tools I’ve already mentioned. It could be as simple as someone re-tweeting your tweet about your latest blog post, or clicking ‘Like’ on Facebook, or checking-in using location-based services such as Facebook Places or Foursquare. Your customers can also write reviews (good or bad) on your Google Places page, as well as other social search sites.

And prospects no longer have to ask their friends if they know you. Using tools like Socialbios, they can cross-reference their contact list with the business to see how many of their friends or connections are doing business with you.

Tell me, how important is online to your marketing in 2011? Is it critical, very important or unimportant? And what areas of online are you planning to focus on this year?

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