A chief purchasing officer is looking to buy 1200 portable storage containers; a project manager is looking for a consultant; a school district is looking to upgrade all of its computer hardware and networking systems. These are typical business needs that will not change in 2016.
What has and what will continue to change are the methods by which purchasers make their decisions and the uses of technology to improve sales on the part of marketers.
What will not change are some basic sales strategies that continue to be extremely important.
Changes in Purchasing Behavior = Changes in Sales Strategies
Traditional sales principles for years have included the a step-by-step process of moving a potential customer through a series of processes – Awareness of the product or service,
Interest in the product or service, Desire to take action in the form of a purchase, and, ultimately, the Action of purchase (AIDA).
CRM Software Use
Of late, CRM software has entered the “picture,” so that where the customer is in this 4-step process can be tracked and monitored.
At each step in this process, there are specific tasks of the salesman relative to the prospect, and they can be tracked and monitored via what has come to be known as a “pipeline” – a listing of each prospect, an accounting of the stage at which that prospect is, and the tracking of the tasks the salesperson has completed to date.
Using CRM software is a great way to keep track of customers and their current place in the process, but the purchasing behaviors are changing, so that the old AIDA process is no longer relevant.
New Purchasing Behaviors
Research now indicates that chief purchasing officers use a different process for making their buying decisions:
- They Explore. A buyer identifies a need for a product or service and begins to look for ways to satisfy that need. S/he may call and/or meet with specific vendors; s/he may do some initial searching for information via the Internet.
- They Evaluate. The buyer then considers all of his/her options, still relying on self-searching, discussions with colleagues, and more contact with vendors.
- They Engage. The buyer then makes additional contact with a vendor or multiple vendors to discuss specifics. This stage may, of course, include the request for bids or proposals.
- They Experience. Buyers may select a specific vendor but they are not yet fully purchasing. They may experience things such as a free trial or a pilot before making that final big purchase.
The other thing to remember here is that these steps may all occur simultaneously, so the task of the salesperson is no longer one of moving the potential customer through a progression of steps.
It is more a task of continued interaction with the customer, as that customer moves him/herself through a purchasing decision.
And what this all means is that the sales force of any company providing products or services to business is extremely critical, not less as some would believe.
Here’s What the Research Says
Gartner Research recently completed a study of business organizations and their purchasing behaviors. Part of that study involved asking those involved in purchasing decisions what most influenced those decisions. Here are the results:
By far, the two top influencers are direct interaction with the salesperson and references. Of the next three influencers, two involve salesforce personnel as well. B2B marketing “experts” are kidding themselves if they think that their websites and their social media pages are converting prospects to customers.
What works in B2C marketing does not carry over into the B2B marketplace at all.
There is Still a Place for a Vendor’s Website and Social Media Presence
Don’t dismantle your website and your social media presence just yet. They are still important, but only AFTER successful interaction has occurred between the salesperson and the potential customer.
Many B2B salespersons can get lots of mileage by directing their prospects to a website which showcases successful solutions for other customers.
These satisfied customers then become the references that are the second most important influencer for purchasers.
And featuring satisfied customers on social media pages allows more confirmation that this prospect’s problem solution may indeed lie with this vendor.
Here’s an example of how a vendor uses its website for the purpose of highlighting successful client solutions. Basecamp is a company that sells cloud-based project management apps to businesses that may have several individuals or businesses involved in a project, all of whom must collaborate.
On its site, it features successful projects with details about how the apps were used successfully.
Sending a prospect to the site once the early interactions have occurred makes sense, but Basecamp does not rely on its site to sell its apps per se. Its site exists to provide information and benefit. For example, it offers a 60-day free trial of its software.
When a visitor is searching for project management solutions, the prospect of the free trial is quite attractive. Remember, experience with a product or service before the final purchase is a part of new purchasing behavior.
The technological aspects of B2B sales are largely left up to marketing departments; the people in the trenches, however, are the salespersons. Often, they are at cross-purposes with one another, and so a re-configuration needs to occur that puts marketing and sales people together, so that an overall strategy can be devised.
This collaboration and shared purpose will be a significant factor in overall success in the marketing landscape for 2016.
