Buyers in the Internet age are far more educated than ever before, and as a result, are now in the power position as navigators of the sales cycle. The need for an early digital relationship has never been higher.
A few weeks back, I was fortunate to sit in on a presentation given by Maria Chien, research director at SiriusDecisions, who discussed the major shifts that are happening in the industry when it comes to B-to-B buying and selling. “Currently, 58 percent of all leads come from the web, and that number is expected to increase to 71 percent by 2015,” she noted in her presentation. Only a few years back, the typical sales cycle started with the seller in the driver seat, and continued down a road in which the buying and sales cycles were directly aligned.
Today, more prospect interaction is occurring online, which is shortening the actual time for sales engagement. Buyers in the Internet age are far more educated than ever before, and as a result, are now in the power position as navigators of the sales cycle. Most buyers also favor digital interactions over in-person meetings, so by the time a sales representative engages with the buyer, a digital dialogue has already begun and opinions have been formed. The need for an early digital relationship has never been higher.
Interestingly enough, few marketers receive formal marketing training relevant to today’s dramatically changing industry. According to the presentation, more than 75 percent of polled clients claimed to have honed their marketing skills on the premise of trial and error. So what do these shifts in the buyer/seller relationship mean to channel marketers? It should mean they put the majority of their focus on inbound marketing and react to these B-B changes by leveraging the role of the web.
Reacting and Taking Advantage of These Changes
So how do you begin? First, it's important to understand as much as possible about your buyers and their purchase process to market your solutions most effectively. Typical customers start their purchase process by going to their search engine of choice; thus, understanding the search terms your customers are using is critical to ensure your company shows up. This relates directly to SEO and how well your website is working for you.
Customers then work to become informed by spending time on the software vendor and relevant third-party websites to become educated and form an opinion. From there, customers often talk with their peers or engage in social channels to learn from “people like themselves,” to make their decision.
With all of this in mind, you want to ensure your digital presence reflects well and is aligned with your company’s brand, your content is current and dynamic your calls to action are compelling and you are investing in SEO to ensure you are getting the most qualified customers to your site. With those three steps in mind, how effectively does your company show up digitally? It is imperative you have this insight to respond accordingly and potentially invest to build your digital muscles.
Second, it is important to generate content that points your customers to valuable information or a great resource. Think about what your customers are reading or where they are going to get information, and try to offer them key pointers that could help them with their business. Introducing the “voice of the customer” is always compelling, whether promoting through case studies, videos, blog posts or webcasts. Videos and webcasts provide the customer a platform to talk about their pain points and how their partner’s solution helped to solve the challenge at hand. Generating this kind of sought-after content will enable you and your company to be seen as an expert in the industry, thus ensuring the highest level of marketing effectiveness.
It’s All About Execution
Once you have these assets complete, it’s now time to take them to market. The recommended best practice is to do this by sprinkling your content over influencer blogs, partner blogs, social media, analyst blogs, association sites, content curators, YouTube and Wikis, to name a few. Combining marketing activities is more important than any one tactic, so be sure to tell a connected story that ultimately drives customers back to your website.
Now that you better understand the B-to-B buying landscape, and how to gain optimal visibility on the web, it is now time to apply these changes.
Your marketing efforts today matter more than ever before as the purchasing pendulum continues to swing. Given our collective increased dependency on digital marketing, there is a great opportunity to improve a prospective buyer’s experience on your website and ensure they are getting the information they need. In return, you are securing the most qualified leads to your site. As noted above, this is also the time to look at increasing your presence across digital mediums to ensure you have exposure where your prospective customers are looking for information. This also includes your social presence, such as educating your sales reps on maintaining a professional LinkedIn profile.
Developing a strong digital strategy is a critical part of any marketer’s arsenal. Customers will be able to find you in their searches and use your content and resources to help guide their choices. It will also help position your company as a trusted thought leader in the industry by providing customers with solutions that address their pain points, and ultimately drive traffic to your website. By developing an effective digital marketing strategy you can play a leadership role helping to drive sales, tap into new customers and increase your company’s online presence.
Chandra DuFrene is director of Global Partner Marketing at VMware. Guest blogs such as this one are published monthly, and are part of The VAR Guy's annual platinum sponsorship.