The B2B buyer purchasing journey has fundamentally changed yet most companies are still using the same sales and marketing processes that they did 20 years ago. The buyer is self-educating online using Social Media and mobile, and we’re successfully adapting to this technology evolution. However, technology is an enabler, not the strategy.
We have not adapted our underlying sales and marketing processes to the new and evolving buyer journey.
As Marketers, we have myriad technologies at our disposal, yet the quality of leads that we give to our Sales force has not substantially improved.
- Twenty years ago, as soon as a visitor to our trade show booth gave us a business card in return for a raffle ticket, they became a lead for Sales.
- Today, as soon as a visitor to our website fills out an online form to gain access to a piece of content, they become a lead for Sales. No meaningful difference in lead quality.
- With the new self-educating buyer, we in Marketing can do better at lead qualification. If we truly understand the self-educating buyer journey, than with all the technology and marketing expertise we currently have at our disposal, we are very capable of understanding exactly where the buyer persona is in their purchasing journey. We must adapt our marketing process to serve the new buyer.
As Sales professionals, we use multiple technologies to improve our sales performance, but our sales productivity, win rates and forecast accuracy has not substantially improved.
- Twenty years ago, as soon as we were able to meet with a prospect we would start educating them on our product with in-person presentations, meetings, demos, etc.
- Today, as soon as we are able to meet with a prospect, we start educating them on our product with in-person presentations, meetings, demos, etc. No meaningful difference in selling technique.
- With the new self-educating buyer, we in Sales can do a better job selling. If we truly understand the self-educating buyer, than the first thing we must determine is exactly where they are in their purchasing journey, and what information they have consumed, before we auto-magically appeared on the scene. We must adapt our sales process to serve the new buyer.
The buyer has changed and continues to evolve their journey. How do we adapt to better align with the self-educating buyer, and stay aligned with that buyer as they evolve? Let’s start by better understanding our new self-educating B2B buyer.
Understanding The Self-Educating Buyer Journey
B2B Buyers are real people, not just fictional persona representations. When they consume content sometimes it’s for personal entertainment, sometimes it’s because they are shopping for their daughter’s gift, and yes, sometimes it’s for their business.
We don’t understand where they were prior to visiting our advertisement/website/social page, or what they actually consumed, and quite frankly, we don’t need to in order to start serving our customers better, today. Future technologies will enable us to have increased insight into the buyer journey, which will be exciting for marketers, but in the meantime we can all make dramatic progress with the expertise and technology we have today.
When the buyer is self-educating for their business, their employer or their department, it’s a serious mission. It is part of their job, but it’s always an add-on to their existing and overwhelming workload, so they don’t have time to waste on thinly disguised brand or product pitches.
- The B2B Buyer is looking for compelling content that educates them about industry risks, solution options, best solutions that fit their unique situation, solution provider comparisons, etc. If they land on our website, and do not find information that will facilitate their journey, they will go elsewhere to find it. If they find a vendor or website that facilitates their education journey, they will return often to consume more.
- Engagement is not consumption. Just because they landed on our webpage or downloaded some content does not mean they actually read it. Too many pieces of content on the net are “puff pieces” and thinly disguised product pitches, often with compelling but misleading headlines.
- Content consumption is not facilitation. Just because they consumed it doesn’t mean they agreed with the content, or even valued it. Did the content actually help them move forward in their purchasing journey, or not?
- Your opinion (or mine) about whether the content is compelling is not relevant. The buyer will judge how compelling our content is and whether it actually helped facilitate their journey.
- The buyer does not want to talk to a product salesperson. If we send them to a sales rep before they are ready, it will waste their time, it will waste the Sales rep’s time, and it will reduce the buyer’s trust in our brand.
- Really, the buyer does not want to talk to a product salesperson. They don’t want to talk to a telephone sales rep who doesn’t understand their business concerns, just to repeat the same useless discussion with a field sales rep who doesn’t understand their business concerns, just to sit through an in-person product pitch as if they were cut off from society for the past 20 years. This process simply eliminates any remaining trust the buyer had in our brand or our sales department.
- The self-educating customer will happily self-qualify themselves. If we have earned their trust by facilitating their self-educating journey, they will tell us insightful information about their journey, if we ask them properly.
- The buyer will eventually need to talk to a trusted advisor (aka sales consultant). The self-educating buyer will become overwhelmed with all the information that they consumed and will need someone who can help guide them to an informed decision that best meets the needs of all the buyer team members. Sales reps who pitch products or read scripts need not apply.
Adapting Marketing To Serve The Self-Educating Buyer
Marketing is about understanding the needs of the target market buyers, defining the products and services that meet those specific market needs, educating the market about the value that the company brings to solving these important customer needs, and enabling the direct and channel sales organizations to generate profitable revenue. It isn’t rocket science, but it does require marketing training, business knowledge and relevant experience.
Here are 3 key actions that can help Marketing better understand the target buyer, educate them, and enable the sales organizations to generate profitable revenue.
