Most companies and sales organizations have witnessed firsthand how the Internet and technology, content and social media, and the effects of global competition have produced seismic shifts in both buyer attitudes and the way purchasing decisions are made. In fact, marketing and business insiders believe that the B2B buying process has changed more in the last ten years than it did throughout the hundred years before.
To illustrate, just consider the following stats from a (pretty cool) infographic on the subject:
- 74% of B2B buyers now conduct more than half of their research online before making a purchase;
- 57% of an organization’s decision process is already completed before buyers even speak to a sales rep; and finally…
- There are now 5.4 people, on average, actively involved in each B2B buying decision
These days especially, it seems that the cumbersome procurement processes that used to be the norm are now the exception. Business buyers, empowered by ready access to Web-based information and tools (i.e. content, social media, customer reviews, etc.), not to mention the conveniences and efficiencies of their consumer shopping experiences, expect more than the usual dinner or golf outing to earn (and keep) their trust and business.
Here are some distinctive tips for adapting your B2B marketing to this continued evolution.
Use big data to create a personalized sales journey
Cold calling and universal sales pitches are out. Instead, companies are “mapping” each customer’s sales journey and using data to track the forms of media, products and features that appear most important to each individual customer and/or segment. Content views, email opens and clicks, and website traffic patterns, among others, are useful tools for deriving this intelligence, and so, too, is more active collaboration and the sharing of information between sales and marketing departments.
Armed with this information, companies may not only ensure they provide each customer with the most pertinent information, but also uniquely package products and RFPs that match their customer’s expressed interests.
It’s not unlike the way B2C marketers now create the tailored, consumer product shopping experiences to which your B2B buyers have become accustomed. Many B2B organizations have even used data and technology to better differentiate their customers and identify new customer segments that were previously unknown and untargeted.
Ensure a “frictionless” sales & purchasing experience
The Internet, apps, and technology mean that it’s never been more “frictionless” to research, compare, and purchase products. In the B2C space especially, features like one-click ordering, price calculators, free shipping and returns, and a buyer’s choice of customer service platforms (phone, text/SMS, chat, etc.) empower buyers, who control their experience more than ever before. Even traditional, “brick and mortar” businesses are following suit, and now, B2B organizations are aggressively trying to create a frictionless experience for their customers as well.
Today’s leaders boast online portals that enable comparison shopping, provide access to technical and program specs, and facilitate ordering and customer service interactions that add an element of speed and convenience that has not been present in the traditional B2B buying journey.
B2B salespeople are evolving too, enriching their skill sets to include more product and technological know-how. They are seeking collaboration from marketing and other internal teams, and looking to leverage technology and big data to support their sales and relationship-building efforts.
Explore new marketing channels altogether
Various digital and social media channels which foster word of mouth and educational content related to purchase decisions are now being used increasingly for business purposes. With B2B customers expanding their search profiles and gravitating first to the Internet—and not salespeople—to find product and company information, customer and third-party reviews, and applicable data to support their decision making, sales and marketing organizations are opting for media and marketing channels that had been previously unused or even unexplored.
Examples may include:
Paid Search: Despite all the breakthroughs in digital marketing in recent years, many are surprised to hear that paid search still yields the highest return on investment (ROI) of any digital medium. Paid search actually accounts for half of all annual marketing dollars, about $32 billion each year. So if you’re not currently leveraging a paid search strategy, that could be the first—and most impactful—new marketing initiative to try out.
Social Media: Industry stats show that 84% of VPs and CEOs turn to social media to inform purchasing decisions, and it’s not just LinkedIn either. Facebook has become a powerful tool for driving business. Plus, it’s not uncommon to find valuable product and technical videos on popular social media outlets like YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and others as well.
Review and rating sites: Among the first and most popular places where buyers may conduct their research are the third-party rating and review sites that have been popping up in recent years. Company and/or product reputations can be made (or badly damaged) on these sites, and for that reason, it may be wise to identify and monitor a few in order to gain pertinent feedback—both good and bad—and perhaps even offer service and solutions to unhappy customers.