Because Business to Business (B2B) marketing depends on relationship building, owners and managers have long relied on traditional methods of client attraction including:
- conference and trade show attendance,
- personal networking,
- cold calling,
- semi-direct mail and
And to some degree, sales professionals within B2B industries, still rely on these methods. However, the web continues to provide an increasingly wider range of marketing tools to decision makers when used strategically.
How Web-Based Tools Affect The B2B Sales Process
B2C Companies have been at forefront of using these tools over the last decade. Leaders in those companies have been successful utilizing different forms of inbound marketing to attract consumers into their marketing funnels. Through the use of SEO, social media and online multi-media, companies have been successful in capturing clients in the midst of researching intriguing problems and looking for personal comforts. Consumers have now fully adopted the practice of being converted from prospect to customer entirely online, and have shown increasing affinity toward direct marketing processes.
This prospect to client process works well for personal purchases with relatively low dollar amounts and a single decision maker. However, B2B transactions are typically made by more than one individual, and rarely made at the point of being introduced to a particular product or service. This inherently longer sales cycle doesn’t lend itself well to attraction efforts that lead to direct marketing tactics. In a B2B context the two (internet attraction and direct marketing) are incongruous.
Rule of Attraction in B2B Marketing
A B2B Marketer can and should use attraction methods with website/blogs, social media and email marketing. But the attraction process is less of a hard sell and more of a dialogue about how the product benefits the customer. A B2B marketing funnel must affirm the traditional forms of relationship building and networking mentioned above while also problem solving through educating clients. Whether the initial contact that a prospect has with the company is a journal article, whitepaper or webinar; marketers should be always be demonstrating their knowledge of the depth of the problems in the industry.
In that context, intelligent decision makers are able to go an additional step by helping prospects to understand the nature of their problem if left untreated. A good education process not only outlines the nature of the problems in the industry but answers the question: what will happen if a company decides to delay fixing the problem described? Since the solution to the problem is the company’s product or service, this question and answer is the transition point from educating a prospect to moving them to into position to make a purchase.
Each stage in the B2C marketing funnel provides tools to move the client forward while building a relationship. The B2B marketing funnel has them also, and the position in the relationship that a company should seek to earn is that of an expert trusted advisor. Being able to secure that position in the minds of managers at the prospect client’s company is critical to the effective use of internet attraction.
B2B Marketers should use blogs, newsletters, whitepapers, SEO, webinars, video and SEO interchangeably at all stages in the marketing process, including the attraction of traffic, conversion of leads and enticing their clients to make additional purchases.
8 Steps to Close the Sale with Content
What then are the steps to implement an education based selling method? As a start, companies should do the following:
- Get a firm handle on the concerns of the industry. Research industry trade journals, participate in online forums, interview clients and attend industry conferences. In attending these events, the purpose is information gathering. It is not necessarily prospecting, as mentioned above.
- Keep an ongoing list of the issues that perplex executives. Prioritize this list based on which problems can be solved by the company.
- Determine the forms of content needed to effectively reach industry executives and decision makers. Will executives be most likely to watch videos, listen to podcasts, read whitepapers, interact on webinars, etc?
- Once the content delivery method has been determined, sales funnels should be designed with marketing automated databases in place. The databases will assist the company in segmenting prospects according to the issues that the company has the capacity to solve. Make sure that tracking mechanisms are secured from the marketing databases and integrated into the content delivery.
- Utilize the created content to attract prospects into the marketing funnel. Companies should make use of SEO principles, public relations (PR) and social media to strategically place content online in locations where individuals are looking. Effort should also be made to publish content in prospects’ and clients’ industry trade publications, conferences and trade shows. In every content piece, companies should promise in-depth answers and solutions in exchange for the prospect’s contact information when they opt-in.
- Offer more specialized solutions to those who opt-in. Offer webinars, seminars and written content that more definitively answers their questions. Propose solutions that come form your company’s product and service line.
- Continue the cycle of discovering industry problems and strategically placing content in locations online and offline that concerned executives will see and consume.
- As part of the sales funnel process there should be an individualized follow up procedure. In other words, each product-to-client solution should warrant a specific follow up plan. Although most of the follow up will take place “offline”, executives should make sure that every available means of contact can be systematically employed.
The key is to use education to reinforce real transparency and relationship building knowing that unlike B2C marketing, the entire process is unlikely to start and finish on a website with only minutes having transpired. The B2B education process assumes that the marketing funnel starts with trusted advice and ends with a decision being made to authorize a check, with days, weeks or months in between.
What is your company implementing to build transparency and relationship building?
Does that process lead to more sales? If not, can you use education to bridge the gap?