- Educate and Facilitate: Document and execute a Content Strategy that facilitates the B2B Buyer Purchasing journey from purchasing stage to purchasing stage, throughout their complete customer journey. Help each persona educate themselves at their own pace. If they didn’t act on the CTA (Call to Action) at the end of our content, then we can safely assume they didn’t find the content compelling enough to read it and take the next step.
- Always be More Relevant: Every piece of content that facilitates the journey uncovers additional insights/concerns that will set up the next piece of content. When they take action to view the next piece of content, we have one confirmed data point; they liked the first piece of content to look at the next piece. When they take action to view the third piece of content, we have two confirmed data points, and a much clearer perspective of where they are in their purchasing journey. Always offer the buyer relevant options for next steps (i.e. read “next piece of content” for this stage, or, “first piece of content” for next stage, or, speak with a sales consultant regarding what you have read so far?
- Encourage the buyer to Self-Qualify: Each time they take action on a CTA, immediately ask them for the next most important piece of qualifying information that we need. What industry? What size of company? What’s the industry challenge they are trying to solve? Then, feed them information that is most relevant to that new buyer insight. The more they consume, the more they self-qualify themselves as a good lead for Sales.
From a Marketing perspective, the end result is that we have facilitated the buyer journey, we have enhanced the buyer trust in our brand, and we have delivered a high-quality lead to Sales with amazing insight into the buyer.
If Sales can just do their magic and close these leads, we’ll be able to take the company to an exciting new level of revenue growth!
Adapting Sales To Serve The Self-Educating Buyer
Sales is about understanding the needs and concerns of the specific account, tailoring the products and services to address those specific needs, educating the buyer team about the value that the company brings in solving both the account’s needs and the individual buyer team member needs, and closing the transaction as soon as possible to generate revenue this month. It isn’t rocket science, but it does require sales training, business knowledge and relevant experience.
Here are 3 key actions that can help Sales better understand their target buyer, educate them, and enable the sales organizations to generate profitable revenue.
- Educate and Interact: Document and execute a Sales Process that facilitates the B2B Buyer Purchasing journey from purchasing stage to purchasing stage, online and offline, throughout their buyer journey. Leverage highly relevant Marketing content, with Social and Strategic selling techniques, to educate and stay top of mind with each of the account’s personas.
- Always be Probing and Listening: The buyer team will continually be self-educating throughout their journey, with or without our counsel. Some of the information will be positive, some negative, and some misunderstood. If we have earned their trust as an advisor/consultant, they will share what other information they have consumed, if we ask them, so that we have the opportunity to put the information into perspective. Since the buyer journey continues to evolve as new information is consumed, our sales process also needs to evolve to reflect real-time, best practices for the field sales organization.
- Encourage the buyer to Self-Forecast: If we have earned their trust as an advisor/consultant, they will help us understand what’s involved in the account’s next purchasing stage: what’s the purpose, what’s their process, who’s involved, how long will it typically take? If we fully understand their goals and concerns, we are in an ideal position to help develop their timeline. For example, based upon industry experience regarding the average time it takes to have the solution fully integrated into the buyer’s business operations, what business factors should the buyer consider to start the purchase and implementation sooner, rather than later?
From a Sales perspective, the end result is we have shortened and influenced the buyer journey, we have increased the buyer’s trust in our company and our sales organization, and we have delivered a potential repeat customer who will actively provide high-quality business referrals.
If Marketing can just do their magic and give us more high-quality leads, we’ll be able to take the company to an exciting new level of revenue growth!
Our Sales and Marketing Journey Must Adapt
Here is the reality of our situation:
- The buyer is self-educating and they will continue to self-educate, with or without our help.
- Life is hectic, businesses are complicated, and buyers have no time to waste in identifying opportunities and solutions.
- Buyers need trusted advisors who are willing to understand their unique business needs and willing to apply their expertise to help them identify and implement the right solution.
- Marketing cannot meet the self-educating buyer expectations without the help of Sales.
- Sales cannot meet the self-educating buyer expectations without the help of Marketing.
The first step in our journey is for Marketing and Sales to pool their insight of their company’s target buyer purchasing journey, in detail. It’s only a starting point, but with a common understanding of their target buyer, the two functions can start collaborating more effectively to evolve their internal processes and systems. Consider bringing in an expert Marketing and Sales consultant who can kick-start an impactful collaboration.
Both Marketing and Sales must evolve their processes to stay aligned with the new buyer reality. For additional insight into how to adapt to the self-educating buyer to drive accelerated revenue growth, see my articles on Business2Community, including Marketing and Sales: Alignment, Integration or Collaboration.
The longer we delay in taking this step, the wider the gap between us and our customers will grow, and the more vulnerable our livelihoods we become to more agile competitors.
How will you close the gap? Please keep the discussion going by commenting and sharing this post with your colleagues. Thank you.Business & Finance Articles on Business 2 Community