Who hasn't followed up with a long-time prospect only to learn the prospect had just purchased similar services from a competitor?

Exactly when people will buy your products and services is impossible to predict, but often there is a time when they are very receptive—what psychologists term "selective attraction," the point at which you are open and responsive to a message because you are interested in its content.

Consider the example picking up a friend at a train station. Hundreds of people may be rushing past you, but it's relatively easy to spot your friend in the crowd. That's because you are focused on searching the train station for all people who fit the profile of your friend, and you disregard those who don't meet the criteria.

Selective attraction is more effective when the information holds personal pertinence. For example, although I thoroughly detest shopping, I become a regular shopaholic when I'm in the market for something I want. That's why I will spend hundreds of hours researching and shopping for golf equipment, computers, AV systems, and automobiles.

But once I've made my decision and purchased the product or service, I lose interest in the subject; and from that point onward, it's a waste of time for marketers to bombard me with advertisements and sales offers. My decision is final, and the gray line to my consciousness on this subject probably won't open again for years.

As marketers, we instinctively realize it's impossible to pinpoint when our prospects will be buying. That's why it's critical not just to keep in touch but also to make sure your company shows up in all of the right places when the prospect is selectively attracted to buy from you.

This combination of the right message at the right time will improve your inbound marketing efforts, creating what I call "planned serendipity." In the case of B2B technology companies, for example, the most effective inbound marketing programs integrate the following eight elements:

  1. Public relations
  2. Analyst relations
  3. Thought leadership
  4. Website
  5. Custom landing pages
  6. Paid and organic search
  7. Blogs
  8. Social media

Ideally, every time a prospect interacts with your company, the event will trigger a notice to a customer relationship management (CRM) system so that you can track and measure all stages of the sales process—from initial contact to sales and support.

Here's a quick snapshot of how those elements interconnect.

1. Public Relations

Targeted PR campaigns make sure your company receives the right coverage so prospects can find you once they become selectively attuned to your products and services. According to a leading technology trade publication, 74% of enterprise-level executives and 51% of mid-market executives consult trade media when they search for information about vendors.

So... Is your company showing up in vendor round-ups? Are your experts being quoted in articles about products and services that are important to your customers? When was the last time your company or its customers were profiled in Computerworld, Fast Company, or InformationWeek? Is your company winning more industry awards than your competition?

2. Analyst Relations

Few things have more impact than a third-party endorsement, especially when the recommend comes from a trusted adviser such as an industry analyst. Yet most companies measure the impact of their analyst relations programs by the number of company mentions in analyst reports or where they place on an analyst quadrant.

A sales acceleration program will identify the deal-maker analysts—the ones Fortune 500 decision-makers seek for advice—and recommend strategies and tactics for influencing those influencers.

3. Thought Leadership

Your organization has a lot of accumulated knowledge and expertise to offer to its customers and prospects. The challenge is getting it out of the heads of your experts in a way that shows people why they need to buy your products and services. But making such material easily available to prospects and customers is well worth the effort.

A survey of IT managers by Forbes.com and TechTarget finds that decision-makers value thought leadership materials for the following reasons:

  • Stay on top of trends (76%)
  • Get information about products and vendors (69%)
  • Compare products (50%)
  • Help justify buying decisions (42%)
  • Develop a short list of buying decisions (33%)

In today's always-connected world, content is king. Demonstrate your thought leadership by authoring whitepapers, case studies, columns, and bylined articles—and then repurpose that material as blog entries, podcasts, videos, and tweets so that people regard you as a knowledgeable and reliable industry resource.

4. Website

Is your website optimized for search? Does it make the right impression with prospects and customers? Is it easy to read on a mobile device?

The days of slow-loading, graphics-intensive websites are over. People want to be able to find information in three clicks or fewer, and your website should be the digital traffic cop that directs visitors to the information they want with a minimum of hassle.

5. Custom Landing Pages

Much more effective than bloated websites are search-engine optimized landing pages that quickly provide visitors with the information they want.

People hate filling out long forms, so just ask them the basics—name, company, email, and a phone number—to keep the dialog going.

6. Search

Nearly 90% of people searching for products and services on Google won't look beyond the first search results page, and 75% of searchers focus only on the organic or nonpaid search results. If your company's site isn't showing up there, you are missing on a major opportunity.

Though paid search has its place in driving traffic, you can boost organic search dramatically by optimizing your website, creating custom landing pages, blogging often, and regularly posting material to social media outposts such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

7. Blogs

According to BlogPulse, there are nearly 200 million active blogs, and that number continues to grow at a blistering rate. Social Media Examiner claims 65% of bloggers follow brands on social media and more than 72 million businesses blog regularly. Blogging regularly has a huge impact on SEO and creating inbound links to your website. In addition, blogs generate thought leadership and add personality to your company.

The biggest problem with most blogs is their boring and stale content. One simple solution: Hire outside experts to provide compelling content if you don't have the time and ability to do it yourself.

8. Social Media

Why should you consider having a company page on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn? Forget about being popular. The No. 1 reason for maintaining an active social media presence is to drive traffic to your landing pages and website.

YouTube, for example, is the No. 2 search engine behind Google. Uploading your videos to a company channel on YouTube and optimizing the links and video descriptions will boost website traffic.

And once you develop interesting blogs, whitepapers, videos, and case studies, pushing content to your social media channels takes less time per day than waiting in line to pick up that decaf skinny no-foam latte!

Lead Generation and Qualification

Rather than waste time and money trying to schedule appointments with unqualified suspects, why not focus on prospects who are actually interested in purchasing your products and services?

By placing compelling content where your buyers are congregating online, prospects will be able to engage with you when they're looking. And, once they've engaged, you can marry your content marketing efforts with a marketing automation system to nurture, score, and then qualify leads.

The end result is a win for both Sales and Marketing, as your marketing efforts deliver much of the up-front education that used to be handled by Sales, freeing up your sales team to devote their time to the prospects who are ready to purchase from your company.

* * *

Though you can't predict when a prospect may need your products and services, you can stack the odds in your favor by integrating PR and social media with your marketing and sales efforts.

By definition, selective attraction is being in the right place at the right time. And that's what inbound marketing should be all about.

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Eight Ingredients of Effective Inbound Marketing for Generating and Qualifying Leads

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image of Mike Nikolich
Mike Nikolich is president of Tech Image, a Chicago-based technology PR firm. Mike founded Tech Image in 1993 and sold it to SmithBucklin in 2007, becoming the parent company's CMO in 2009. He returned as Tech Image's president in 2011.