Michael D. Moberly and Alan Joseph Arellano, Online Marketing Director, Tenfold
January 8, 2018
There are countless worthy quotes attributed to Albert Einstein, the following one seems quite relevant to the evolution of B2B marketing and sales, i.e., ’if I had an hour to solve a problem I would spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions”!
What is B2B…
B2B, a phrase that most agree emerged between 1990-1995. Tenfold – B2B Marketing.docx. This phrase, has since, become an integral part of business lexicon where it remains today. In its formal context, B2B is ‘business to business’ marketing and sales transactions conducted over the Internet, hence describing trade between commercial business organizations rather than between businesses and private customers. Of course, this narrow binary definition has become variously blurred with the substantial successes achieved by companies, i.e., Amazon, etc., which indeed cater to individual customers.
Again generally, B2B transactions represent a means whereby products and services are exchanged (primarily) between established businesses, rather than between individual consumers. Of course, depending on the nature and size of the B2B’s involved, and the durable nature of the goods (products and/or services) sought, buy-sell transactions are typically engaged -entered- into as long-term relationships and often represent a significant, if not the primary source of income for the seller, due, in no small part to the necessity to seek – achieve brand loyalty between prospective buyers and the B2B they have engaged.
Who are today’s prospective B2B buyers…?
One reality is, prospective B2B buyers today are younger! Respectfully, there is expanding millennial (generation) influence in B2B buy – don’t’ buy decision. Thus, B2B’s are urged to make relevant adjustments to their sales-marketing initiatives to accommodate the millennial (product-service) researcher, influencer, and potential buyer. B2B’s opting to make such adjustments in content and process, are urged not to treat same as a wholesale opportunity to wholly disregards past practices and beliefs and practices because some may still have relevance to the prospective buyers (B2B) buying experience and journey.
A Pew Research Center study did find, not surprisingly, that millennials are the single biggest generation cluster in the American workforce today and are being elevated to positions of influence regarding B2B purchases. webbiquity.com/tag/pew-research-center/
Nearly half of all B2B prospective buyers who conduct ‘buy’ research are millennials. Over the past two years, there’s been a dramatic shift in the B2B researcher demographic. In 2012 for example, there was a relatively even mix across age groups. In 2014, however, 18- to 34-year-olds accounted for almost half of all B2B prospective buyer researchers, an increase of 70%.
It is true, B2B marketing-sales initiatives have experienced significant increases in resources in recent years. Traditionally, B2B marketing and sales have focused much of their time-effort to coordinating, with prospective buyers, demonstrations of their product and/or service to prospective buyers, who presumably have conveyed interest in the form of ‘click on’. In these instances, following a B2B demo, there will be an orchestrated initiative to more thoroughly engage the prospective buyer. When and where relevant, an intent for doing so, is to not merely make a single sale, rather create a relationship for long-term, perhaps exclusive or permanent supply-sales agreements.
With more regularity, prospective buyers conduct – engage in a bid process with a B2B for a sought-after product or service. In some instances, such bid practices are requisite to any buy decision. Too, such bid processes are generally presumed to serve as-a-means to identify and distinguish the best possible offer, especially when there are multiple sellers – suppliers of products-services whose functionality and/or features are comparable.
It is also true, that B2B’s are competitive, e.g., their business model may…
• necessitate buyers purchase relatively high(er) volumes of products and/or services, and,
• involve merchandising specialized and/or horizonal products or services which at the time of need – buying decision, exist few other places, i.e., there are few competitors.
An obviously necessary objective for B2B’s is to consistently endeavor to positively elevate the buyer-customer experience. There are numerous strategies for accomplishing this, three of which include producing relevant, forward looking, and ‘how to and why’ content in websites, white papers, and blogs, etc.
It is prudent for B2B’s to consider all content related to a B2B prospective buyer experience, to reflect – accommodate the totality of their needs and expectations. As business enterprises, B2B’s, should ensure their practices maximize efficient, effective, and at will engagements with prospective buyers, whether it is initiated remotely, globally, through any device or platform.
