It’s no longer about Bs and Cs. It’s time to focus on Ps.

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How the convergence of B2B and B2C has coined the new wave of customer engagement, Business to People (B2P)

It is thought that B2B customers buy differently than B2C, thus marketing must be different. But let’s take a moment to think about the purchase path for the B2B buyer. In today’s digital age, B2B buyers are doing research online through search and social channels before even engaging with a supplier. In fact, SiriusDecisions predicts that by 2020, 73% of the B2B sales process will be complete before a sales person is ever engaged. We also found in a recent survey of consumers in B2C shopping that 67% desire a totally mobile path to purchase. With the convergence of mobile and social channels, we can safely predict that the shopping trends of B2C shoppers are quickly becoming the same habits of B2B buyers. Why? Because they are the same people!

It is time to consider B2B marketing as B2P – business to people. Not only are you marketing to an organization, you’re marketing to an individual. Consumer expectations on customer experience have evolved rapidly over the last few years with widespread availability of intelligent apps and connected experiences. Buyers, both B2B and B2C, expect a consistent experience across mobile, web, and in-person. B2B buyers are doing their research with whatever information is out there, not just what you put out there. In fact, Sirius Decisions reports that 60% of B2B buying decisions are made before direct contact with the company. That number is projected to rise to 73% by 2020.

When surveyed, every B2B decision maker said they’re on a social network, and an overwhelming amount said one social channel is important or very important in researching their purchase decision. Seventy percent do research on mobile, and 33% use it to make decisions. Ninety percent relied on search engines for their research, up from 67% in 2011.

It’s clearly time to be proactive in new ways. The key to B2P marketing success lies in managing the expanding mid funnel. This ever expanding mid funnel consist of addressable customers and is defined by “the opportunity to create competitive advantage through the delivery of targeted, personalized experiences to consumers.” However, it’s no longer just consumers who expect and demand to be “known” as they engage with a brand – business professionals are expecting the exact same treatment. Think about the expectations of your customers. If you could hear their thoughts, they might sound something like this, “You know what I’ve bought from you, you know my communication preferences, you know what you’ve promoted to me, and you understand the dynamics of my market/business. Now, engage with me and make content available to me that is relevant to my business/role/job function because I don’t have time for anything else.”

paulus_funnel

Mid-funnel management leverages your most valuable asset, your customer and prospect data, and uses it to define and target your most valuable customer segments via the relevant media, be that online or offline The result is an expanded mid-funnel and a new focus for marketing success. With the use of digital platforms, B2B marketers can now actively target buyers in the mid-funnel, those who are in the decision-making phase, with the information they need. This is a new strategy and a new approach to B2B marketing. By focusing on the mid-funnel, you will have a leg up on the competition with higher engagement and efficiency rates.

Implementing a Performance Marketing Center of Excellence (or Demand Center) is critical. This needs to be able to handle both the Data Management and Performance media needs capabilities to ensure a well thought out end to end design and “always on marketing” that handles the real time decisioning and understanding of where your customers and prospects are in their journey, offering them the right content at the right time, through the right media.

This is not easy, but the transformation is happening now.

Don’t just create content; deliver content that matters

Use your data to build a framework for customer engagement that includes: Context, using data to build a customer profile; Content, creating and delivering messages that resonate with this customers; Connectivity, bringing context and content together by reaching your customers through the platforms and channels preferred.

Make sure your marketing technology can deliver on the promise of addressability at scale

Effective marketing relies on technology that can capture and deliver upon relevant and timely 1st and 3rd party data. The ability to effectively capture and leverage identities (both online and offline), personas, and device IDs will become more important than ever. Ensuring that your marketing and operational technology stacks are “connected” will create the foundational infrastructure needed to deliver addressability to your clients.

Leverage new digital platforms to personalize the customer experience

Your business must display the platform marketing skills necessary to reach your mid-funnel audience. Take advantage of social platforms, optimize email, and leverage your own website to engage customers and convert prospects into buyers. This includes social and mobile optimization in addition to optimizing your search capabilities and website content.

These are heavy concepts but we’ll break them down into actionable insights in this series we’re calling, Business to People: Delivering on the Addressable Customer Experience in B2B Marketing. In our next article, we’ll dive deeper into the mid-funnel and the opportunities that exist for B2B marketers.

For more information on the mid-funnel opportunity, download the 2015 Marketing Imperatives.

Dave Paulus
Dave leads Merkle's vertical market practice for High Tech & B-to-B. As a seasoned executive with more than twenty years of CRM agency experience, he has oversight of Merkle's new business development strategies, client relationships, and delivery of services. Dave is part of Merkle's senior management team and currently serves on Merkle's executive committee.

