The Internet has driven dramatic changes in business buying behavior. Just as no one buys a car anymore without first checking prices and features online, business buyers now research and educate themselves online, months—even years—before ever seeing a sales person. In the old days—just a few years ago—when business buyers had a problem, they’d call in their vendors for advice on how to solve it. So a sales person was in a nifty position to educate—and influence—the buyer from the earliest stages of the process. No more.
These days, the sales person has lost control. Buyers don’t really want to talk to vendors until somewhere akin to 70% of the way down the road, at the stage of writing RFPs and getting quotes. By then, the possible solutions and the specifications are already set.
But there’s more. Business buying processes are getting longer, and—most important—involving more parties than ever before. The so-called Buying Circle in large enterprise B-to-B—the influencers, specifiers, users, decision-makers—comprises as many as 21 people, according to Marketing Sherpa.
So marketers have to think differently today. First, you need to take an active role in the early stages of the buying process, to ensure that your solutions are front and center, and that you are in the game of influencing buyers as they educate themselves online. Second, you must gain access to each member of the Buying Circle, so you can understand their needs and interests, and deliver relevant messaging to them as they move from stage to stage in their buying journey.
These developments bring front and center five important areas requiring renewed focus from marketers:
- Complete and accurate data on customers and prospects. To influence the multiple Buying Circle members, and get to them early, you need to know who they are. Not an easy task, but more essential than ever. Here are some resources for gaining access to prospect data, and keeping your database clean.
- A deliberate contact strategy. Beyond blasting out prospecting campaigns, marketers must move toward a series of ongoing outbound messages, via multiple communications channels, to connect with multiple parties, over time. Here’s where marketing automation becomes an important resource for B-to-B marketers.
- Active social media outreach. No longer an experiment, social media has become a must-have element of the B-to-B marketing toolkit. A well-written blog, promoted by Twitter and LinkedIn groups, is a good way to start.
- A superb website, the core resource for engagement with buyers at all stages of the process. Enhance its interactivity by adding downloadable content in exchange for registration.
- A library of content assets. Populate your website with white papers, research reports, videos, how-to guides, technical documents, archived webinars, all written in objective, non-salesy language, to help educate buyers and help influence them toward your solution. Be sure to title the documents with plenty of keywords.
It’s a different marketing world today. But an exciting one, as long as marketers evolve along with buyers as they change the way they work.