How to use PR to generate more sales leads by Liz McClellan, CMO of North Plains Systems

PR’s role in the marketing mix is gaining more prominence as companies face steeper, global competition: the pressure is on for PR to not only build brand awareness, but to help generate sales leads. This may not be welcomed by PR professionals – and understandably so, since PR’s primary function is to communicate with audiences and generate goodwill – but for PROs willing to take on the challenge of adding value to the sales process, then there’s some good news: what they are already doing is already a long way down this road. With some tweaks, a bit of structure and – most importantly – establishing closer ties with sales and marketing, PR has the opportunity to position itself as a key revenue generator.

The current buzz around content marketing is a natural springboard, because PR people are the natural owners or, at the very least, contributors to content marketing. Generating content – whether getting media interested in stories or creating the content themselves – is at the heart of what many of them do. Content marketing is really just a natural evolution of the role.

Content kings
Content marketing is a powerful way to establish engagement, particularly in a world that is moving away from the hard-sell of yesterday and more towards personalised experience. Brands and companies are positioning themselves as information and entertainment sources and not merely as providers of a product or service To use classic marketing jargon, PR sits very well at the “top of the funnel“.

Buyers are typically 70% through the buying process before making contact, because they’ve been self-educating first. Presenting them with, for instance, some useful how-to guides or encouraging customers to comment on their own experiences with a product, can help influence the decision-making process long before potential customers make a serious enquiry.

Closing the gap
The biggest challenge for PR teams is to understand the customer (or different types of customer) and what content is needed at which stage of customer engagement. A good first step is to develop a closer collaboration with the sales and marketing team and even to meet customer advocates to establish what drew them to the company in the first place (and more importantly, what makes them stay loyal).

With the rest of the marketing team’s help, you can gain insight into “digital body language“, in other words, how consumers engage with content at each stage in the purchasing decision-making process. By spending time with the sales team you can see how they are using, sharing or promoting that same content as part of their own activities. Then it’s a case of developing content to suit the various customer personas at each of the three main stages of the sales cycle. Or to use the sales jargon, the three parts of the “funnel”.

Top of the funnel – this is not an opportunity to sell a product or service, but to demonstrate industry knowledge or thought leadership. Imagine a company sells telecoms technology that makes it possible for everyone in the UK to have high-speed broadband connectivity. The company might publish an article on, for instance, the topic of “the UK’s broadband challenge and how to overcome it“, talking about the technology in generic terms, rather than overtly promoting the company’s own products. The great thing about this approach is that it not only creates awareness, it also helps to identify prospective customers, so that by the time the “middle of the funnel” is reached, those potential leads are more qualified, which will be music to the sales director’s ears.

Middle of the funnel – also called the consideration phase. It is at this point that potential customers start to evaluate products or services that meet the chosen criteria. This is a good point at which to introduce customer case studies, testimonials, white papers and webinars. The sales team may also have other complementary tools and techniques here, such as ROI calculators.

Bottom of the funnel – of course, by this point, it’s time for the sales guys to wade in and work their magic, but there is still a role for PR to play. For instance, depending on the market, there could be an opportunity to involve reference customers, or to create a customer referral incentive programme for salespeople, whereby when they are securing a deal. They are motivated to make sure that they also get agreement for a case study or similar piece of customer-related content.

I expect most people reading all this will be saying “hey, but I create or do most of this stuff already“. And this is why the pressure on PR to contribute to sales revenue is actually good news, not Armageddon. It’s the formalisation of what most PR people have been doing for a long time, in the context of content marketing, some more internal collaboration, talking the sales and marketing team’s lingo and finally, getting some recognition around PR’s contribution to the bottom line.

Written by Liz McClellan, CMO of media management specialist North Plains Systems