15th Nov, 2019
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These days, evolution and transformation have become the most common prefixes for all the aspects related to business – be it the process, people involved, or even the associated tools. It’s safe to say that we have entered into an era which will be etched in the history of industrial times as one of the most dynamic, complex yet interesting period, especially for the B2B world.
No doubt selling to the evolved buyer has become tougher but with all the challenges, the size of opportunities has also grown up significantly. Rising through the most common trials, for example, no need of the solution or service or even if the need exists, no budget to cater to the requirement – or no aspiration, and even if it’s there then no urgency to fulfill the same and lastly, the lack of trust in the other party, B2B seller has undergone quite a revolution along with its buying counterpart.
The new dynamics
For sellers, having a good product or service is not enough anymore – A good story is what sells now.
Features and benefits flashing on the website and brochures do not get eyeballs any longer – An outcome is what buyers look for.
A proven super hit sales pitch may still hit the iceberg – A customised, non-sale-sy, and value-adding pitch gets the due attention from buyers.
Cold calling and traditional marketing approach mostly receive a cold response – Easily available information and targeted social media messaging comes to the rescue and enables getting past the gatekeeper.
Starting with a quick scan of the rear-view mirror
Before we draw the parallels between the newly paved paths of both the best database providers and the buyer, let’s take a quick look at the erstwhile foundation of this whole game, i.e. the former trails which both these entities followed till now.
Earlier, a buyer’s journey used to be a simple loop of gathering awareness about the vendors and their expertise, considering the potential prospects on various parameters, making a decision and in most cases, repeating the purchase in order to avoid the hassle of going through the loop all over again.
And that’s why the seller’s journey or the marketing process also followed a simple pattern –
Providing Awareness — Generating Interest — Creating Desire — Enabling Action
This journey was supported by traditional marketing elements like trade shows, cold-calls, brochures, canned pitches etc. at different stages of the sales cycle and it looked something like this:
Now, stepping into the new-age B2B world
The advent of technology and the subsequent changes in expectations of the buyer changed all the nuances of this buyer-seller equation. The extent of change can be ascertained from these recent research results which confirm that buyers now complete 57% of the buying decision before ever actively engaging with sales. This places a lot of significance on non-verbal communication which are exhibited by a brand. A quick look at some statistics to understand the criticality of this statement:
- A survey by Blue Corona revealed that 80% of B2B buyers view at least 5 pieces of content during the purchase process
- As per Forrestor, 62% of B2B buyers say they can make a purchase selection solely based on digital content
- As per Campaign Monitor, B2B marketers see an average of 760% increase in revenue from customized segmented email campaigns
Moreover, by 2020, a triple-digit growth is expected in areas of predictive intelligence (118%), lead-to-cash process automation (115%), and artificial intelligence (139%), thus transforming the sales processes as per the 2nd Annual State of Sales report by Salesforce.
Let’s take a quick peek into the new-age buyer and seller persona before we go in detail about their present day journey mapping:
As such, this new breed of buyers is certainly a tough nut to crack but fortunately, the modern seller has decrypted the code anyway.
The New Seller
The new seller follows ‘customer-isation’ philosophy
They see the problem and probable solution from customer’s viewpoint and then collaborate to co-create the unique solution which brings them value. Their product/ service expertise is mapped with customer needs.
The new seller is a consultant and not just a salesman
Their aim is to help the customer instead of being focused on just selling their product. They exhibit business acumen, proactively share innovative ideas beyond the pitch instead of selling the pre-packaged product and practice of ABM (account-based-marketing) tactics in conjunction with the principles of modern-day cerebral selling.
The new seller is a compelling storyteller
They build upon statistics instead of just relying on them. They focus on the innovative insights instead of blind reliance on relationship-establishment.
The new seller is tech-savvy
They breathe analytics and practice faster interpretation of data insights. Also, they don’t shy away from using modern-day technologies like machine learning etc. to optimise their efforts and fine tune their offerings. In fact, according to a survey by Oracle, by 2020, 80% of sales and marketing leaders would already be using chat bots or would be actively planning to do so in order to efficiently engage with customers and prospects.
The new seller boasts of high emotional quotient
With that, they are able to create a differentiating ground for themselves in the era of automation. They also practice impact-communication and base it on eidetic listening skills.