Some experts now suggest B2B’s that function exclusively in remote mode insofar as interactions with prospective buyers, are unlikely to overtake the more conventional B2B practices. That may be an especially accurate prognostication when prospective buyer’s need – research – buy process remain sequentially intact and when prospective buyers favor voice support services. However, interacting remotely or through virtual assistance-guidance is known to be a preferred method when acquiring certain product, i.e., services, computer software, and IT (tech) support, etc.
B2B sales-marketing initiatives have generally focused on c-suites and senior-executives…
Sustaining this focus will not be nearly as effective today as perhaps as it was previously. Why? The B2B ecosystem of product – service researchers and buy-don’t buy influencers around has changed dramatically.
A relevant example of this occurred with Caterpillar in 2016. Cat launched four new videos for their “Built For It” branding campaign. They recognized their B2B audience is younger and fully embedded in the online and digital arena, according to Caterpillar Global Marketing Services Manager Renee Richardson. One strategy was to make the Caterpillar, ala Cat® brand, more human, more approachable, and more relevant to the millennials who were engaged in researching, assessing, and recommending, if not making, buy – don’t buy decisions.
While 64% of existing c-suites have final decision-making authority, it’s important to recognize that 24% of the non-c-suite personnel have (purchase) decision-making authority as well. What’s more, it’s the latter that has the most influence; 81% of non-c-suiters play a role in buy – don’t buy decisions. Clearly then, when-if B2B’s marketing and sales (content) focus only to the highest (c-suite) levels, B2B’s are overlooking the real influences, who now warrant attention and inclusion. Caterpillar experienced this evolution and realized it needed to change, e.g., ‘everything was being done at the c-suite level, but then we learned that new (Caterpillar) engineers coming on board were just going online and placing orders independently’, says Richardson.
Influencing a prospective B2B buyer’s journey in the digital era…
There are numerous strategies which B2B’s can apply to try to favorably influence the buy – don’t buy decisions of the emerging B2B researcher and prospective buyer. In greater numbers they are millennials who are inclined to engage the product-service assessment process with novel – distinctive preferences with respect to what they’re seeking and how they approach-conduct their online research in advance. At the core, are the various actions prospective buyers’ take insofar as…
• dealing with both conventional and horizonal B2B marketing and sales strategies, and the
• conventional hurdles associated with (a.) digital integration, (b.) content, and (c.) channel mix.
Conventional product-service marketing campaigns (models) have largely been rendered obsolete relative to the nuanced preferences and tactics exhibited by prospective B2B researchers and buyers. The latter is now empowered with more access to content integrated with relevant data and information, and who, for the most part, understand how to use it effectively and efficiently.
For prospective B2B buyers, learning about a company’s products – services through conventional marketing-sales campaigns are often not well integrated or synchronized to provide consistent (product-service) messaging. This influences prospective buyers to conduct their own (independent) research on multiple (10-15+) B2B’s as part of their assessment, leading toward a buy – don’t buy recommendation.
B2B’s are obliged now, to have comprehensive digital integration…
For these reasons, B2B’s online presence should now be designed to acknowledge, accommodate, and reflect the research methodologies-preferences practiced by prospective buyers. B2B’ are well advised to respect and endeavor to be as accommodating as possible to prospective buyer’s engagement and decision preferences.
Below are strategically important and prudent steps B2B’s would also be well advised to consider as the ‘starting points’ to a comprehensive digital integration program, according to the Marketing Leadership Council of CEB:
1. Document existing marketing campaign architectures and objectively distinguish the more-most effective strategies relative to deliverables and output.
2. Recognize that establishing a respectful dialogue with a B2B sales and marketing team is necessary and a prelude to reviewing-assessing product-service marketing practices to recognize what works and what doesn’t.
3. Observe and analyze external marketing and sales practices that are (objectively) known to have (at some point) to have functioned effectively as a means for B2B’s to get closer to their (sales) goals and with more consistency.
4. Organize, distinguish, and incorporate known ‘best practice’ into marketing and sales initiatives, i.e.,
• recreate B2B’s marketing-sales campaign structure.
• refine designated practices for which there is little or no objective evidence of functioning as expected or desired.
• repeat the process until the B2B is consistently reaching its ideal presence and goals.
