by Guest Blogger Holger Schulze
Major shifts are taking place in B2B marketing that started a few years ago but have accelerated in recent months – in the marketplace as well as inside vendor organizations. Prospects and customers are becoming more sophisticated and better informed than ever before. They are tuning out a lot of the marketing noise they receive which makes it harder for marketers to reach audiences the old fashioned way. Customers are are in the driver’s seat today. This has profound implications on marketing and the way companies engage with prospects.
Until recently, the mainstream B2B marketing approach was to interrupt and engage prospects, educate them on the vendors offering and move them through the sale cycle towards a transaction – a very vendor and product centric approach. Contrast this with the sophisticated and networked and community-embedded buyer today, who conducts research and talks with their peers in online communities long before identifying and narrowing down the list of potential vendors that can solve the problem.
These buyers and decision makers don’t want to get interrupted by a product promo email or a cold call that likely doesn’t come at the exact time they have a specific problem the caller can help with. And today’s customers are busier than ever. They want to be able to engage with a vendor when they are ready and actively seek out advice, often very late in the buying cycle, and have the vendor guide them through a complex buying and problem solving process - outsourcing part of the buying process to the vendor community if you will.
A simple 5 step program can help you refocus your marketing efforts and adjust to the new requirements for B2B marketing success:
Understand Your Audience
Customer focus begins with understanding your customer and their market environment. What business problems do they face? What are the drivers in their industry that impact profitability? Also make sure you segment your target markets according to demographics, psychographics, and business environment to identify the segments that are the best fit for your company's offering; segments that have the most to gain by becoming your customers.
Build a Strong Value Proposition
Build a strong customer-centric value proposition that puts your product and services in the context of the customer's problem, communicates the value you provide and your differentiators vis-a-vis competing alternatives.
Map Out Your Buyer’s Journey
Map the customer's buying cycle from problem awareness, identifying generic solutions, identifying potential vendors, selecting vendors that make the short list, evaluating solutions in detail and ultimately selecting a solution. Build a simplified model of your customers’ world, the journey they take from problem to solution. This exercise will help you understand how your customers are progressing through the steps of the buying cycle. What are their goals, concerns, what data do they need to move to the next step, where do they look for information?
Build Compelling Messages and Content
With this information you get a pretty good idea for how to influence the prospect along every step, how to educate them, how to guide them to purchase. Build a simple matrix of messages, marketing collateral and sales tools mapped against each phase of the buying cycle. Also add how you want to get your information to your audience - how will they find you. Focus on social networks and Google and special interest sites for the early phases; that's where buyers will often look first and find your content to make sense of their problem and the solution space and identify potential vendors. Make sure your content is problem and solution focused and doesn’t only talk about your product.
Build call to actions into each content piece to encourage your prospect to keep engaging with you as they move through the buying cycle. Also, make content easily accessible, especially in the early phase of the buying cycle where prospects don't care about specific vendors but want to understand their options and the implications of available choices to solve a problem. So let your educational content (white papers, Webinars) go free so it gets consumed and shared by prospects across social networks, don't hide it behind registration forms, but add a strong call to action into the content asset to move your prospects to the next interaction with you.
Invest in Marketing Automation
One size fits all mass email blasts, for example, don’t provide the level of return you are looking for. Marketing automation will allow you to have very targeted digital conversations with your audience triggered by prospect profile and behavior, driven by their buying cycle. Help prospects follow paths that you have defined to guide them, offering content that matches every step of their buying process from white papers and webinars in the early discovery stages to case studies, ROI studies and competitive comparisons during vendor selection at which point your sales will be heavily engaged in the relationship. With each interaction, you collect more data about the prospect which allows you to build a score to identify the hottest leads that you want to engage with directly and focus your time and sales resources on. With sophisticated analytics and reporting, MA tools will also give you insight into what is working and what not so you can adjust and improve your campaigns.
Buyers expect B2B vendors to help them make sense of the options they have available to solve a particular problem, and their pros and cons. A very consultative, solution, and customer centric approach to marketing and sales that is very different from yesterday’s paradigms. For marketing teams, this means engaging with prospects much earlier in the buying cycle, educating them long before prospects consider specific vendors, and matching each phase of the customer buying cycle with appropriate message, content and marketing tools designed to ease the buyers journey - from problem to solution and carefully steer them to the favorable outcome - to be selected by the buyer.
It also means using new ways to reach the buyer, including social networks. This approach requires much greater domain, industry and business expertise on the vendor side, to really understand the customer, which in turn requires more targeted segmentation, more intelligent messaging, better sales tools, etc. Time to get ready.
About Holger Schulze
Holger Schulze is a B2B technology marketing expert with over 10 years of experience driving market awareness, demand, and revenue for high-tech companies in the US and Europe. Currently serving as the Director of Marketing for information security vendor SafeNet, Holger has a proven success record of creating and executing global marketing strategies that increase revenue and market share. Holger is also a prolific blogger and social media community builder. Marketing professionals worldwide read his syndicated B2B Technology Marketing blog, and Holger's B2B Technology Marketing Community on LinkedIn has rapidly grown to over 20,000 members. And Holger's LinkedIn Information Security Community, with over 80,000 members, is the single biggest community of its kind in the information security industry.