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    Educational Marketing: here are all the key posts



    Can we use blogs for selling? Im often asked this question and Ive also seen a bit of a debate going on around the blogosphere about it of late, so heres my take on it.

    For me, it depends totally on what you interpret as “selling”. According to what your response to that is, then my answer will range from “absolutely not” to “yes, of course, thats the whole reason for having a business blog”. Basically, anywhere from zero to ‘off the scale’.

    Not too much help as yet, I know.

    To help explain how I think selling should be done on a blog, Id like to tell you a story a fable from Aesop called The North Wind and the Sun. It goes something like this:

    The North Wind and the Sun disputed as to which was the most powerful, and agreed that he should be declared the victor who could first strip a wayfaring man of his clothes. The North Wind first tried his power and blew with all his might, but the keener his blasts, the closer the Traveler wrapped his cloak around him.

    At last, resigning all hope of victory, the Wind called upon the Sun to see what he could do. The Sun suddenly shone out with all his warmth. The Traveler no sooner felt his genial rays than he took off one garment after another, and at last, fairly overcome with heat, undressed and bathed in a stream that lay in his path.

    The stated moral of the story is that Persuasion is more successful than Force. So let’s take that idea and look at it in the context of selling.

    If you are thinking of using your blog in the style of a door to door salesman, then please dont. If you are looking to focus on the interruption style of marketing that weve been subjected to for years, then I would also advise a rethink.

    Why? Most people have a real aversion to the hard sell and it’s certain to have a negative effect on your readers. In any case, a blog is never going to be a good method of engaging in this type of selling – blogs work best as a two way dialogue rather than a sales pitch monologue. This type of strong arm tactic, represented by the North Wind in the fable, will generally result in the reader leaving our blog, unlikely ever to return.

    However, there is another way. Instead we can engage in relationship or educational selling (or marketing if you prefer), building trust with our readers and letting them familiarise themselves with the product or service that we offer. How do we do that? Through our posts, we engage with them and allow them to get to know us. We also help them to understand what we do by continually delivering information which is relevant to them … and yet also relevant to our business, our products/services and the market in which we work.

    The result is a much deeper understanding of how what we do can benefit and impact their business – this is because they will have had the opportunity to examine and develop their ideas of its actual uses in their situation. Therefore, when you do sit down with the (now) prospect, it will be with one who has already gone far down the road to deciding that they want to commit and one with a much greater likelihood of implementing and using it properly.

    All of this benefits us because it results in a happier client, a strong ongoing business relationship and positive word of mouth about us and our product/service.

    At the end of the day, for me, its all about the difference between trying to sell something to someone and helping them decide that they want to buy from you. As a customer, I know which I prefer – so, be like the Sun and try the persuasive approach as a seller as well.

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    Last week, I wrote – granted, tongue in cheek – a post called How to avoid negative comments which looked at the problem of companies which are reluctant to blog because they feel that they will open themselves up to an avalanche of negative comments.

    Another concern that I often experience (rather than hear expressed) is a reluctance to link to other websites and blogs from posts. Creating links which go away from your blog somehow seems contradictory in many peoples minds. I think that this comes from the idea that linking out means losing something, whether that be visitors (and by implication potential customers) or Search Engine Power! as it were, in terms of Page Rank.

    Difference of Approach

    Its true that perceived wisdom online has always suggested that once you have a potential customer on your site, you should direct them to do one thing and one thing only get them onto the page where they can buy from you! This is exactly the right approach on sites which are set up with direct selling in mind however, that isnt the case with most blogs.

    Personally, I consider that there are 4 key things we are looking to encourage visitors to our blog to do Read, Reply, Return & Recommend as I explained in The 5 Rs of Better Business Blogging. If I had to pick a single goal for a blog, I think that it would probably be to get visitors to return and become regular readers. By fostering and developing these relationships, sales will still be the likely result if that is your end goal.

    Informing and Supporting

    The blogosphere works on different parametres from most other websites. It thrives on links & connections and those blogs which create those outbound links will tend to thrive with it.

