B2B marketing has always been something predictable, rational and enjoyable. Well, forget about all (or at least part of it) because the way buying decisions are made now is radically different than it was back in 2019, says Firewood’s Susanna Lee. Today it is about putting the customer at the center, where he stands and how he thinks – no matter how much you want to go the usual way of product presentation.
In the past 18 months, like everything else, the B2B sales landscape has been turned upside down. B2B sellers have rushed to create ways to interact with customers online – many of them as a stopgap or at least evolving action – to make the most of a difficult situation. But the reality is that B2B e-commerce is not only going to endure, it’s just getting started. Gartner predicts that a growing preference for seller-free experiences among B2B buyers could result in 80% of sales interactions between suppliers and buyers taking place digitally by 2025.
In line with the massive movement of online B2B buying, much has been spilled on the fact that today’s B2B buyers expect the same intuitive and compelling online customer experience that they know as consumers. And that’s very true, with one major difference: B2B buyers need to be able to gather evidence to support and defend their decisions. That means we, as marketers, need to create incredible, engaging, and connected digital experiences that add business value.
If your B2B marketing efforts are not yielding optimal results, your path to purchase is likely to result in potential customers taking the path they want to take rather than the path they want and need to take to make their decisions. Things are changing fast – and will continue to accelerate in the future – whether or not your marketing has sped up, now is a good time to take a step back and focus again on creating a compelling customer-centric journey. Here is how.
Take a business-to-human approach, really
We all know the trend in B2B purchasing groups. Before the pandemic, Gartner found that typical buyer groups for a complex solution consisted of six to ten decision makers or influencers. Well, it’s not surprising that this number has increased. And as Forrester reported after its SiriusDecisions Summit last year, “[buyers] want more control and self-service, they want to be treated as equal partners and increasingly expect open, networked, intuitive and immediate experiences. “
To create a vibrant, customer-centric journey to purchase, you need to take an empathic approach by thoroughly understanding and responding to the people who walk the path to discover and buy your product.
Who is your audience? Shopping groups are a mixture of experience and seniority levels that play a role in the purchase decision. Your job is to identify as many as possible.
Where do you live online?Recent research from McKinsey found that B2B buyers prefer digital self-service or remote human interaction to other connection methods – and that preference continues to grow. You need to figure out where your buyers are looking for information.
What are your challenges and needs? You need to talk to each decision maker in the way they feel most comfortable and let them know that you understand their problems by providing them with what they need.
What are their cultural motives?A long-standing and respected study conducted in collaboration with Google and Motista has shown that 90% of B2B purchase decisions are made unconsciously, based on emotions rather than logic. Are Your Buyers Digital Natives? Are you interested in where your brand stands on social issues?
What is their path and timeline? What are the key decisions, motivations, and obstacles that mark your path from discovery to loyalty? What are the most important marketing moments? What content is required in each phase?
Design a customer-oriented (not product-oriented) trip
Once you’ve figured out each buyer personality, their path to discovery and purchase, and their needs, it’s time to focus on creating a unified campaign that engages them emotionally. Start by designing an engaging and imaginative customer journey that takes into account the needs of all relevant decision makers and influencers to get all stakeholders on the road to buying.
Whether you’re modifying an existing customer journey or creating one from scratch, ask yourself the following questions:
Do you meet your buyers where they live online, personally and professionally? Brainstorm innovative ways to get them engaged on the platforms and apps they use the most. Microsoft ran a very successful campaign for its Microsoft 365 small business product by recruiting influencers who live on the same channels that small business owners often use to share their success stories and product tips.
Do you prioritize your desire for self-service? Offer shoppers multiple ways to get the answers they need in a self-chosen and instant way around the clock. Take a page out of Uber’s playbook by designing your website to serve as a resource hub tailored to different audiences.
Are you making it easy for them to move forward? Anticipate the next question and step in the buying process – and make getting there intuitive and easy. Instead of a “Contact Sales” form on your website, you can offer an online appointment scheduling option.
Are you really thinking beyond the B2B framework? Content is important, but only one component of successful engagement. You need to get shoppers’ attention – and if you can entertain or create delightful experiences, so much the better. Aside from the myth that selling an industrial printer depends on physical, face-to-face demos, HP Possibility City offers a fully immersive visual platform that enables shoppers to “peek under the hood” on a hyper-personalized journey. A virtual assistant provides all the information you need.
Are you building an emotional connection that lasts across all touchpoints? Show real people in your content and develop differentiated messages that convey emotions and incorporate what your brand stands for. Harley-Davidson covered the basics with this documentary film that was part of an integrated campaign that spurred HD’s foray into a new category dominated by established brands.
As you meet buyers online and deliver relevant human experiences, you are showing that you have done your homework, respect the work they have to do, and use what you know to make safe decisions. And that makes a significant contribution to building trust. Having a vibrant, customer-centric journey not only helps you get the best possible marketing ROI, it also helps you build and maintain long-term relationships with your customers.
Susanna Lee is a B2B practice manager at S4’s Firewood.
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