5. Develop specific (how to) guides for implementing B2B sales-marketing campaigns that genuinely encompass and reflect the influences of the digital age B2B buyer’s journey, along with a readily accessible resource center (depositories) were the guides, necessary tools, and other information regarding digital integration.
The standard for B2B sales-marketing content…purposeful, learned, and focused!
A-number-of B2B marketers have adopted ‘content marketing’. Unfortunately, some have done so as if ‘content’ was potentially fleeting and reversible trend vs. a permanent and informative preference of buyers. The former has led some B2B’s to write-insert relatively frivolous content that (reads) disorganized and is absent a necessarily informative, clear, consistent, and purposed message to prospective buyers. Reliance on sub-par content, of course, breeds other challenges. One of which is, as noted previously, the presence of largely useless information that’s been integrated throughout a B2B’s website, blog, etc. In other words, the contents’ language has probably does not inform or teach prospective buyers about the distinctiveness and ways to differentiate that B2B’s products and/or services. In these circumstances, a B2B’s content is unlikely to attract and engage prospective buyers to take the next (affirmative) step in the overall buying journey.
There are often several factors that may contribute to such circumstances. For example, web design, management, and content teams may be overly focused – concerned with the website’s (potential Google) ranking in overall search results. Thus, a rationale for including uninformative ‘click bait’ types of language that lack continuity and genuine messaging. True, in numerous situations, B2B’s outsource their website, blog, and social media management without providing the vendor with intimately descriptive guides – support with authentic – informative language that conveys – articulates a B2B’s distinctive message regarding its products and/or services.
Obviously, when such adverse circumstances are acknowledged, it is important to execute relevant remedies as quickly as possible. In many instances, this can be achieved by bringing together in-house personnel most familiar with the B2B’s products and services. The reasons for making the changes to website-blog language of course, are prospective buyers’ affirmative engagement, we know, often pivots on the quality and informative nature of the content which, in turn, can influence a prospective buyer at any point in their buy – don’t buy journey. Effective – informative content after all, is at the core of nurturing leads and prospective buyers and being positioned to engaging them before the opt out to a competitor.
Genuinely – articulately conveyed content brings clarity to B2B’s products-services areas and should be designed to attract the interest of a target audience. Content, in this context, means that it should be consistently fresh, relevant, and updated through prudent content review and curation. Helpful to achieving this of course, lies in B2B’s obligation to develop a real time and introspective understanding of prospective buyers and their information-data preferences and requirements. Doing so allows them to learn about the products-services independently because all content should purposefully align with a B2B’s offerings.
B2B buyers are searching for tech solutions…
In today’s go fast, go hard, go global, go black B2B environment, there is, obviously, at will accessibility to both subscription-fee based and open source (free) information and data from which others can build, perfect, and/or make their buy – don’t buy decision. To achieve prospective buyers at will accessibility to information and data they are seeking – reflect their research preferences is essential to B2B’s success.
To be sure, information-data generated by – from marketing-sales teams can be incorporated in companies’ in-bound marketing, i.e., to perfect websites, white papers, and blog posts by integrating relevant (tactical and strategic toned) language. Too, companies are fiduciarily obliged to have best SOM (stewardship, oversight, and management) practices in place, not dis-similar to what is required currently insofar as countering and mitigating the persistent and irreversible presence of online (cyber) risks. Such risks, when materialized, adversely affect a any B2B’s reputation, brand, and image, etc. When SOM practices are effectively applied and integrated, they can ensure existing (product, service marketing and sales information, i.e., content and data of import to prospective buyers remain fully accessible.
Indeed, this is one example of the realities and responsibilities associated with the operation of a B2B, i.e., to sustain indeterminate control over information-data outputs and content which are especially necessary now relative to the highly-evolved nature-practices of B2B buyers globally who, among other things, routinely, and necessarily, engage in targeted online research.
Data points worthy of every B2B’s notice…
According to a 2014 research report titled ‘The Digital Evolution in B2B Marketing’ conducted by the Marketing Leadership Council of CEB (now known as Gartner) in partnership with Google, prospective B2B buyers are unlikely to actually-engage a sales representative until 57 percent of a prospective buyer’s journey has been completed. We assess this finding, standing alone, to be very relevant and encourage B2B’s to acknowledge same in advance of executing their ‘inbound’ marketing-sales strategy, a part of which will also address-incorporate the ‘customer buying experience’, ala journey.