    Linking is carried out for three principal reasons:

    1. referencing and connecting to sources of information as part of the support and corroboration that you are providing for one of your posts;

    2. as a general recommendation of other blogs as excellent sources of information;

    3. as a way to help readers follow an ongoing discussion or topic by following the links between blogs carrying on that “conversation”.

    So, as you link out to other blogs, you lend greater relevance and credence to your own. At the same time, you are encouraging others to look at and hopefully reference your own blog – trackbacks in addition to links in the body of your posts will help this.

    Creating Community / Network and Value

    Every time that you link out, instead of giving away or losing value, you are in fact gaining it. In the process, you are creating a mini resource in your area of expertise which will in turn help to generate a community or network around it with you and your blog at its centre.

    The links that you provide help your readers to discover more about the subject matter as well as follow and track discussions that are going on. They will use your blog as their start point for their investigations because they trust the information and the links that you provide effectively you become their online directory and general resource in your specialism. You become THE person to go go to for them.

    And, if you are worried that you are making it easy for them to find other authors on the subject, then dont. With Search Engines, they would find these articles anyway – however, by helping them, you are in fact strengthening your position, as you are providing them with a resouce and network which they will keep returning to.

    Conclusion

    So should you just link to everyone? Well, no. The quality of links that you provide and the sources that you refer to reflect on you. Equally, there is no point linking just for the sake of it – your blogroll of sites is likely to show your general recommendations so keep the links in your posts relevant to the subject that you are writing about.

    Above all, never worry about linking to other sites that you wish to recommend or refer to – you will find that just as you link to other blogs, others will link to you because your writing and blogging ethos merits it. What goes around, comes around – in a good sense!

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    It seems to me that, while most businesses could benefit from using a Business Blog as part of their marketing and business development activities, there are some types of companies which would find them particularly beneficial.

    Companies which need to present a human face to their activities: some professional services organisations have been known to suffer from a bland image. Using a blog, you can break down some of these preconceptions and reveal some of the personalities carrying out the work which will help to engender greater trust in what is a customer focused environment.

    Companies which rely on their specialist knowledge to attract clients: consistently demonstrating expertise in a chosen field can quickly help to build a positive reputation and encourage potential clients to gravitate towards you. Client case studies go part of the way, but displaying both your general and specialised knowledge over a period of time in a Business blog helps more than a sanitised case study can ever do. Think of it as multiple case studies on steroids if you like. This is particularly relevant for independent consultants and specialist consultancies.

    Companies which have progressed beyond the hard sell approach: direct advertising and the hard sell has become less and less successful as an approach. However, an educational marketing approach, where you provide potential clients with information on which to make their own informed decision on their purchase, has gone from strength to strength.

    Companies wanting to become more of a partner than a supplier: as you engage potential clients through your Business Blog, you develop trust and a relationship which can position you as a partner rather than a simple supplier. People prefer to work with and buy from people and companies that they trust and a blog will help to achieve this.

    Companies wishing to be THE information resource for their market niche: most of the information that your prospective clients are looking for is available on the web, it is just a case of finding it. So rather than let potential clients find it on a competitors site, provide it yourself or provide links to it on your Blog. You will become the preferred place to go for this type of information and so attract anyone interested in your niche to your blog. This is turn provides you with the ideal opportunity to open a dialogue with them.

    Companies organising conferences, seminars and exhibitions: blogs are the ideal focal point for collating and distributing information to attendees pre-Conference and for gathering feedback from them during and after the Event. You can update the conference details and add new information yourself, and you automatically develop a powerful online Search Engine marketing tool as well.

    Companies looking to develop a network or community around themselves: as a networking tool, a business blog can help in many different ways but one of its most powerful is when it allows the creation of a network of like minded people interested in a particular area. It is particularly positive for the company setting this up and running it because they find themselves at the centre of this network and therefore in a high profile position.

    Companies developing new products or services: customer feedback and input is essential in the product development process. By taking the step to allow this feedback to take place on a Blog, you are allowing discussions and generating ideas which can be invaluable to the process. Added to this, you have a group of people who have contributed to the product and so are likely to be its strongest evangelists and advocates.

    If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

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