Consumers are fickle. How do I know? I am one.
I have chronicled my love-hate relationship with Home Depot. I was in love with them after my first experience with them buying a washer, dryer, and fridge. The salesperson was so educated and informative. When I went to Lowes (first) the salesperson took a while to notice me and gave me short and uninspiring answers to my questions. So I went full Home Depot fan and got a credit card and continued to outfit my home. Home Depot offered free delivery, whereas Lowes charges for that but offers free (wait in your car) pick-up. The last two transactions with Home Depot suffered from delays and poor communication.
I ordered a custom closet organizer installation in August. The communication was spotty at best. It finally was installed almost 3 months later. Although that install was excellent, I still had a sour taste in my mouth from them losing my grill. So I switched my loyalties to the local team (Lowes is based in North Carolina and Home Depot is based in Georgia).
I ordered a Garage organizer workbench from Lowes and the free pick-up. It was easy, painless, and convenient. Now we are back on track until they mess up as badly as Home Depot did.
Remember that B2b is NOT B2c
Consumers change loyalties in an instant, while B2b customers are more complex. Switching brands or companies is easy for B2c. Not so much for B2b.
B2b purchasing decisions have a complex system around them. First, there is usually a team of decision-makers since one item can impact multiple teams (production, IT, quality, c-level, and more). Second, if a purchase goes bad, it can cost a company a lot of money. If it affects their ability to sell and deliver products, it can cripple or even bankrupt a business. Not only will it affect profits and cash flow, but it can also cost people their jobs.
That is just one of the reasons people move slower to purchase. It's rarely a gut decision based on emotion or reviews. The sales process takes time, but once you land a sale, those companies are slow to change vendors as well. If a B2b company had just one bad transaction, they may be mad at first but may get over it once the problem is fixed.
What follows are 5 key things to think about when marketing to B2b businesses.
Prospects Vs. Leads
One of the Baconisms I post every month is, “When you contact a prospect… you are a salesperson. When a prospect contacts you… you are the expert!” All too often, a business sales team will focus on finding more leads. Sometimes they focus on nurturing prospects.
Leads are just cold calls. This can be a visit with them in person, or them visiting your website. Online, the focus can be on social media or growing email lists. If there has been no point of contact before, it's all the same cold calls.
Prospects are people who have searched you out and contacted you for answers. These are budding relationships that have to be grown and nurtured. It takes time because of what I mentioned before. It takes time to build trust with that person, and ultimately their team, that you are the right choice and won't drop the ball.
It's All About Relationships
In the consumer world, most people pick out a solution to their problem by themselves. They jump on Amazon or walk the aisles of a physical store and choose based on commercials, reviews, and personal experience. Do you choose the self-checkout lane also?
B2b sales are more complex. Many solutions are based on needs, price, and integration with other parts and people in their business. Generally, that is a dance between the buyer and a sales rep that can last months or years.
So it makes more sense that salespeople are in the business checkout lane much more often than in an internet shopping cart. That requires a relationship to be established, maintained, and nurtured.
The B2b Customer Journey
I am not a sales expert (although I do have 40 years of experience in marketing), so I leave sales advice to CSOs, Sales Managers, and Sales Consultants.
I have found that B2b customers require relationship-building throughout their sales journey. Marketing should support the salesperson whose job it is to be the point of contact for the sales relationship. I have found five phases that require sales and marketing to become an integrated team to achieve sustained success. The first three are based on marketing supporting the sales team, and ALL five require the sales team to share the concerns and pulse of the prospects and customers:
- Awareness – We sell what you need and use (and we are not like others)
- Education – Here is why we are different and how our approach to your problems is better
- Pre-Sales Decision – Here are the best choices for your unique problem and we are here to help you decide
(Sales takes over here)
- Sale Closing – Let's decide together and we will help you implement the solution
- Retention & Repeat Business – Time to reorder or “HEY… did you know we also sell this?”
The key to all of this is keeping the prospects and customers engaged. It's a combination of personalized content and personal interaction. Again a joint mission with sales and marketing working as a cohesive system and team.
The Devil is in The Details (or the Data)
If you can draw a direct line between sales and marketing, then you are capturing and using data. As I stated in my previous blog post, most free tools will tell you how much (often skewed in the free platforms' favor) but not who.
If you can get someone to fill out a form, that data should be immediately imported into your CRM, WMS, or ERP. Those tools should track the interaction with each new prospect. The same should be enacted for past and current customers.
Common practices suggest you should put everyone in a sales funnel, but real people tend to bounce around to all five phases of the customer journey. They may see an awareness graphic and jump right to Retention & Repeat Business. So if you expect or set up a linear process, you may be missing out on multiple opportunities.
The bottom line is, the more data you can add, update, maintain, and analyze about each prospect and client, the better chance you have to engage them at the right time for your solution to matter to them.
Final Thoughts – Lessons Learned
I think the main point is you are dealing with people. All people are consumers so it makes sense to treat them that way, but unless they are surfing Amazon at work, they will act and react differently when it comes to business. While most businesses like Home Depot continue to send emails, and postcards to sell me more, not a single person has picked up the phone to say, “We're sorry, and how can we win your business again?” and by the way, my business buys things like organizers, furniture, electronics, and more. They could have won two customers with a single phone call!
A person isn't who they are during the last conversation you had with them – they're who they've been throughout your whole relationship.
– Rainer Maria Rilke
Comment below and share your thoughts, ideas, or questions about your buyers' journey and how your team integrates sales and marketing into your B2b ecosystem!
To learn more about this and other topics on B2b Sales & Marketing, visit our podcast website at The Bacon Podcast