Every experienced salesperson dreams of a short, uncomplicated sales cycle – especially in the B2B world, where we can forget about the impulse buy.
In this space, there’s an art to delicately nurturing a lead while also driving them toward closure.
When walking this tightrope, one of the most effective tools at your disposal is the concept of authority. When you’ve established your brand as an authority in its field, every move you make towards closure has extra credibility. Credibility leads to trust, and trust means that potential customers meet your sales efforts with minimal skepticism.
How to generate online authority for your sales process
There are many ways of establishing authority. The most obvious is to ensure that salespeople are exceptionally familiar with the product they’re selling and how each customer will use it to overcome their unique pain points. A less familiar, often overlooked strategy is to ensure that you support sales processes with online authority.
Think of online authority as an abstract asset. It’s generated in the digital realm, but salespeople can use it in both online and offline sales contexts. Marketing teams generate online authority primarily by publishing exceptional online content (in various forms) and ensuring that as many potential customers as possible see it.
1. Create new, hyper-relevant knowledge
Your company’s blog is a prime location for establishing expertise in a range of fields related to your product.
Many brands tend to prioritize generating traffic when writing blog posts. This approach typically involves repackaging existing knowledge into a post that hits the right SEO keywords while passing a plagiarism check.
While this strategy has been proven successful at generating traffic, it does very little to establish online authority. For this, your blog must include posts that advance relevant conversations within your business niche and make a material contribution to knowledge in that area.
Bear in mind that not everything you publish on your blog should exist purely to rank on Google and draw organic traffic. For every five posts that you publish purely for content marketing purposes, write one long-form piece where you make an effort to build new knowledge. This is where you can (and should):
- Get creative
- Do your own research
- Conduct your own surveys to create referenceable data
- Use your insight to draw inferences from this information
- Be provocative
- Hire a specialist to do the writing
- Take pride in the knowledge you’re contributing to the industry
It’s still a great idea to follow best SEO practices with these “prestige” articles. While your primary goal isn’t to get these posts to rank, it sure wouldn’t hurt if they do. How, then, do you leverage these posts to generate authority?
The answer: outreach and backlinks.
Get existing blog posts on influential sites to link to your prestige post. If you’ve created new knowledge and provided an expert interpretation of it, your outreach efforts will likely be successful. Generating backlinks is a complex topic that warrants an article of its own. Instead of expanding on this myself, I’ll give you some handy resources on the two most essential aspects of link building: prospecting and pitching.
When existing blog posts link to your knowledge as a reference or to provide evidence for their opinion, their audience will see you as an authority on the topic. Your brand will stick in their minds as an expert in this niche.
This is the essence of online authority. The people who are brought into your sales funnel through the link are likely to be far less resistant to nurturing, and ultimately, conversion.
2. Improve your content’s search engine ranking
When a potential customer sees your brand consistently rank on the first page of Google’s search results, your domain will win serious online authority. I’m hesitant to say this, but the quality of the content that the search result links to may not even be a factor here.
Please don’t use this as an excuse to prioritize ranking over content quality. I’m oversimplifying this concept purely to make the point that consistently high rankings equal online authority in the eyes of a potential customer, regardless of the content it links to. This credibility can be undone if the user consistently fails to find valuable content when clicking on your search results.
That being said, ranking itself is a source of online authority. Google’s search algorithm has immense authority in the eyes of your leads. If it didn’t, they wouldn’t be using it to find solutions to their problems. If Google frequently spits out your domain as a potential answer to their queries, you’re trustworthy by association.
In this section, I’m going to touch on the basics of SEO best practices in the context of content marketing. I’ll also provide links to relevant resources where you can learn more about each of these concepts.
1. Do keyword research to ensure that your posts have the best possible chance to rank. Among other things, keyword research ensures that you’re writing posts that:
- Are relevant to your audience’s queries
- Have as little competition as possible
- Include the ideal spectrum and density of search terms in the content
Hubspot has written a fantastic primer on this topic, so click through if you want to educate yourself a little more on the importance of keywords when devising your content marketing strategy.
2. Build backlinks via the process we’ve discussed earlier. Google loves seeing external links to your content. If you consistently create content that other sites are motivated to reference, you’re doing a world of good for your blog post’s search engine ranking.
3. Create “topical authority” for your website. Topical authority has recently come to the fore as a vital cog in the SEO machine. Essentially, covering a specific topic in only one post and never touching it again will compromise the post’s ranking. Google likes seeing your website publish content on similar topics consistently. It creates credibility in their eyes, which translates into better ranking and, ultimately, stronger online authority for your brand.
3. Engage with your community
Social media and Q&A platforms like Quora and Reddit are excellent platforms for building online authority. Wherever people discuss topics related to your niche, there are opportunities to position your brand as a helpful, diplomatic, provocative thought-leader.
Each platform will have different mechanisms for uncovering relevant conversations. Twitter has hashtags, or you could follow other industry leaders to see what discussions they get involved in. Quora has a search function, allowing you to find questions on a variety of different topics. You can also see what questions other influencers in your niche have answered and weigh in with your insight.
To do this right, it’s crucial that you offer genuine value with each interaction. Simply rehashing another contributor’s thoughts will be counterproductive, as will a blank retweet. Give serious thought to each of your contributions. Ask yourself:
- Is there a brand new angle that you can bring to the conversation?
- Can you back this up with facts or data that your company has generated?
- Do you have a link to supporting information?
- Can you rock the boat a little by diplomatically contradicting a popular opinion?
If your contribution offers a genuinely fresh perspective, it will likely get upvotes and retweets, further expanding your brand’s reach and credibility. So, don’t take these interactions lightly – they are a fantastic means of generating trust and online authority.
4. Represent your customer’s journey in your blog content
As a sales professional, you’re familiar with the process of mapping out customer journeys. It’s essential to a well-oiled sales process, and chances are, you’ve already done this for your company.
If so, auditing your site’s blog content against this map would be a valuable exercise. Ensure that every step in the map is represented one way or another with helpful content.
When a customer browses through your blog topics, they are drawn to posts that are relevant to what they need from your company at that time. They may be at a stage where they have no idea that products like yours exist. They may be ready to pull the trigger, but they’re uncertain which of your products best matches their needs.
If your blog content isn’t focused solely on making a sale but rather on providing information related to the customer’s position in their journey, you’re winning generous amounts of online authority. The reason is simple: the customer feels like you understand them. They feel like the content exists for them. It shows consideration and diligence, and it builds a terrific amount of trust.
It may sound like an abstract way to end an article with such a practical focus, but creating online authority is about having your heart in the right place. It’s about being sincere. It’s about genuinely caring what you put out there for the general public to read. Do you want to exploit traffic-generation hacks, or do you want to show your website visitors that you understand them and their pain points?
If you strive to add value with every interaction and every piece of content you publish, you will win online authority. And as your authority increases, so will your influence on the people and businesses in your sales funnel.