The new seller is online
They are adept in social media listening and leverage it for understanding the need and opportunity. They also use digital marketing for targeted outreach and use social platforms for showcasing their testimonials or accomplishment proofs as they proactively seek out customer referrals.
Modern day seller knows that what worked today may not work tomorrow and the only key to remain relevant in the game is to develop a deep connection with the customer. In a nutshell, ‘connect-collaborate and create’ is the new mantra of the seller’s tribe today.
For the ease of understanding, the new buyer’s journey can be categorised into two broad segments, namely, the Research and Discovery Loop and the Loyalty Loop.
Research and Discovery Loop
As the name suggests, the first loop comprises all the activities which comes into picture after the buyer identifies a need for a solution – researching the vendor space and then narrowing down to a preferred list of service providers to find ‘the one’ who maps well onto all the criterion.
The second loop begins once the purchase is done because it may be the culmination of one long journey for the buyer, but it bears the possibilities of having a longer or much shorter relationship then intended, for the seller.
Now a little walk-through of the stages of this new buyer’s journey:
1st Stage: Awareness
After the identification of the gap or solution requirement, the buyer today sets out to research on the prospective vendors (without getting in touch with them at all). With the increasing digitisation of the marketplace, this ethical investigation commands in its purview not just the available online and offline content but also takes into consideration social media reputation, reviews and referrals etc.
2nd Stage: Multiparty Consideration
Based on the research, findings are plotted against the requirements and accordingly, the first level of shortlisting is done. Unlike earlier times, the buyer today prefers to sieve through the large universe of vendors instead of sticking just at arm’s length for only the readily noticeable names.
3rd Stage: Preference
After the initial assessment and mapping, the buyer can draw up a likability matrix or order of preference for the potential sellers. Accordingly, they’re finally reached out.
This stage marks the culmination of Research & Discovery Loop.
4th Stage: Purchase
Based on factors like cost, ease of assistance, post-deployment management etc. deal closure happens with the finalised seller and the adoption takes place. While cost makes up to be a decisive factor, the overall experience of the buyer till this stage holds the veto power to swing the decision in either direction.
Don’t mistake this phase as the eventual step of the buyer’s journey because here begins the Loyalty Loop.
5th Stage: Post-Purchase
Post the deployment, seller continues to be engaged with the buyer to hand-hold him through any aberration. The relationship at this stage sets the tone for re-association (or lack of it).
And we are all aware the immense cost benefit attached with renewals in comparison to new client acquisition since it can cost 5 times more to attract a new customer, than it does to retain an existing one.
Mapping the new buyer’s journey with sellers’
With the whole process becoming buyer-driven, seller today have no choice but to align their marketing strategies as per the buyer experience cycle in order to drive sales.
Every pit stop in the buyer’s journey is a unique touchpoint window to interact with and influence the buyer.
Let’s look at how a typical buyer-seller alignment looks today:
Awareness Stage of the buyer’s journey translates to Engagement cum Education Stage for a marketer
The gap is identified, and the buyer is seeking for resolution and therefore, it makes the moment perfect to jump into the scene and claim attention as being the expert problem solver for the specific kinds of pain points.
A hint of buyer-education also begins towards the end of this stage after the initial communication has been set up, i.e. after the successful engagement of buyer’s attention.
Multi-Party Consideration Stage of the buyer’s journey translates to Education + Evaluation for a marketer
Buyer is actively sieving information spots – internet, peer-referrals, past vendor experiences etc. to list down a few potential partners he wants to connect with, for his requirement.
With hundreds of service providers out there, this becomes a critical place for any seller to provide the most apt, relevant and differentiating content which conveys to the buyer his expertise and value-addition.
Educating the buyer with the apt outreach confirms to him about seller’s domain knowledge and gives the seller the gate pass to continue alongside the buyer in his journey.
Preference Stage of the buyer’s journey translates to Justification Stage for a marketer
It’s like an elimination round where the one who gets the relevant eyeballs, gets to the next round otherwise it’s the end of the road.
The outreach now is aimed at justifying why one is better than the other and what makes them the best fit for the job.
Purchase Stage of the buyer’s journey translates to Purchase + Adoption for the marketer
Once the money has exchanged hands, it’s the time to perform what one had been promising and advertising so far.
A successful implementation is again, like a gate pass to the next level of this association.
