For companies in the technology, media and telecommunications space, traditional B2B customer-focused tactics have been augmented by other tactics which have been traditionally used in the B2C and consumer space, such as social media. According to Corey Torrence, Managing Director at Blue Ridge Partners, “There are three main areas. One is the recognition of the concept that there is a purchase journey, which started in the consumer space. The second is access to data and analytics, and the third is identification of the buyer persona.”
Torrence also notes that “It’s important to understand that the sales process is no longer a linear process.” TMT sales organizations which use that older linear approach are not able to position themselves for future growth, and will become less relevant as their competitors recognize the true nonlinear nature of the sales process. “It really comes down to how can I reduce my cost of acquisition and shorten my sales cycle, and reduce the cost of conversion. I think there is a lot that was learned from the consumer side.”
Traditionally, the sales process begins with an introduction to the company and services. While it seems to make sense, this introduction is far less relevant than it has ever been, and chances are, customers already know much more about your company and product line than you realize. “Buyers are much more sophisticated,” says Torrence. “They have access to much more data, and you might be talking to somebody the first time, but they’re already at step six in the buying process. If you start with an introduction of who you are, it’s going to be a short conversation.”
Understanding the buyer persona may seem counter-intuitive to B2B marketers, who may see the customer as a corporation, rather than seeing the customer as the individual people within that corporation.
B2B buyers are veering away from the linear process, in large part because the people who run the process have become more accustomed to consumer-focused tactics like social media, smartphone-based ordering, and peer reviews – and they want those tactics in the workplace, too. “They don’t just want them, they expect them,” said Torrence. “The bar is being raised because those personas, the more sophisticated buyers, are just that. They’re buyers, they’re not just people that are going to be sold to. They’ve done most of their shopping before they’ve ever connected with a live person.”
As a result, that first step that B2B marketers have for so long placed so much value in – introducing the company and product line – is nearly irrelevant. At the first point of interaction, the customer is often already familiar with the product line, the competitor’s product lines, and they are ready to make a purchase. This reality has made digital marketing more important than ever – since most of the marketing to the customer is done before a live contact has been made.
The first step – if there is a first step in today’s nonlinear sales environment – is to seed the digital landscape with information, so that customers will be able to find relevant thought leadership, unbiased content, and product details in multiple locations. Those locations may include relevant industry publications, as well as the company blog, research consultancy reports, or increasingly, on peer review sites which are now embracing B2B reviews as well as consumer reviews.
That may also include social media. While B2B companies are still resisting social media, younger people are coming into buying positions and are more accustomed in their personal lives to using social media as part of the buying process, and they are bringing that expectation into the corporate world. “It’s becoming more and more important,” said Torrence. “You ignore it at your own peril. If a customer has a bad experience, then all of a sudden, a million people are aware of it. More people are looking at those ratings than ever before, and they’re looking at comments that have been made by others who are similar to them: a common persona.”