A NEW LANDSCAPE
The B2B buying journey is now an omnichannel experience and a new balance of human and digital skills is required to accompany buyers along the journey. Research shows that businesses using digital tools to enable sales, drive five times more revenue growth than their peers (McKynsey, May 2018).
However, our experience also indicates that -especially when selling complex services- a conversation between a vendor and a buyer is still a strong source of influence at most stages of the buying process. The key is to understand what kind of buyers are involved in the decision-making process and when they prefer human interaction or digital channels. A Marketeer’s task is to help sales teams engage with prospects at the right time by supporting them with messages, content and other tools to make needs and opportunities come to the surface.
The empowered B2B buyer wants to embark on a personal journey rather than be pushed down a funnel.
This is what the journey stages look like:
Research (digital plays a leading role)
More and more B2B purchases start with research. Buyers are researching because they have needs and are looking to identify new suppliers, compare services and value propositions; they expect to find thought leadership, job or sector-related solutions and best practices. At this stage, digital marketing should discover search trends and create contents to match solutions to the buyers’ needs. Any human interaction should be very careful, or it might look like an attempt to influence the buyers away from their personal path to information.
Evaluation (human to human conversation with digital in a supporting role)
At the evaluation stage, things change: now the buyers are looking for human touch. They want to know that there are people behind the website and social media with which they have been interacting; they value the warmth and confidence of a well-informed salesperson who can answer their most specific questions. Digital marketing should not be missing from the picture but only take a support role, with resources and other tools.
Purchase (human to human conversation with digital playing “top of mind” role)
The purchase stage is very often a formal RFP. At this stage, the buyers are looking for security: knowing that the vendor will provide dedicated points of contact, that the agreement will be sustainable and all aspects are perfectly clear from the start. This is an extremely delicate phase when each mistake could cost a high price. Digital marketing should play a very soft “top of mind” role through carefully targeted key account communication.
Retention/cross-sell/upsell (Digital plays a problem-solving role with human back-up)
Buyers at this stage expect a supplier to know their needs perfectly and look for guidance on new available solutions. They want efficiency, innovation, fast interactions and problem solving with human back-up. This is when you should best integrate digital resources and human skills , aiming to make reporting clear and to recommend targeted solutions and improvements.
CHANGE IS NEEDED
To achieve such a level of efficiency in this Total Prospect Management process turning prospects into retained clients, you need to perfectly integrate your marketing and sales teams, abandon some of the more traditional marketing views and adopt practices which better correspond to the buying journey described above.
- Focus less on your product and its awesome value proposition, and concentrate more on your prospect’s desired outcomes. Learn to develop and present your messages depending on the key decision-maker you are targeting and the desired outcome.
- Develop your campaigns. With the amount of information available on digital channels, it is more and more difficult to reach your prospects; by the time you have grabbed their attention, your campaign is over. You need to think of your digital/human communication as a continuum, rather than a stop-and-go activity. The B2B marketeer must build engagement strategies to lead buyers through a journey — not push leads through a funnel.
- Move from a data-driven to an insights-driven approach. Connect the dots: data must throw light over the bigger picture, or it is an end to itself.
- Gain trust. Our experience tells us that more and more buyers assess a company’s trustworthiness on the basis of three things: integrity, competence, and transparency. Gaining trust is a long difficult process, while losing it only takes one mistake.
- Think of Client Lifetime Value. When digital and human skills together become the enablers of this journey, they improve customer value and maximize loyalty and advocacy.
- Align to customer, not to sales. It’s time to stop measuring MQLs and SQLs as if they were two different paths. Align your sales leader and marketing leader and start talking about how sales and marketing can develop an engagement plan personalised to the prospect.