It is equally important for B2B marketers to distinguish, with the necessary precision, prospective buyers’ preferences insofar as when sales representatives should engage. More specifically, as B2B (sales) representatives becomes more attuned to the optimal time frame(s) for engaging prospective buyers during their research process and respecting their preferences, it would lead to opportunities to (a.) differentiate – distinguish their product-service, and (b.) address specific issues-questions related to its acquisition and operational ready state.
One path to achieving this is for B2B’s to train – empower sales representatives to expand their responsibilities beyond solely about making a sale and/or meeting a sales quota. The rationale for doing so is, it should now be obvious, prospective buyers’ buy – don’t buy journey manifests as being well-armed with information – data about a product-service, which they have personally gleaned and which will likely be applied to the buy – don’t buy decision.
Prospective B2B buyer journey in the digital age…
We are reminded that prospective B2B buyers generally engage a sales representative only at 57 percent mark into their buying journey. We don’t believe this fact should be overly disconcerting to conventional (marketing – sales) perspectives because, after all, other relevant studies tell us that…
• 31% of the respondents admit they prefer a wholly unassisted B2B purchase, with telephonic assistance (for the buy process) available on a just-in-case basis.
• 10 percent of prospective B2B buyers claim they want no assistance whatsoever.
• 12+ percent say they prefer to be walked through the entire purchasing process.
Perhaps these revelations prompt some ‘marketing and sales teams’ to scratch their head a bit and begin to wonder, just where in the digital age (B2B) buying journey do – will they ultimately fit? Or, conversely, what changes can be expected.in B2B marketing and sales? To sew more confusion in this process, one must recall the ‘Salesforce’s Pardot’ survey conducted in 2013 and titled ‘State of Demand Generation Report’. The findings of this report claim that 71+ percent of prospective B2B buyers start with a Google search, followed by professional networks at 15+%, and social (media) networks at 2 percent.
All of this of course, variously influences how, why, and when B2B’s are now obliged to recognize the various options – paths that prospective buyers can pursue as part of their buy – don’t buy process. For example, should a company seek CTI (computer telephony integration) solutions that integrates existing telephone systems to CRM (customer resource management), it is likely prospective buyers research and the ultimate buy-don’t buy decision will commence with a series of online searches and research.
Prospective B2B buyers are also inclined to research relevant industry forums to learn what peers and competitors say about the product and/or service being researched in addition to distinguishing experiences with various vendors in the overall – targeted market space. Prospective buyers will also examine blogs, reviews, and how-to resources to learn about and assess whether a particular-product, service, or system will – can fit the projected requirements which routinely includes the capability to be systematically flexible to reflect buyer’s expectations and needs. Too, it is through such increasingly rigorous research that prospective B2B buyers engage in, they will be positioned to more readily identify the top B2B vendors, which the prospective buyer (researcher) in turn may then invite to conduct a presentation and offer a bid.
For prospective B2B buyers with the proclivity to conduct higher levels of research in advance, this circumstance can be interpreted as welcoming for B2B’s in terms of presumably producing more sales-ready buyers. Therefore, B2B’s are obliged to consider how they may favorably influence prospective buyer’s buy decision by ensuring there is consistency and clarity insofar as marketing and differentiating their products and/or services.
Should these findings of these studies-surveys cited above, taken collectively, persist, it could suggest that many B2B’s are destined to begin functioning primarily as ‘order takers’. Should this be a reasonably accurate characterization, it will surely leave fewer opportunities for entrée by B2B marketing – sales representatives to prospective buyers, (a.) relative to their product research journey, and (b.) contribute to product – service distinctions and differentiation.
In no small part that’s because prospective buyers can glean a (reasonably) clear understanding about a B2B’s offerings, i.e., it’s products-services, etc., by examining websites, blog posts, white papers, etc. For B2B sales persons, this reality may make it more challenging to sway prospective buyers once they are in the decisional mode. Unless – until a B2B can effectively and persuasively incorporate B2B marketing and sales principles, with (a.) digital integration, (b.) focused content, and (c.) use the same online channels to communicate with prospective buyers.