The Role of Technology in the Market Landscape
The Exploratory Phase of Purchasing Decisions = Internet Searches
While we now know that personal interaction remains critical and that purchaser behavior has changed, we also know that the role of technology in B2B marketing will continue to grow in several ways. How can it not? A Google research study resulted in some very interesting data:
- While most believe that Millennials do not make purchasing decisions, the research says otherwise. By the end of 2014, 46% of business purchasing decisions were, in fact, made by Millennials. Remember, the oldest members of this generation were born in 1980, so all of them grew up “plugged in.” And the first thing they do when they are looking for a product or service is conduct an online search.
- 89% of business purchasers state that they begin the purchasing process with an exploration that involves and on line search.
- Most initial searches are generic, as a means of simply finding out who are the vendors for the products or services they seek. While purchasing decisions are not made online, the exploratory phase does assist in isolating potential contenders.
- Purchasers do access the websites of the “contenders” to learn more about the company, the products or services, and with whom that company has done business.
- Purchasers really watch videos. This should tell you as a B2B marketer, that videos related to your products or services should be both on your website and YouTube.
- Social media is not used much – it is the company’s website that gets the attention of buyers.
- This pattern of using Internet searches will only increase as more Millennials move into purchasing positions.
Use of the Internet to Generate Leads
While marketers may have to dig really deep, there is critical information to be had online. And there are several steps to take to generate leads for your products or services:
- You need to continually monitor your competitors for pricing, product or service improvements, etc. You cannot “poach” customers if you do not know what you need to change or modify to be a more valuable option.
- You must monitor all news and press releases within your customer base demographic. Mergers and acquisitions, plans to expand, changes in leadership – all of these things are important factors in the potential you have to reach out to potential customers.
- Access the websites of those businesses that could be customers or clients but who currently are not. What’s going on? How can you possibly solve a problem for them? Who are the major players? Can you connect with them on LinkedIn or an industry-wide forum or group? Do you know anyone in the organization who can provide an introduction? Are any of the players in “groups” in which you know any of the members? Lots of networking occurs online, and that can play a major role in you getting your “foot in the door.”
Using Technology to Manage Current Customers and to Personalize
The marketplace is highly competitive as you know. Your goals include poaching customers, but they also include always being mindful of how you must “massage” your current customers too. Of course, you will do those face-to-face things to keep your relationships going, but you can also use technology to help.
- Be certain that your CRM software notifies you to regularly schedule contact. Is it time to schedule a lunch? Is it someone’s birthday? Is it time to begin planning an event to which you will invite all of your customers?
- If your product has a “shelf life,” are you getting notification of times to re-connect and re-sell?
- If you have a new replacement salesperson that will be managing customers’ accounts, have you ensured that your software has pulled up all of those customers so that personal contact can be made?
Using Technology for Sales Presentations
Given the increasing sophistication of tools and apps, you must be certain that your sales presentations are taking advantage of them all. Gone are the days of presentations in paper form – those are for proposals once you have significant interest. Initial sales presentations must be engaging, compelling and stellar in every way.
The use of media and video to demonstrate how your product or service really solves problems is just not an option – visual presentations maintain focus of your prospect. And if you participate in trade shows, these presentations are absolutely critical.
The Internet of Things Gets Into the Act
The next big leap in technology will be “smart” everything – cars, kitchens, entire cities. If you really want to be on the cutting edge of this technology, here is an example of its use in B2B marketing:
Suppose you sell and deliver product to a customer. Within each unit is a sensor. You can now track each product online – while it is in the warehouse, when it is used in the manufacturing process, when it leaves the warehouse and where it goes.
As you track product, you will know when your customer’s supply is running low. You then have a method of accurately knowing exactly when it is time to connect for the re-sell.
Making the Adjustments to the New marketing Landscape
The changing landscape will mean a number of adjustments and thinking shifts.
- Marketers and sales staff will have to work far more collaboratively than in the past.
- The century-old idea of AIDA is gone. Purchasers now take the lead – this is buyer’s not a seller’s landscape
- Buyers continue to be influenced by face-to-face interaction and by references more than anything else. Make sure you are in a position to meet those demands.
- Be ready and willing to let a potential customer experience your product or service before making a purchasing decision.
- Use your website to pique interest, to tout your successes, and to provide information. Do not ask for a conversion to a sale. Do provide a method by which that visitor can experience your product or service. And use videos to showcase products and services.
- Use technology for research of your own, to manage current customers, and to personalize your relationships with your customers.
- Use technology to network and to get introductions
- Keep abreast of the new “smart” technology so that you can pounce on whatever you can use as it becomes available.
The new year will be coming very soon. Plan and strategize now for your successful 2016!