Thursday March 16, 2017

Your Buyers Have More Choices Than Ever. Are You Making It Easy for Them to Choose You?

buyers-options.jpg

If you’re on the selling end of a B2B company, you’ve probably heard some general wisdom about your buyers.

They’re in control. They have all the information they need. Most of their research is already complete by the time they contact you. If you feed them after midnight, they transform into bloodthirsty gremlins.

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Technically the last one is more of a personal theory, but other than that this probably all feels dead on, right?

There is indeed plenty of evidence that the buyer’s journey has indeed changed from the old days when salespeople led buyers through the process, and the ever-growing proliferation of content combined with the rise of technology like AI and chatbots is only expected to accelerate things. Gartner predicts that by 2020, virtual agents will participate in a majority of commercial interactions between people and businesses

I bring this up not to fill salespeople with existential dread and anxiety, but to consider the other side of this coin.  

Think back to your most recent big-ticket purchase that involved some research and consideration. Most likely, that process involved wading through several competing options, spending time navigating through lots of information to find answers and struggling to assess the various costs, benefits, pros and cons of each.

It was probably a frustrating and stressful experience – and not because you didn’t have enough information, but because you had too much of it.

“More Content” is Not Always the Answer

Inbound marketing enthusiasts often point to this changing buyer’s journey as a prime justification for leveraging inbound rather than outbound tactics. And it makes sense: if your buyers are doing the bulk of their research independently of sales, you want to provide them with helpful content rather than badger them with advertisements and cold calls before they’re ready to talk. 

We’ve seen plenty of success using inbound marketing with our clients, but the key isn’t simply creating more content; it’s the creating more of the right content that actually helps your potential customer make an informed decision.

Let’s dwell on that last part for a minute.

You might think that if you’re already going through the trouble of mapping out your buyer’s journey, creating free content and giving it away – FOR FREE – that you’re already doing PLENTY to help your potential customers make a decision. But there are a couple ways content can fail to help.

  1. Creating content for the sake of content. A key tenant of inbound marketing is to consistently create new content. With a bigger library of content, you create more momentum and more opportunities to attract new people, nurture them through the funnel, close them into customers and delight them into brand advocates. But, if keeping up with an aggressive editorial calendar means creating occasional (or frequent) fluff, you’ll end up burdening your audience with too much useless content, burying the good stuff, damaging your brand and making it harder, not easier, for your buyers to make a decision.
  2. Creating supplier-specific content. Take a closer look at your buyer’s journey: is the content at each stage of the journey helping buyers purchase, or is it only helping them purchase from you? Don’t get me wrong: of course the ultimate goal of the content is to land the business. But some challenges your buyers face – especially in the awareness and consideration phases – have nothing to do with specific suppliers. So, if your content isn’t helping them overall, then you’re missing a big opportunity to help make their decision easier.

How Sales and Marketing Can Help

The silver lining is that if you can accurately predict the most pressing questions and challenges your buyers face and provide them with useful assistance as they work toward a decision, you can stand out and gain a lot of goodwill that will make you more attractive to your audience.

Here are a few steps you can take to ensure your marketing content and sales efforts are helping.

Revisit your buyer’s journey.

If your buyer’s journey exclusively focuses on how buyers find you – rather than on the struggles and questions they’d face with any vendor – it’s time to make some updates. Sales and marketing should work closely together here, pulling from market research and first-hand intel to understand what each stage of the journey really looks like. More feedback creates more accurate journeys, so utilize surveys, phone interviews and any other means of research available.

Define the most pressing challenges at each stage of the journey.

Using the market research, plot out the biggest hurdles, challenges and questions your buyers face at each stage of the process. This can include awareness challenges, like determining where to start the research and how to distinguish major competitors, to consideration and decision challenges like narrowing down potential options, planning for implementation and getting alignment on stakeholder priorities.

Design ways to address these challenges head on.

Providing clear and easy to find solutions to these challenges can take any number of forms. Content is one way to address challenges, and if it’s answering real questions that people are searching for, there’s a good chance it’ll also help your SEO efforts. Free resources like self-assessments and comparison tools can also help your buyers make decisions. Along with marketing efforts, sales can help through channels like live chat, workshops, events and webinars.

Whichever mix of tactics you use, make them helpful, not purely promotional. An unhelpful piece of marketing disguised as a resource will do more harm to your brand than good. 

As with any marketing or sales effort, tracking and analyzing the results of your tactics is critical. Carefully monitor not only which tactics are seeing the most engagement, but how effectively they are moving leads through the funnel. (It’s nice if your white paper gets 1,000 downloads, but not if you never hear from any of those downloaders again.) Keep the content and tactics that work, make improvements to the ones that need help and retire the ones that no one is finding useful. As you gather new feedback, questions and hurdles from your buyers – rinse and repeat.

Does this all amount to a lot of work? Yes. But if being truly helpful was easy, every business would already be doing it. By following these steps and using the data to make continual improvements, you can stand out by making it easier for your buyers to choose you. 

Written by Charlie Nadler | Tags: Strategy, Sales

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