Research conducted by prospective B2B buyers…
Admittedly, there have been numerous studies describing behaviors of prospective B2B buyers. One commonality (among those studies) worthy of more emphasis is that prospective B2B buyers commence product-service research, often, well in advance of seeking a sales person (if they ever do). This translates to the content of B2B’s websites and blogs, etc., should reflect a persuasively learned roadmap relevant to a prospective buyer’s journey.
Not coincidentally, another research report conducted in 2014 by the Acquity Group, a digital marketing firm associated with Accenture, found the number of prospective B2B buyers who engage in online research as a prelude to their buy – don’t buy decision, is 94 percent. The Acquity Group’s research also found that the top (so-called) go to websites were at the 84 percent mark, followed closely by 77 percent of prospective B2B buyers who utilize Google for their initial search for designated products-services.
Other online resources relevant to most B2B buying journeys are (a.) third party websites (34%), such as independently written blogs and industry websites, and (b.) online user reviews (41%). Googles’ Analytics Advocate, Adam Singer, confirmed these findings at a ClickZ Live conference (presentation) in San Francisco. Singer noted that, on average, prospective B2B buyers may examine 10+ online resources before reaching out to a sales representative.
B2B searches typically commence generically…
Again, studies-surveys find that those involved in the B2B buying process are already 57% of the way down the path to a decision before they may find it necessary to actually perform an action on a company’s website. As B2B brands seek new prospective buyers, it becomes increasingly important to understand prospective buyers’ perspective throughout their research and product-service differentiation time frame.
Average number of searches prospective buyers conduct prior to engaging a B2B sales rep…
The fact is, on average, prospective B2B buyers conduct 12 independent searches prior to engaging a specific brand’s website, but, how they arrive there involves an interesting mix, one being branded and category searches. That is, about 71% start with a generic search query. This translates as prospective B2B buyers are seeking relevant information and data regarding the product-service first, versus seeking a specific B2B. Based on data from the Customer Journey tool, one recognizes that, for large and medium B2B’s, generic paid services can favorably influence the early stages of a prospective buyers’ path to purchase.
In other words, “what was once thought to be the traditional purchasing methodology, e.g., through relationships, is now occurring online,” says Caterpillar’s Global Marketing Services Manager Renee Richardson. “The point of contact with sales comes much later, so B2B’s are obliged to be prepared to present their value story to prospective buyers much earlier and articulate it in a much simpler manner.”
It’s no longer sufficient to just to bid on your brand’s terms. Influence and decision making are happening earlier on in the purchasing path, often even prior to brand awareness. Marketing and sales are now obliged to identify precisely where – how they can be a relevant to the buy – don’t buy equation, preferably at earlier stages, and perhaps throughout the entire process.
B2B sales-marketing video, integral to research and buy – don’t buy decision process…
According to studies cited here, increasing percentages of B2B researchers and prospective buyers watch video related to their search, and, their viewing is not merely cursory. According to (U.S.) YouTube data, over 895k hours of some of the top B2B videos were watched in 2014. Nearly half of B2B researchers are viewing 30+ minutes of B2B-related video during their research process, and almost one in five watch-over an hour of video content.
Videos that describe product-service features attract the most attention and viewing time. The rationale is, B2B video often is highly useful and, also contribute to extending the (digital, online) conversation. Perhaps most enlightening, when prospective B2B researchers – buyers were asked what they did after watching a B2B video, their responses included (a.) talking with colleagues, (b.) searching for more information, (c.) visiting a brand’s website/store, and/or (d.) sharing the video with relevant others.
It’s fair to suggest then, B2B video is playing more substantive roles for B2B researchers and prospective buyers. This, of course, translates to B2B’s should be producing (video) content that actually-contributes to researchers and prospective buyers achieving operational familiarity about the targeted product or service for comparative purposes, and further research into a potential B2B purchase under consideration.
