B2B Sales Require Getting on the Buyer Short List

Posted on March 5, 2014

It’s now become clear that there has been a dramatic shift in the alignment between B2B buying cycles and B2B sales cycles.  Lori Wizdo (Forrester) blogged at the end of 2012 that B2B buyers are 65%-90% complete with their buying cycle before contacting a brand’s sales channel.

Earlier this week, I spent an hour on the phone with Peter Burris (VP – Forrester Research) discussing B2B buying cycle dynamics for a client engagement in the outsourced software development industry.  Peter affirmed that Forrester Research is continuing to see a convergence in the list of marketing tactics that actually work to connect and engage with B2B buyers (particularly in technology) to get on the elusive “short list” of vendors that will have a chance to close a sale.

As you’ve read in my other blog posts, I’m trumpeting the horn to B2B marketers to realize that the once aligned Buying Cycle and Sales Cycle are now grossly misaligned such that your sales teams are often only talking to those buyers who have already put your brand on “the short list.” The problem is knowing how many possible sales opportunities you missed because you were not engaging buyers during the early stages of their solution search.

Last week’s “Spiceworks Unplugged” event in Austin, Texas echoed what Forrester Research (and McKinsey & Company) have been publishing over the past year.  That is, B2B marketers (much like their B2C counterparts) are now in a dilemma as buyers perform DIY research (online, peer-to-peer) for most of their buying cycle and then make a determination as to the vendors they will contact.

In their white paper entitled Competitive Strategy in the Age of the Customer, Forrester advances several strategic themes.  For B2B demand marketers, Forrester says your brand must become a customer-obsessed enterprise to win the lead generation strategy.  This includes:

  1.  Investing in real-time data sharing for actionable customer intelligence.
  2. Shift spending from generalized to contextualized customer experiences.
  3. Tie the selling effort to the buyer’s process.
  4. Reallocation funds to support content creation over ad creative.

Points #3 and #4 are particularly relevant to this blog post because “getting on the short list” requires beginning on the “long list” (during Awareness and Consideration phases of the customer decision journey).  If you are not visible and do not maintain visibility during the information search process, you are unlikely to make the short list for a vendor RFP.

 So how do you connect and engage with buyers earlier in their decision journey?  Forrester offers some suggestions:

  1. Personalized content and email communications managed via automation technology
  2. Creation of buyer personas
  3. Sales and Service scripts focused on customer value
  4. Post-sales engagement
  5. Content calendars aligned with business priorities
  6. Journalists to tell the corporate or brand story to
  7. Sharable, trackable, utility-focused content

But where is all the advertising? (you might ask)  According to the IT Directors who spoke at Spicworks Unplugged last week, advertising is the last thing they have time (or interest) to read during their busy day.  They turn to peer communities and trusted influencers to inform their decisions (perhaps that’s why ad response rates continue to hover around 1% conversion).  This is not good news for ad agencies, and it serves as a notice to B2B marketers that the profile of agency (competency) that you’ve relied upon for decades may not be equipped to help you navigate the “new normal” as it relates to customer decision journeys.

I agree with Forrester’s observations, but offer the following adjustments to their thinking when advising my clients:

  • Ensure you benchmark your buyer persona assumptions every 12-24 months as buyer dynamics change and your marketing should adapt.
  • Go beyond Sales scripts to ensure all sales enablement tools focus on how your brand uniquely solves use case problems your buyers face.
  • Post-sales engagement is more than cross-selling; ensure you educate and collaborate with your best customers.  The ratio of informative versus sales content should be 5:1.
  • Balance your content calendar to both support business priorities but also recognize seasonal or other trending topics of interest to your target buyer audiences (supports thought leadership).
  • Broaden your Influencer Marketing strategy beyond journalists to also include bloggers, forum moderators, online community influencers (super users), and thought leaders.  Engage them and collaborate to deliver useful insights to their audiences to build brand advocacy and activate them to write about your brand (earned content).

This trend means that marketing department roles and budget allocations (as we knew them) are changing because the game has changed. Remember, you can’t score runs if you don’t get on base.  Getting on base means getting found and getting read by your target buyers BEFORE they contact your sales channels.  Getting found is now less about advertising and more about answering buyer questions as they search or being recommended by experts they trust.  That’s why the Home page banner on this website asks marketers this question: “Are you selling, or helping people buy?”

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