By Rieva Lesonsky
Transforming a B2B lead into a closed sale has always been a long and arduous process. But in recent years, the process has changed. Now, B2B buyers are going through most of that process without you or your salespeople. How can you influence their decision in this type of situation?
A study of B2B decision-makers conducted earlier this year and reported in eMarketer offers some useful insights. First, today’s B2B buyers are well educated on their options, because they do most of their research ahead of time before ever contacting a vendor. According to the study, Selling to the Information Driven Business, almost two-thirds (63 percent) of B2B buyers surveyed say they don’t contact a salesperson until they’ve actually made a purchasing decision. In other words, at the point you talk to a buyer, they’ve already formed their own opinions of your product or service.
That means your goal is to be there when they’re doing the research and help shape their opinions with the content you share. Providing the right content starts with your business website. Some 81 percent of buyers in the survey say they trust the information on vendor websites, so it’s important to provide as much data as possible about your products and services there. That can include spec sheets, case studies from satisfied customers, comparison charts (among your products and services, and among your offerings and your competitors’), product and service descriptions, informational or testimonial videos, and downloadable e-books and white papers.
However, don’t stop with the information available on your website. Some 79 percent of B2B buyers rely on public product review sites in making their decisions. Encourage your customers to review your businesses’ products or services on relevant industry review sites. (You should also link to these reviews from your own website so they’re easier for prospective customers to find.)
And don’t forget the time-honored tactic of obtaining publicity, such as mentions in industry journals, on trade association websites or by respected bloggers in your industry. Independent content is the second-most trusted source of information when researching B2B purchase decisions, cited by 86 percent of the survey respondents. If you can obtain a product mention, product review or get quoted as an industry expert in a trusted media source, you greatly increase your chances of making the sale.
But what tips the scale after all of these marketing tactics have been tried is the opinion of B2B buyers’ peers and colleagues. Not only do a whopping 95 percent cite this as their most trusted information source, but when it comes to making the actual purchase decision, recommendations from professional networks and colleagues are the number-one influencer–far ahead of industry experts or even internal influencers.
How can your business influence the influencers? Of course, the marketing methods I mentioned above all help to create a positive impression of your business. However, if you really want to make your mark, you need to be active in social media. I’m not talking about just promoting your business, either. The ability to “listen” to what prospective customers are saying, to learn their needs, challenges and questions, is one of the biggest benefits of social media.
With so much chatter out there in social media, however, you’ll need some extra help. Social media management and monitoring tools such as Sprout Social, Hootsuite and Mention can help you sort, categorize and track who is saying what. But even more important than what people are saying about your business is the questions they’re asking about their businesses. If someone in a LinkedIn Group is asking about a problem your product or service could help with, make a suggestion (without making a hard sell). Is there an ongoing discussion on Twitter about a widespread business challenge that your product or service could help companies solve? Get in the mix and share some ideas for a solution (one that you can aid in).
Today, buyers are doing their own research ahead of time, and reaching out to salespeople only when they’re ready to buy. That means it’s more important than ever to keep your eyes and ears open and know when someone needs the kind of help that only your company can provide.