B2B success and sustainability…
Obviously, an increasingly important consideration with respect to B2B marketing and sales is the evolving demographics of one’s audience. B2B buy – don’t buy influencers are likely to be younger than expected. Therefore, B2B’s are obliged to reach that audience, (a.) wherever, whenever, and whoever they are, and (b.) provide them with the type – level of content they need – are seeking. For a still significant percentage of B2B’s, this translates to (c.) elevating the intensity of the search – research process, (d.) acknowledging that more B2B research originates from mobile devices, and (e.) incorporating quality – content rich video that is readily accessible and will collectively contribute to progressing prospective buyers through the path to purchase. This, according to Kelsey Snyder and Pashmeena Hilal, Account Planners at Google.
Prospective B2B buyers use a mix of channels, three steps to qualified leads…
Given the mix of digital channels from which prospective B2B buyers can conduct their advance buy – don’t buy research, many B2B’s are prudently considering which channels will produce the most qualified leads, i.e., video, blog posts, website content, FAQ’s, social media, whitepapers, archives of reports and/or studies? In other words, where – how – what should B2B’s invest to acquire the most promising, qualified, and ‘buy ready’ leads?
• An initial step is to acquire a clear and objective understanding how the existing combination of marketing and tech materials, i.e., is being perceived – interpreted by prospective B2B buyers.
• A second step involves acquiring – analyzing objective analytics to assess each channels’ effectiveness and interpretation by prospective buyers insofar as producing the most qualified leads.
• The third step involves utilizing the findings of the above to organize and assemble a ‘model channel mix’ that generates clear messaging to fit the target market and their research preferences.
It all points to a changing face for B2B marketing…
According to a 2014 survey conducted by Google and research company Millward Brown Digital, the millennial generation now comprises 46 percent of prospective B2B buyers, up from 27 percent in 2012. By objective standards of analysis, this is indicative of the expanding influence of the millennial generation.
To be sure, the B2B marketplace is experiencing change, no surprise, right? But, the way things are evolving might serve as a wake-up call of sort for some B2B brands. That’s because over the past two years, there have been numerous and interesting shifts, not just in how B2B buying decisions materialize, but also learning who – what is responsible for those shifts.
In short, if B2B’s are not directing their marketing initiatives to attract and engage millennial influencers, it would be an exercise in business prudence to evaluate all B2B content and messaging to ensure…
• it fully takes-into account millennial’s preferences for specific online and digital platforms, and
• the content and messaging is meaningful, learned, relevant, and attractive.
So what’s changed? As noted above, Google partnered with Millward Brown Digital to find out. Approximately 3,000 B2B researchers were surveyed about their research and purchasing habits as well as their use of digital (specifically, search, mobile, and video). In addition, Google analyzed 13 months of clickstream data from Millward Brown Digital’s desktop panel.
The study, fielded in 2014, mirrors research from 2012, enabling us to recognize certain shifts over the past two years. The findings essentially give less credence to some widely held beliefs and have major implications for B2B marketing and sales strategies.
Mobility of prospective B2B buyers is intensifying insofar as pre-buy research…
According to the study, 42% of B2B researchers use mobile devices to conduct B2B product-service research. The findings revealed a 91% growth in the use of mobile devices compared to the previous two years insofar as B2B buy – don’t buy journey, not just at the initial stages of prospective (B2B) buyer research.
Thus, B2B marketing – sales strategies that have typically targeted (only, primarily) senior-level executives, are now obliged to recognize millennial influences which are all-the-more clear. In fact, millennials now comprise 24+ percent of non-executives tasked to contribute to purchasing decisions.
Bottom line…prospective B2B buyers today are mobile and exhibit a strong focus on researching the products and/or services…
Today’s prospective B2B buyers are multi-channeled, i.e., consistently connected to and researching the internet via mobile phones, tablets, and/or desktops, i.e., mobility. Too, they have proclivity to…
• quickly scan – read, and subjectively assess websites, blogs, reviews, white papers, video, and demos.
• remotely attend – participate in conferences and seminars to learn about sector specific trends, breakthroughs, and innovations.
• simultaneously cover multiple channels, i.e., communication, data-information acquisition platforms and devices which have largely become integrated into their lives, i.e., mobility and connectivity to the internet
According to the earlier cited Google/Millward Brown Digital study, it was estimated that in 2014, 34% of those involved in B2B purchasing research and making recommendations used mobile devices at each stage of those respective processes.