In recent years, selling to the B2B market has presented new challenges for companies such as buyers’ growing tendency to vet vendors using online research and the interplay between the B2B and B2C buyer experience.
B2B buyers identifying and selecting their top tier of vendors for purchase evaluations—including the short list of contenders—often do so with very little or NO input from sales or company reps. Buyers also expect excellence from their vendors, based largely on their expectations from their experiences as consumers in B2C transactions.
So, what should companies selling to the B2B market know before they engage with their buyers?
Selling to the B2B Market
1. The buying process will happen (mostly) without you
In terms of vetting vendors, the key take away is the fact that digital access to information has resulted in a shift of power from sellers to buyers. Instead of going to sales reps and company sources for most (if not all) of their information, buyers today can research vendors, products, services, support, add-ons, pricing, partnerships, and many other factors online, using company websites, user groups, virtual opinion leaders, blog posts, videos, SlideShare and presentation postings, and investor details.
The Corporate Executive Board estimates that close to 60% of buying activities are finished before a sales rep is even involved. Forrester estimates that up to 90% of the buying process is completed before sales is brought in. Buyers who are evaluating technology for their businesses complete more than half of their evaluation before contacting a sales rep. And they’re often seeking out users instead of either vendors or analysts.
It’s important to remember that B2B buyers are doing much of their investigative work about vendors and their offerings before they ever reach out to sales or company representatives for information.
What You Can Do:
Put your best digital face forward
Make sure you’re providing rich content to your audience, not only about your products or services, but also about your market leadership, your customers, and the industry overall, including trends that could impact the market in the near- or long-term.
Integrate Sales and Marketing
While Marketing and Sales have not always worked closely together, in the digital age it’s essential they present a consistent message to buyers. There’s even a term HubSpot coined — “Smarketing”—to describe an integrated sales and marketing strategy.
Especially at the beginning of the discovery process, Marketing must take increased responsibility for engaging and nurturing prospects. Toward the end of the buying process, Sales may play a larger role. Throughout the process, Sales and Marketing must be integrated and appear seamless to buyers.
Have a multi-channel presence
Because buyers will be looking for details about your company and products using different channels, you’ll need to have a presence in the channels buyers are likely to be in, including website content, social media, webinars, case studies, blog posts, online videos, and white papers.
SiriusDecisions highlights that “highly aligned B2B organizations achieve 19% faster revenue growth and 15% higher profitability.”
2. Buyers expect B2C excellence from B2B vendors
Like the rest of us, B2B buyers don’t operate in a vacuum. They compare their experiences as consumers in their personal lives to their experiences as buyers in their professional lives. For example, if someone has a seamless experience buying dog food on their mobile device at 3 a.m., they want to repeat that positive experience when purchasing your product, whether it’s industrial machinery, staffing services, or anything in between.
Practical Ecommerce notes that B2B companies selling their offerings online recognize that the customer experience for business buyers is just as important as the customer experience for consumer purchasers. Avanade highlights the consumerization of IT – policies such as “Bring Your Own Device” or BYOD – mean that the traditional delineations of B2B and B2C are no longer relevant. Instead, it’s now business to everyone since there are low or no barriers to information.
What You Can Do:
Model your systems after the best B2C companies
There’s really one large, over-arching implication for the B2C/B2B convergence trend, and that is to model your systems, processes, and customer interactions after the best B2C companies, usually consumer packaged goods companies, such as Proctor & Gamble or Unilever. This means having a mobile-ready platform, investing in technology to support better customer service and customer experiences, and offering self-service tools, such as pricing and ROI calculators.
McKinsey highlights the fact that most business buyers use six or more channels to evaluate potential vendors – a theme highlighted earlier – along with the fact that most buyers (65%) report poor and inconsistent experiences between the different channels. Using technology and systems to ensure consistency in user experience will help in this regard.
3. Companies with effective Personas and Journey Mapping will surge ahead
While Customer Experience, or CX, has historically been the focus of B2C organizations, it’s now making a big play in B2B enterprises as companies seek to better understand their customers’ experiences along the entire life cycle of the customer’s engagement.
One way companies are understanding their customers’ experiences is using personas and customer journey mapping. Using Personas and Journey Mapping, companies are increasingly focused on Customer Experience to drive differentiation and increase profitability. (To learn more about Customer Experience, download this guide.)
Personas vs. Journey Mapping:
Personas are descriptions of an organization’s typical buyers based on market research and feedback from actual customers. (Check out 15 Ways to Make Your Buyer Personas Real.)
* Journey Mapping
Journey mapping is just what its name implies – it provides a map of the journey customers take with their vendors, from initial discovery to product evaluation to product usage to product support to eventual end of life or product retirement. (Check out 15 Powerful Customer Journey Maps.)
As competition intensifies in the B2B environment, customer experience initiatives can be used to both differentiate companies and to increase profitability. Because buyer personas can help to guide product development and create better marketing campaigns, they’re typically used by companies to help drive detailed customer segmentation, helping companies understand different buyers’ attitudes and criteria for purchase decisions.
Customer journey mapping can help companies identify how internal processes help or hinder their customers’ experiences at every stage along the journey through capture and labeling of customer thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. Journey mapping can also illustrate customer expectations versus reality, as well as opportunities for improvement in each phase of the mapping process.
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