Before the digital marketing boom, sales teams were the hunter-gatherers – the ones that had to go into the forest and slay or harvest what our company would subsist upon. In those days, the typical B2B marketer was asked to sharpen the arrows, restring the bows – and hope that our prep work was good enough to ensure an acceptable bounty.
When the sales team shouldered 100 percent of the prospective buyer’s journey, it was up to us to ensure the prospect knew about your company, could call or visit the office for more information, and were loaded down with a highly polished set of sales materials (and telephone script) that hooked them on the notion that yes, we are the definitive answer to their problem.
Now, a fundamental change in the way your B2B buyers access and receive their information, is serving to limit your sales team’s prospect engagement. Through the use of the Internet, personal network and social media, your customer is increasingly allowing their own online experience to shape their view of the market.
In fact, buyers are delaying vendor engagement until they are an average of 57 percent of the way through the buying process. Today’s salesperson has significantly less time to influence your prospect and provide context for your product. This means your company’s marketing team must bear down quickly, think holistically, and work hand in hand with sales in positioning your product online and against all competitors.
Now, there is no debate on whether you must include inbound marketing tactics like content marketing and social media in your strategy, if you’re really going to influence your prospect and compel them to consider your offering. Your potential buyer has every one of your competitors at their fingertips; therefore, your marketing and messaging really matter. CEOs, if your company continues to ignore how and what your customers are learning about you—you are at a tremendous disadvantage in the marketplace.
A Fundamental Shift in B2B Sales Processes
Your marketing team is responsible for significantly more of today’s sales funnel. With all of the content that’s available online to buyers, they are doing their own research and formulating all perceptions of your company and its solutions within your digital footprint.
If you fail to establish credibility through public relations and third party endorsements, you are immediately discounted. You need rich, informative, customer-focused content on your company website describing your product or solution in a way that addresses their needs and problems, not the way you see it. Web sites need to be more than just an online brochure of your products and services. A great option: Testimonials, sourced from satisfied customers, can be a powerful way to offer authentic feedback from a trusted, independent voice, and to serve as a source of self-education about how a real consumer uses your company’s products and services.
As decisions become more complex, there are more stakeholders in the process, and as the purchases become larger, the buyer becomes more senior in the process. As more senior people get involved in deals and purchases, risk aversion becomes higher. Effective online content and a strong digital footprint are the only ways to combat this aversion.
Testing Your Marketing Message’s Effectiveness
Your marketing team needs to have a cohesive marketing strategy and message, instead of just checking off boxes in random acts of marketing that they hope will all come together. A fancy-looking new website, or one monotonous press release, will not take you in the right direction. When your messaging can’t effectively transit your consumer through the buying funnel – reinforcing the journey with clear, concise, and resonant messaging -- you will likely squander the opportunity.
I invite you to run the following quick test to determine if your website content is on the right track:
Test 1: Do your customers see themselves using your product or solution? Can they understand why they need it and what problems are solved for them from the content on your website?
Test 2: Do you have a solid understanding of the buyer’s journey through today’s funnel, and has your marketing team enabled the right acquisition process and tools, including clear and concise documentation, testimonials and a compelling business case that lays out the financial impact that the product or service delivers?
Test 3: Where on your website are you establishing brand credibility in the marketplace? How are you leveraging PR so you have third-party validation that you’re a player? We all know that today’s buyers don’t believe salespeople—how will you address that in your content strategy?
A CEO’s Guide to Shifting Focus
I see it every day in working with B2B companies—they have a PR firm, a social media manager, they’re spending money, their intentions are in the right place—but they don’t have a solid strategy in what they are searching for, and how to get results. Their blogs are filled with jargon incomprehensible to the person they are trying to reach and market to, and their web content is heavy and emotionally exhausting to read. Nothing is clear to the potential buyer. Calls to action are weak or nonexistent.
Reboot your messaging strategy by determining your place in the market. From your positioning statement, travel down and start building a value proposition so you have a unique, customer-centric story to tell the marketplace. Spend time as a leadership team with these considerations—this is not just an exercise for your marketing department, but for all decision makers and stakeholders. I also implore you to consider the following:
Integrate Your Digital Tactics into the Broader Marketing Campaign
Treat your marketing strategy as a cohesive campaign, where all points meet in the middle, including social media, web content, your sales process, and public relations tactics. This can be achieved by regular refocusing and decision-making meetings punctuated by short, contained periods of collaboration across the funnel. Paid search, SEO, online advertising, blogs, social media posts, and your corporate website all should fall under your broader marketing campaign. Inbound marketing is not a vacuum unto itself.
Monitor, Track, and Report on Objectives
Create a quantitative basis for success, and track performance against campaign objectives. Even if seamless data integration is impossible, steps can be taken to gauge the impact of interactivity and integration of both digital and offline tactics. Review how all efforts are integrated and building upon one another on a regular basis to determine if certain departments or activities have weaknesses.
Review and Refine Campaign Practices
Consistently survey your internal marketing resources to determine which campaigns work and which don’t. Scan external practices for new ideas to employ internally. Review and select successful campaign structures, then create standard campaign architectures, specifying the best applications and tools to support both learning and adaptation over time.
By shifting your company’s sales and marketing focus to the reality of today’s marketplace, and most importantly, today’s consumer, you will ensure that your company’s messaging is making a significant impact. Remember, your corporate messaging is read by today’s consumer, not today’s internal salesperson—communicate with the end user, your buyer in mind, and your marketing strategy will reboot itself into the unique environment of today’s marketplace.
Karen is a Silicon Valley-based CMO with Chief Outsiders who supports CEOs and their leadership teams, helping them take their game to the next level by building strategic programs that accelerate revenue. Her experience spans both executive sales and marketing across small, mid and enterprise companies and brings over a decade of experience in Cloud Computing Platforms. Follow Karen at @HaywardKG, call her at 650-823-4292, or write firstname.lastname@example.org.