There is no denying that when it comes to purchasing, the last decade has seen the balance of power firmly shifting in the direction of the IT buyer. And they know it. With accurate search, peer recommendations, social media and vast quantities of relevant and informative content now available at the click of a mouse, IT customers have the opportunity to do their own research at work, at home or even on the move.
This huge change means winning over a potential customer is today less about the salesperson or team. Equally, it's not about traditional advertising and marketing activities anymore – it’s about the product or service. It’s about the USPs and KPIs and how you convey this information in a way which engages with your audience. Effectively, the entire communication model has changed. It is no longer about pushing information to your audience in the hope that they will find it interesting, it’s about creating content that draws them in so they find you through search, social and good old fashioned word of mouth.
As marketers, one may expect this transition to be concerning, like the day those in charge realised that laser disks just weren’t going to catch on but, that just isn’t the case. Today, the best B2B marketers have already embraced the shift and in the process created more opportunities than ever before to build a strong, engaged audience.
One change, which has almost universal benefit to marketers, is the rise of usable behaviour analysis. With more and more of this type of information available, it’s no longer necessary to speculate about your targets’ interests. Using social and web analytics and analysis to understand content consumption, social interactions and online behaviour means we can make informed judgments relating to what appeals to your customers and prospects, what content engages them, where they might be in their buying cycle, the challenges they are looking to overcome and how your products and services may be able to satisfy their needs. The key for marketers is to understand how best to use this information to influence your sales and marketing strategy.
Whether you sell hosting space or a comprehensive IT suite, customer engagement always has the same end goal: commitment. That’s a commitment to interact with your brand and, ultimately, to make a transaction. But getting to that commitment means creating solid impressions that are both meaningful and consistent, whether it’s a first encounter or, in many B2B cases, a large repeat order. Each positive interaction will lead customers to choose a brand, repeatedly, and—if a company is lucky—exclusively over time.
While the definition of engagement is industry agnostic, the strategy for how a B2C versus a B2B company approaches customer engagement is fundamentally different. For starters, B2B companies already have a strong advantage when it comes to customer retention, with rates in the 70 percent to 80 percent range, versus the 30 percent to 50 percent range for B2C companies.
Equally, although many B2B purchases involve a purchase by committee, it’s still critical to understand the various individual contributors to that decision and make sure that their specific needs and expectations are targeted. Even B2B companies that sell products or services that don’t translate well to online transactions (e.g., large-enterprise software packages, high-end consulting services, multimillion-dollar equipment, etc.) need to create engaging, non-transactional interactions that tell a great story about your products or services.
As a B2B company, you can evolve toward this engagement model by:
Understanding your Customers' Needs and Creating a UX that adds Value
First and foremost, you must work hard to understand your customers. From the first interaction to the final purchase, what decisions were taken and why were those choices made. Companies should create user segments that target their most highly valued customers and prospects and understand how these groups differ from each other. Only then can you provide the tools they need to make an informed choice.
Analytics is usually your first port-of-call when it comes to gaining an understanding of how users are interacting with your website and what information they are finding engaging. Furthermore, a far greater level of statistical detail is now available using the right code to get the answers you really need, rather than simply the top level of information which Google provides. Knowing how many unique users visited last month is interesting but it doesn’t provide much insight into their motivations.
It is really only through a more detailed understanding – obtained through surveys, questionnaires and other qualitative research activities like face-to-face meetings with customers – that you’re you able to start building a complete picture of your audience. With this information, you are equipped to start creating effective and engaging tools, like mobile apps that assist product selection, for example. These tools must deliver a user experience geared specifically to that user segment and by personalising the interaction as much as possible; the chances of conversion improve exponentially.
Tailoring your Campaigns to your Audience, Not the Other Way Round
Outbound marketing continues to receive a bad wrap, from both customers and the media. But, as with every tool at a marketeers’ disposal, it is only as good as you make it. Email and snail mail have the potential to be highly effective if it is focused, considered and relevant to the recipient. Relevance is really the key term here. No one likes to receive the same mailer multiple times or have their inbox clogged up with messages about products and services that are simply not of interest to them or their business. Firing out dozens of these to your prospect list is guaranteed to turn people off and reduce levels of engagement.
The answer is to ensure that every piece of correspondence you send out is highly targeted, based on real intelligence and always relevant. Email customisation is so simple. If your business is divided into five key customer groups, make sure they only get the email for their group. If you know who has visited your site to look at a product, send a personalised message that incentivises them to buy today, you know they are thinking about it so give them a reason to say yes. Spending the time required to understand how your customers differ, how they can be categorised through their search or purchase history means a targeted email, offering an incentive to purchase or a thank you for purchasing, will pay dividends in repeat custom.
Remembering Social Media is Only Great if you Work At It
Social media is today a tool for B2B. Ignore anyone who tells you it’s only for B2C brands like Coca Cola or Jaguar. They are wrong – 70 percent of the buying process in a complex B2B sale is already complete before clients are willing to talk with a salesperson and a significant level of that 70 percent is through social. Along with Google searches, buyers and prospective clients are also searching for information inside social networks. In addition, they are increasingly asking their peers for recommendations and advice across social media making it the perfect tool for staying front of mind during the decision making process.
Where some B2B organisations fall down is to expect the same response from social as they did from traditional channels. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that and it can make ROI from social challenging to convey but that doesn’t mean it’s not effective. Social is all about engagement so setting up your LinkedIn profile or Twitter feed and leaving it dormant will do nothing but cost you. You must dedicate time and resources to creating an engaged audience and provide a reason for them to keep coming back. That incentive could be new informative and relevant content on issues that affect them. It could be an offer for a discount or simply something entertaining. It really depends on your brand’s personality and your appetite for getting involved.
Back in the day when people still sent letters by post, they expected a response within about a week or so – after all, these things took time. However, as we have moved to e-mail, and more recently Twitter and Facebook, the customer is increasingly expecting an instant response. This has the potential to have a profound effect on the relationship you have with your audience. If managed well, you have a direct line to the people you actually want to speak to. If managed poorly it could cost you dearly and a simple search for ‘social media customer service disasters’ demonstrates the pitfalls of not respecting the individual customer and the power they now hold.