5 COMMENTS

  1. I wholeheartedly agree that marketers need to devote more effort to connect with people rather than “targets” or “businesses.” I think your points to pay attention to personalization in marketing are important and worth following. But I struggle with the idea that selling things to people for personal use compares well to selling things to businesses. Notably, I think you have drawn a straight, but unreal, line for your comparison, “With the convergence of mobile and social channels, we can safely predict that the shopping trends of B2C shoppers are quickly becoming the same habits of B2B buyers. Why? Because they are the same people!”

    This is similar to saying “driving a car today is much like driving a tractor trailer because they both use the same roads.” I’m a pretty good driver, but I’d be more than dangerous trying to maneuver an 18-wheel truck. Even though today’s ‘B2C’ and ‘B2B’ still involve people selling to people, they are profoundly different in at least five ways:

    1) B2B selling requires complex collaboration, often involving different executives from finance, operations, IT, legal, and more. Quite often, this involves making strategic tradeoffs that are not present in consumer purchases. In B2C, decisions are often made by one person.
    2) B2B procurements involve funding options that are much broader than with B2C.
    3) B2B purchases are often rules-bound, and covered by corporate governance policies that do not exist with personal purchases.
    4) B2B purchases are frequently part of larger projects.
    5) B2B purchases involve strategic risks, something usually not part of the dynamic in personal purchases.

    There’s been a lot said about what percentage of the buying decision has been made before a sales organization gets involved. I think that the statement is valuable in terms of the trend that underlies it. Are buyers taking more time to vet choices before calling a salesperson? I think so. It seems logical and makes sense. Buyers have more information with which to research, and this idea matches up with what my clients are experiencing, anecdotally.

    But it also seems so inexact. Is it 60% of the buying decision today? 73% by 2020? And how does it vary between procurements of capital equipment and consumable purchases that go into manufactured items? For me, the problem is that these are precise percentages to describe something that is terribly imprecise. When, exactly, does a buying process start? Not only that, do the numbers describe chronological time, say 12 months as a buying cycle – which would mean no sales involvement until about 7.2 months? Or, does it mean, quite literally, that 60% of buying decisions are made before a vendor is involved? If that’s the case, I don’t know how you would count the number of decisions that are made in the average B2B purchase, but let’s suppose it’s 10,000 over the course of the procurement (I’m being conservative). That would mean 6,000 separate decisions are made before someone says, “let’s contact Vendors A, B, and C.” And, it doesn’t place any weight on the decisions, it considers “should we add a second cut-out in the base assembly?” the same as “Should we go with Vendor B as our primary supplier?”

    Whichever interpretation of “60% of the buying decision is made before direct contact with the vendor” you subscribe to, that ratio doesn’t provide any insight into the importance of the other 40%. Without that information, a vendor can only assume, “well, their mind is about 2/3 made up.” So far, I’ve never seen anyone who has shared that 60% number unpack it, but I’m interested to learn your thoughts on this.

  2. Dave – do you have a link to the Sirius Decisions study that you referenced at the beginning of this blog? Thanks.

  3. As a new member of CustomerTHINK, I’m excited by the level of activity my first post has generated. Thanks for your insightful comments. I am including the SiriusDecisions content that you requested in a subsequent post.

    Ultimately, the message here is about taking advantage of the opportunity that exists to “address” the company and contact with as much relevant and timely content as possible. We are not suggesting that the business buying behavior and cycle will mirror that of consumer buying behavior, in fact, we embrace the fact that motivators are different in our personal lives vs our business lives. However, we do believe that the tools and techniques that have advanced addressability in the consumer marketplace can and should become more prevalent in the B2B marketing space.

    The underlying premise here is that the B2B buyer is a person who has their own buying requirements, constraints, bias, and defined path to purchase (just as you call out and suggest in your five points) and the more we know, the more we can address their needs and customize that buying journey, including the trigger points captured (content download, blog read, path on a website, event attendance, sales inquiry) and leveraged in a connected marketing ecosystem.

    The exciting point that I am looking forward to expanding upon is the opportunity to augment 1st party data with the data that can be captured through 3rd party addressable media platforms. Now, B2B marketers can truly know their prospects as individuals. I’m not saying that it is easy – but the opportunity and technology exists to make it happen.

    With regards to the percentages and estimates for the future, that research was published by SiriusDecisions and we have not dissected the specific aspects of how those percentages were defined, however, we do subscribe to the theory that the more we can influence the pre-sales engagement buyer’s journey (get the 2/3 of a mind made up in OUR favor), the more relevant we can make it, increasing the odds of a successful conversion.

    Thanks again for the time you spent reading the post and for sharing your perspective.

  4. Thanks to Andrew Rudin for pointing out the very big differences between some B2C and B2B purchase processes. I agree with all his points, and I appreciate that he’s taken issue with what seemed–at first reading, at least–a simplistic view of the convergence between B2B and B2C purchase processes.

    B2B and B2C decision processes may indeed be converging for simple sales and for the early sages of complex sales. But the complex B2B sale, which by definition involves more than one decision maker, has little in common with most B2C sales and will always be very different.

    Dave Vranicar

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