Written by Mikkel Bach-Andersen, Partner
The new purchasing process and the drivers of change
To understand why this transition has implications for marketing in BTB, you need to understand some of the fundamental shifts that are changing the typical purchasing process:
- Multi-stakeholder decision making
C-level executives now require widespread support in making large purchasing decisions. This prolongs the sales cycle and demands greater sales effort in aligning the interests of a multitude of direct and indirect stakeholders.
- Self Education
Studies suggest that 70-80% of a typical purchasing decision is done prior to a physical meeting with a sales rep. This happens as customers compare competitors and educate themselves on the industry through websites, blogs, industry forums, social media and other digital channels.
- The rise of RFPs
As purchasers gain power within the organisation, RFPs gain popularity, which means that demands and prerequisites are further pinpointed and the emphasis on price is of even greater concern.
Introducing the new B2B sales person
When taking the above drivers of change into account, the need for a new sales approach arises, as does the need to retire the travelling, gun-slinging lone wolf. The “new sales people” recognise this new customer purchasing process and realise the importance of their role as “advisors”, with an ability to:
- Teach customers something new about their respective industry
- Tackle challenges proactively with a different or fresh point of view
- Challenge, push and debate with the customer
- Help the customer uncover and realise future needs, instead of simply meeting existing, articulated ones
- Guide customers through the purchasing process
- Focus on customer value drivers instead of features, price and discounts
The consultant and advisory-like approach to selling yields significant benefits. But in order to optimise the sales process even more, it is crucial that marketing supports and is aligned with sales by building the marketing system around the new sales approach.
What marketing can learn from sales
The new decision-making process requires marketing and communications to reconsider what is required to keep up with this radical shift. We have listed 7 key points where we believe BTB marketing and communications can draw inspiration from sales:
- Educate and communicate prior to the realised need
Conventional marketing addresses realised needs whereas tomorrow’s marketing should connect to and educate the customer prior to the realised need. By focusing on how to create utility for the customer and claiming thought leadership, you can coach customers about their needs. Entering the decision-making process as early as possible helps to specify the solution and possibly bypass the demanding, price-focused tendering processes altogether.
- Apply persona-driven communication
Traditionally marketing has been centred around one-size-fits all messaging, but as sales cycles expand and the number of direct and indirect decision makers increases, marketing needs to change too. You need to map the needs and pains of each person involved in the purchasing decision, and tailor and quantify the value you aim to deliver to address those pains. By tailoring the messaging and channels around buyer personas, companies can improve relevance and marketing efficiency. It’s actually quite intuitive – ask a successful sales person whether he uses the exact same pitch towards the CEO, the purchasing manager and the lead engineer. He would probably say “never”, so why should marketing?
- Focus on solving challenges and providing value
Typically companies with a strong product legacy communicate a lot about fantastic new products, the most recent features and best-in-class attributes. This focus is inherently wrong if you want to connect to stakeholders beyond a technical and operational basis. You need to adopt a more value-based approach that communicates and quantifies the value you deliver and how this value addresses the customers’ challenges. This approach is tough to swallow for many product-focussed organisations that are consistently excited about the splendid features of their latest products. The issue is that customers rarely share this excitement. They are simply looking for solutions that have a positive impact on their business and meet their daily challenges.
- Tailor context-based communications
Leveraging social channels, geo-targeting, direct marketing and other targeting possibilities can help you to carefully tailor your messaging to your customers and their challenges. If done well, applying publically available data sets, permission information, strategic documents and other information about the company can be used to build context-specific business cases and value propositions.
- Help the customer see the challenges or opportunities
Sales people often use calculators, configurators and other tools to showcase the potential of the solution. Marketing can convert these tools into digital assets hosted on websites or similar and can utilise them earlier in the customer
- Align sales and marketing around one common customer experience
Successful sales people know how to guide the organisation through the different parts of the purchasing process. But one of the key barriers to optimisation of the buying process is that there is no shared understanding of the actual customer journey (from pre-funnel to conversion) between sales and marketing. Marketing should drive the process and align with sales in defining the customer journey and the associated roles and responsibilities of the two departments at each phase. This journey should then be utilised as a framework and point of reference for all future sales and marketing initiatives.
- Communicate to your most important target group: The sales force
If sales people need to adopt a new more advisor-like approach, consistent and correct internal efforts that educate the sales force are a must. This includes training throughout the transition, e-learning, anchoring workshops as well as providing sales tools and presentations to support sales. These initiatives should be owned and driven by marketing, and together with sales, ensure a consistent end-to-end customer experience with consistent brand messaging.
All of these factors can positively impact your marketing performance. And combined with a strong focus on a consistent presentation of your brand, you can improve the perceived value of your offering, enter the purchasing process earlier, charge a premium price and forge relationships that go beyond single transactions.
In conclusion, we believe that by learning from the best sales people, marketing and communications can improve as well. The question is just whether marketing and sales are ready to align around one shared focus: The customer.