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Engaging prospects based on who they are as individuals and what they’re interested in can help shorten the prospect/client conversion cycle. To be effective, your interactions with prospects must be meaningful and consistent over time.

The goal of engagement marketing is to achieve a desired outcome — that is, to convert prospects to clients. The method is to engage them by using targeted messages aimed at individuals, says Richard Heft, president of Ext. Marketing Inc. in Toronto.

But, he says, you must “know who you are talking to in order to pitch individuals directly.” This means knowing your prospects’ names and contact coordinates, as well as their individual preferences, so that you can send them highly personalized messages.

You can find out about their preferences by asking them directly. “You have to listen to them,” Heft says. Or you can use software tools to track their online behaviour — “what information they are looking for and where they get it.”

“An engagement marketing approach bases communication on behaviours, not demographics,” says San Mateo, Calif.-based Marketo, which has done research on the principles of engagement marketing.

“Demographics tell you what a customer might be interested in; behaviours tell you what he or she is actually interested in.”

So, using this approach, you would have to communicate with individuals based on their preferences, not your own, says Stephen Lee, vice president, marketing and communications, with Ext. Marketing.

Here are five principles of engagement marketing, using guidelines developed by Marketo:

1. Engage prospects as individuals
Your goal is to engage individuals who ultimately make the decision to become your client. You therefore have to customize your communication to these individuals based on what you know about them, Lee says. Messages that are directed to a broad audience will not be as effective.

2. Engage based on behaviour
Don’t make assumptions about what prospects want, or try to push messages that you believe they want to hear. Listening to prospects and tracking their behaviours will enable you to provide customized messages, Heft says. This requires the use of appropriate technology.

3. Engage continually over time
Your marketing message must be part of an ongoing conversation with prospects, Heft says. According to Marketo, your marketing must “feel like a natural continuation of a conversation … today’s customers distrust and resent one-off campaigns that interrupt or intercept them.”

Says Heft: “People get into the habit of expecting messages from you.” For example, he says, if you are communicating with prospects weekly, make sure you have a schedule that you can stick to. “You have to engage them continually to show your value.”

4. Engage with an outcome in mind
Engagement marketing isn’t necessarily about building relationships; it is more a matter of converting the prospect. You will therefore have to keep that objective in mind in all communications. Once you have achieved your objective, the relationship-building process can begin.

5. Engage individuals everywhere they are
You have to provide an integrated client experience, Lee says. This may require communicating with prospects across multiple channels.

“Go for areas you believe would be most advantageous,” Heft says. “It is not possible to be everywhere, but you must try to be where they are.”

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