B2B buyers have fundamentally changed how they approach the purchasing process.
They are time poor and risk averse - but also (due to the internet) enormously well informed.
They resent our "interruptive" marketing approaches such as advertising, cold calling, direct (e)mail etc - and they don't trust our salespeople. They are more than happy (in fact demanding) to do their own research, and then call upon us as vendors and service providers when they are ready.
With social media they can reach out to friends, experts - in fact anyone interested - and get detailed feedback on the problems they're trying to solve, the solutions they're investigating, and who to purchase them from.
What does this all mean for our demand generation and sales efforts?
If we accept that we should be aligning our sales and marketing efforts with the buyer's journey, we should compare this journey to our current sales funnel.
Comparing the buyer's journey to our sales process
The above graphic shows a typical sales process (blue), and the typical buyer's journey (green) (NB - full disclosure - I have no doubt my green representation of the buyer's journey is plagiarism - I've seen something very similar before, but I can't remember/find the source. Apologies if I've copied your work without reference - and if anyone knows the original source please do let me know so I can update).
B2B buyers don't just wake up in the morning and say "I must go out and buy something" - they only need to buy something once the have a problem, or they recognise the opportunity to grow/improve. In other words - their status quo is shattered. When this happens, in over 90% of occasions they will go to a search engine, and type in words associated with their problem - just to see who else has had the problem, what they've done about it etc. At this stage they DON'T know what sort of solution they want - they're just trying to frame the problem in their heads.
By searching online, however, they start to frame the problem, and start to come up with categories of solutions:
SEARCHING AROUND PROBLEM -> CATEGORISING PROBLEM -> FRAMING SOLUTION
I can't pay the bills -> I have a cashflow problem -> I need to buy an overdraft from the bank
I'm falling behind my competitors -> I keep bringing new products to market too late -> I need to buy collaboration software so my product development team can work better
My sales staff keep resigning -> I'm not doing the right sort of professional development -> I need to buy a sales training program
If we are unaware that the buyer has a problem and that therefore their "status quo" has been shattered, then the buyer will proceed along a path of researching their options via search engines, framing the problem they have and hence choosing a category of solution - and will then use social media to reach out to colleagues and respected experts to discuss the best solution, and who to purchase it from. The problem for the selling organisation is that there is only a small likelihood that the buyer will CORRECTLY diagnose their problem - and then arrive at what they believe the BEST solution to be - and then ring US to engage with us to hopefully purchase our solution.
If we are not "listening" online - and/or if we don't have an inbound marketing strategy attracting buyers to our website - then the RED arrow in the diagram above will prevail: if we find out about the buyer at all, it will be after they have already framed their problem, solution, and narrowed down their list of prospective service providers. It's very hard to influence the sale at this stage - low percentage return in competing head on with other sales organisations that the buyer may also have contacted.
We need to move from the "red line" to the "green line", which represents early engagement.
So - the question is - how can we be alerted to the fact that a buyer's status quo has been shattered AS SOON AS THEY START SEARCHING AROUND THE PROBLEM?
Getting buyers to find us when they're not looking for us
One approach is to use search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques so that - when the buyer does hit the search engines - a page on our website comes up at the top of the list. This means that your website should NOT be dominated with stories about your company or your products - it's unlikely that the buyer with their new problem will search for us! THEY DON'T EVEN KNOW YET WHAT THEIR PROBLEM IS!
What is important is to outline all of the phrases that you think the buyer might type into the search engine straight after discovering they have a problem - and have a page on your website for each one (see 1st case study in this series). (And - yes - my website is being rebuilt as we speak!)
The SEO game has changed only recently, with the Google's and Microsoft's of the world changing their search algorithms to - in particular - incorporate social media. Well researched keywords are no longer enough - our ability and intent to engage via social media is also now critical.
Being where buyers are
Social media extends to us - and B2B buyers - the opportunity to instantly relate to a range of peers and experts, to discuss problems, talk about solutions etc. The concept of an online "community" is particularly popular, and is championed by the Linkedin's of the world via their Groups construct - or indeed communities can be purpose built to attract specific participants.
In terms of the buyer's journey - by joining or forming groups where our target B2B buyers "hang out", we will be on hand to hear when they're having a problem, as they discuss this within the confines of a forum. Important rule, though, is NOT to "sell" - buyers resent this. Rather - we should provide advice and content to the buyer to assist them frame their problem and identify a solution. If we're seen as "helpful" and "expert", they'll approach us - we won't need to "sell".
Using social media to "listen" for "sales triggers"
"Sales triggers" are things that happen to buyers, that shatter their status quo.
The excellent book SHIFT! explains that there are 3 types of sales triggers:
1 - An unsatisfactory experience with a current supplier (with Twitter being a huge source of expressed disatisfaction)
2 - Some sort of problem in their business (FOCUS an excellent example of a site dedicated to getting problems solved)
3 - A change in job role, or indeed company (B2B folk like to put their "mark" on a new role - with Linkedin automatically sending us these details direct, or conveniently collated by new sites such as IKO System).
However we do it - if we can be alerted to these sales triggers, we have the opportunity to engage early, which has always been the cornerstone of successful selling.
How many opportunities are you missing out on, by waiting for the buyer to contact you after they've diagnosed their own problem, and BY CHANCE has been given a recommendation to contact your organisation?