This is the second in a series of articles to help leaders grow their businesses in the information age using Outcomes Driven Marketing (ODM).
Who among us doesn’t appreciate the convenience of information available at our fingertips thanks to modern communications technology? It enables us to look at the news, contact our friends, capture a special moment with a photo, send it by text or email, and post it to social media. It also helps us solve problems. If we are in an unfamiliar place, technology helps us find a restaurant, check out the reviews, and even navigate to it while avoiding traffic jams.
When trying to solve more complex problems, we use the same technology as we seek information to help us better understand our challenges and perhaps research solution providers. But here is an important question for you if you are a business leader: have you adjusted your business development strategy to reflect how your buyers are making decisions?
Despite evidence of major changes in buyer behavior, there are still many businesses that have not amended their marketing and sales operations to mirror the journey their prospects take to become customers. For complex, technical business-to-business (B2B) transactions, traditional models requiring large sales forces and expensive lead generation activities have been especially disrupted by the modern buyer’s journey.
The Modern Buyer's Journey
A typical buyer’s journey occurs in six stages:
- Understand issues
- Establish objectives
- Explore solution strategies
- Select a course of action
- Assess vendor capabilities and fit
- Select a vendor to speak with
Long before modern buyers reveal themselves to sellers, they have been empowered and informed by technology and an ocean of information available to them.
According to research by CEB, a best practices research company and authors of The Challenger Customer, there are three significant characteristics of the modern B2B buying process requiring a transformational change in how B2B sellers conduct business development.
- Nearly 60 percent of the buyer’s process is completed by the time the buyer reveals themselves to the seller.
- From the buyer’s perspective, the most challenging part of their process is identifying and gaining agreement on the problem they are trying to solve.
- Buying decisions are made collaboratively by a team of five or more people.
Additionally, CEB’s research discovered that sellers who helped buyers with number two—gaining agreement on the problem they are trying to solve—significantly increased their chances to close the sale. While traditional B2B marketing and sales focus heavily on the late stages of the buyer’s journey, CEB’s research tells us that we ought to be paying much more attention to the early stages. However, that’s before the buyer reveals themselves to the seller.
So, how can B2B solution providers get involved earlier?
Stop Looking For Customers, Start Attracting Them
Outcomes-Driven Marketing (ODM) offers a framework for business growth in the modern information age. One important piece of the framework is to define market fit, which I describe briefly in a previous article. Let’s unpack this concept in more detail and demonstrate how it can be used to engage B2B prospects in the critical, early stages of their buyer’s journey.
Technology has enabled marketers to measure customer engagement with great precision, and we’ve learned from CEB research that the buyer’s journey begins long before a buyer is ready to speak with a seller. Groups of buyers spend up to 60 percent of the entire buyer’s process anonymously accessing information as part of a due diligence effort. As a seller, participating in your buyer’s research in a helpful way can have an immensely positive effect.
The key to gaining buyers’ permission to participate in the early stages of their journey is to provide them with relevant, helpful content. Your content should not be self-promotional, so avoid broadcasting how great you are. Then, orient your content topics to the interests of your prospects. It should attract the attention of prospects, sustain their interest, foster a relationship, and lead to a valuable partnership. When done well, the first direct contact between you and the buyer is not a cold call, but a meaningful, open discussion.
Create The Right Content
Understanding the premise of valuable, helpful, non-promotional content is easy. Creating it can be challenging.
Start by identifying your prospects’ most troubling issues, specifically the ones you can solve better than your competition. Perhaps their issues are opportunities they wish to pursue. These issues become the topics for your content strategy. Dissect the problem from your prospects’ view and define what the problem means to them. Help them visualize success by describing the benefits achieved by solving the problem.
By focusing on helping your prospects early in their journey, you are helping them with what CEB’s research says is their biggest hurdle: identifying the problem they wish to solve. At this early stage, you’re not yet talking about any specific solutions.
Be sure to consider your prospects’ discovery and research preferences. Do they prefer written text, videos, graphs, webinars, podcasts, or some other format? Is their preference aligned with a stage of their buyer’s journey? Maybe they will begin exploring their issue with articles, then move to case studies when they begin considering solutions. Where in the digital ecosystem do your prospects hang out? Do they use industry-specific websites, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube? It is likely that your collaborative group of prospects will collectively use a combination of all these things.
Using this strategy over time creates an audience of prospects who find value in your thinking because you are already helping them and building trust. The prospects who remain engaged with your content are, in a sense, qualifying themselves as a fit for your business.
When The Prospect Contacts You
The strategy of delivering helpful, prospect-oriented content results in a radically different first meeting. We’re all familiar with the awkwardness of a cold call to someone who turned up on a lead sheet; a call initiated by a salesperson under pressure to immediately deliver value to someone they don’t know and who doesn’t know them.
The ODM strategy of attracting customers using valuable content naturally fulfills the sixth step of the buyer’s journey: selecting a vendor to speak with. The buyer will have completed their due diligence, with the aid of your content, so the first conversation is an open and meaningful discussion. Because trust was established before the first contact, the seller and buyer can quickly advance the business relationship. Even if you determine the fit is not right, that can be determined quickly, but the trust and respect for one another remain intact.
The modern buyer’s journey, empowered by digital technology and convenient availability of information, calls for a transformation of B2B marketing and sales operations. Modern buyers have completed most of the buyer’s journey before they reveal themselves to the seller and when they do, they are informed and confident. Sellers who participate in the early buyer’s journey by creating helpful content for their prospects establish a positive buyer-seller relationship and significantly increase their chances of attracting the right customers and growing their business.