Today, sales person is rarely the first point of contact for customers; if they need to know about products. Customers first go online and do their initial research even before contacting a sales person or visiting a store. This is more pronounced in case of B2C products – thanks to the multitude of e-commerce sites and other online options. However, even in the B2B market segment, customers are increasingly turning to the Internet for initial research.
Hence organizations cannot afford to ignore their presence online – particularly in the forums that their target audience frequent. They have to capture the attention of prospective customers right at the beginning of their buying process – when they go online. With careful content strategy, you will be able to pull the right customers to your website and other online forums initiated by you.
Here are some ideas on how organizations can make the most of technology to connect with their customers and educate them about their products and services.
Create an Online Repository of Knowledge and Educate Your Customers
B2B sales are complex and involve multiple people at different levels. You may not have the senior decision maker doing the initial research. Usually a junior person might be designated to scout for the initial information. To ensure that you are on their list of service providers, provide clear and concise information that can be easily understood by individuals at all levels.
Ensure that your content is search engine optimized and features at the top during an Internet search. Use the opportunity to educate them about your products and how they can provide solutions to customers’ needs. Supplement information about your services on the website with case studies, blogs, articles by experts that establish your credibility in the domain and authority over the subject matter. These articles may touch upon latest developments in the market and provide an overview of the latest in the industry.
Deloitte, the Boston-based consultancy firm does this quite well by having a content strategy that works for its varied customers. They have how-to-guides and resources that are categorized based on the topics and can appeal to a broad audience. Make your website a ‘go to’ place for anyone seeking information about your industry in general and specific solutions in particular.
Use Social Media and Learning Technologies Along with Your Company’s Website
Your organization’s website can provide only limited information. Also, it is not necessary that your customers discover or come to you only through organic search on the Internet. It is important that you have a presence in multiple online forums so that prospective customers get to know about you through multiple sources. Therefore, it is important that you have your presence in multiple forums – LinkedIn Groups, Professional Communities of Practice, Online Forums or Trade Associations. You may also want to have a YouTube channel for your products or services. Cisco uses social media very effectively with a range of useful resources for their customers. Its YouTube channel is very popular with 127,675 subscribers and 17,942,913 views since it joined in 2005. Their content includes product demonstrations, presentations, question and answers.
Another way is to engage in discussions in professional groups or bodies. Create exclusive groups for your target segment where they meet and exchange ideas and knowledge about the domain. American Express has an Open Forum targeting small business owners. The forum has blog posts and videos giving advice and suggestions to this target segment. It is also the place where members share their ideas with peers as well as experts.
If you have a large network of dealers, distributors or business partners, you could create an exclusive learning management portal that can be used train your partners on products, services, educate them on latest happenings in the market, provide updates on products and also engage with them on a continual basis.
Use Multiple Content Formats
Today, content is absorbed in multiple formats based on the situation and context and also the device from which the information is retrieved. Information about your organization, products and services form the core of the content which you will be handling. You may prioritize which content gets more importance over others based on your content strategy.
Whatever is your content strategy, develop the content in multiple formats so that it appeals to a wider audience. If it is your website, you have to make sure you have product videos, customer testimonials, a short message from the CEO or the chairman about the company’s vision and mission. If you are engaging with prospective customers in social media, you may want to use podcasts, videos and periodic articles to ensure your content reaches individuals with varied preferences.
You may develop product videos that demonstrate how your products address the unique needs of your audiences. Get your prospects to subscribe to your newsletter so that they get regular updates and information about the domain in general and your products in particular. Ensure that the content is not unduly promotional as you might risk losing readership and subscriptions to your newsletters or updates.
According to a report by Gallup, B2B companies might risk being replaced because they are not engaging with their customers enough. About 71% of those surveyed are either indifferent or actively disengaged with their customers. Having the right resources online can help customers find relevant information that could address their queries. With good product videos, troubleshooting tips and other such resources, when customers have problems, they can find resources to address the issue.
With Internet, engaging with customers and educating them on your products or services is easy. You need to plan the extent of engagement that you can afford in social media, the type of content you wish to share and so on. A company’s website as well as its social media sites have to be dynamic places where there is a constant flow of information, exchange of ideas and connections to other relevant and useful resources. It ensures customer education and continuous engagement that is essential to retain customers in the long run.