Post-Purchase Stage of the buyer’s journey translates to Retention + Expansion + Advocacy for the marketer
This is more like a make or break point in the relationship where it is clarified that whether the association will continue to thrive, or will it be an approaching ‘goodbye’ from the buyer’s end.
A good post-sales service translates into the possibility of up selling or cross selling – thus, extended and expanded association.
If the expansion phase meets with a success, the opportunity is ripe to convert the customer into a brandvocate by asking them for referrals. And trying at this stage is critical because studies show that 91% of customers are happy to give referrals but only 11% ask for them.
Now, let’s talk about the tools corresponding to each of these stages
For sellers, tailoring their marketing plan in line with this newly reformed journey means revamping their strategy and all the inside elements which constitute it.
Engagement and Education Phase
Here, it is about meeting the buyer’s need for information in a manner which is superior and faster than the competitor.
- Starting from the website – relevant yet concise plus SEO optimised content.
- Then after, the multi-format content repository comprising balanced set of pieces for features and benefits both.
- Edu(cative)-(enter)taining content such as visually appealing infographics, social media messaging, blogs, videos, etc. to tap into the mindshare of the buyer while he’s on the lookout.
- Leveraging the new-found attention with elements like email marketing (educative email series, newsletters etc.) etc.
- Intelligent use of PPC by carefully crafting search campaigns, leveraging google display network, using remarketing tools targeting the visitors who didn’t go beyond a certain limit.
Evaluation and Justification Phase
By this time, a number of vendors would have got into the interest-span of the buyer. But the mass-level scrutiny is done at this stage where the buyer maps his precise requirements with the exact offerings.
Any type of spamming or desperate behaviour can translate into ousting from the race.
- Webinars, whitepapers, eBooks, analyst reports etc. convey your niche in the space.
- Case studies, testimonials, online reviews, press coverage etc. corroborates your claims in an influencing manner.
- Demos, free trials, vendor comparison etc. allows the buyer to feel confident in preferring one over the other.
- Provision of tools like ROI calculator, data sheets, etc. backs up the features-benefit promises with data/ numbers.
Purchase, Adoption, Retention, Expansion and Advocacy Phase
Post the purchase, the stakes suddenly become higher because while there’s pressure to sustain the performance, it is expected that one also ‘wows’ the buyer turned customer, by offering things beyond the regular.
- Stocked with apt content, activities like live trainings, kick-off events, user guides etc. validates their decision of choosing you over the others.
- Content aiding the continuous learning, checking for feedback, and most essentially – personal reach-out – through a call or mail, makes all the difference between a seller who holds their account or a seller who cares for their growth.
Newsletters and releases about all the new developments to remain active in the customer’s mind.
The sales funnel also got its due makeover
Like everything else, the way marketers approached the traditional sales funnel has also undergone a revamp.
Earlier, the seller’s job was fairly straight-forward – to provide the initial fuel in terms of content and focus their energies on top of the funnel, with rest of the process following up organically up till closure.
The new era demands seller to put significant effort in each segment of this funnel right from the database strategy to content to each stage of the funnel and all the way up to closure and beyond.
Let’s thank technology for ushering us into this new era
This new buyer-seller journey has a lot more to it than just the highly modernised content marketing. Smart interaction between the two groups owes a lot to the new-age technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, etc.
Present-day seller’s world scenario:
- 39% marketers use AI for audience targeting as per a joint study by Blue Shift and TechValidate
- 74% of CRM software users get improved access to customer data as per the SuperOffice CRM statistics for 2019
- 80% of marketing automation users see an increase in the number of leads as per VB Insight
- Real-time emails get 10X the engagement as per a study by Experian
- Companies with omni-channel customer engagement strategies retain an average 89% of their customers as per a Forbes article
- 88% of B2B professionals acknowledged that predictive lead scoring is driving significant value creation as per a survey conducted by SiriusDecisions
- 60% of B2B professionals have adopted a content personalization strategy as per the renowned digital influencer Neil Patel
The bottom line
It’s true that buyer has taken the centre-stage when it comes to driving the whole selling process, however, sellers still have an immense power to steer the journey in the direction which is most profitable for them.
All that it takes is a right mix of technology, personalisation and behavioural intelligence. An apt combination of all these will be a winning recipe for synchronised buyer-seller journey and a rewarding customer experience.