The B-to-B Buying Revolution, and Five Ways Marketers Need to Change Their Game

The Internet has driven dramatic changes in business buying behavior. Just as no one buys a car anymore without first checking prices and features online, business buyers now research and educate themselves online, months—even years—before ever seeing a salesperson. This has big implications for B-to-B marketers.

The Internet has driven dramatic changes in business buying behavior. Just as no one buys a car anymore without first checking prices and features online, business buyers now research and educate themselves online, months—even years—before ever seeing a salesperson. This has big implications for B-to-B marketers.

In the old days-just a few years ago-when business buyers had a problem, they’d call in their vendors for advice on how to solve it. So a sales person was in a nifty position to educate—and influence—the buyer from the earliest stages of the process.

But these days, the sales person has lost control. Buyers don’t really want to talk to vendors until somewhere akin to 70 percent of the way down the road, at the stage of writing RFPs and getting quotes. By then, the possible solutions and the specifications are already set.

But there’s more. Business buying processes are getting longer, and-most important-involving more parties than ever before. The so-called Buying Circle in large enterprise B-to-B-the influencers, specifiers, users, decision-makers-comprises as many as 21 people, according to Marketing Sherpa.

So marketers have to think differently today. First, you need to take an active role in the early stages of the buying process, to ensure that your solutions are front and center, and that you are in the game of influencing buyers as they educate themselves online. Second, you must gain access to each member of the Buying Circle, so you can understand their needs and interests, and deliver relevant messaging to them as they move from stage to stage in their buying journey.

These developments bring front and center five important areas requiring renewed focus from marketers:

  1. Complete and accurate data on customers and prospects. To influence the multiple Buying Circle members, and get to them early, you need to know who they are. Not an easy task, but more essential than ever. Here are some resources for gaining access to prospect data, and keeping your database clean.
  2. A deliberate contact strategy. Beyond blasting out prospecting campaigns, marketers must move toward a series of ongoing outbound messages, via multiple communications channels, to connect with multiple parties, over time. Here’s where marketing automation becomes an important resource for B-to-B marketers.
  3. Active social media outreach. No longer an experiment, social media has become a must-have element of the B-to-B marketing toolkit. A well-written blog, promoted by Twitter and LinkedIn groups, is a good way to start.
  4. A superb website, the core resource for engagement with buyers at all stages of the process. Enhance its interactivity by adding downloadable content in exchange for registration.
  5. A library of content assets. Populate your website with white papers, research reports, videos, how-to guides, technical documents, archived webinars, all written in objective, non-salesy language, to help educate buyers and help influence them toward your solution. Be sure to title the documents with plenty of keywords.

It’s a different marketing world today. But an exciting one, as long as marketers evolve along with buyers as they change the way they work.

A version of this post appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

5 Ways to Leverage the Power of Social Communities This Holiday Season

Tough economic conditions have led to some pretty dramatic changes this holiday season, including earlier and more aggressive promotions, extended store hours, and more aggressive digital marketing efforts such as extended free shipping offers. How can brands leverage their social communities to best stand out from the crowd and drive success this holiday season and beyond? Here are five simple ways to leverage the power of your social community this holiday season:

Tough economic conditions have led to some pretty dramatic changes this holiday season, including earlier and more aggressive promotions, extended store hours, and more aggressive digital marketing efforts such as extended free shipping offers. How can brands leverage their social communities to best stand out from the crowd and drive success this holiday season and beyond? Here are five simple ways to leverage the power of your social community this holiday season:

1. Time and execution. Every marketer is working towards Shangri-la — i.e., the right offer to the right consumer in the right channel at the right time. One of the easiest tactics in this equation is to get the timing right. Take the time to analyze critical response patterns within each of your social communities, including what day and time of day your community members are more likely to engage with your social posts. Then schedule your holiday promotions accordingly to increase reach, response and conversion.

2. Integrate and coordinate. Support your holiday promotional efforts with coordinated social posts. Test the sequencing of these efforts and their impact on sales. Take it a step further by offering exclusives to community members and/or early or special access to sales events and specials. Finally, encourage sharing and consider rewarding those that do with additional discounts and/or rewards. Remember to tag and track all social media efforts so you can measure the impact they have on overall sales. Also be mindful of the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines governing social media endorsements.

3. Localize and alert. Leverage the power of social media to update communities about local events, extended hours, price changes and even restocking/delivery of popular out-of-stock items. Use geo-targeted posts on platforms like Facebook as well as location-based services like foursquare to help spread the word and optimize sales both online and in-store at the local level.

4. Thank and welcome. As the 2011 holiday season winds down, remember the importance of the post-holiday season as shoppers return unwanted items and look to use gift cards. Fine-tune post-holiday community efforts and communications by identifying new customers, dormant customers who came back, lapsed customers and brand advocates.

Invite those that aren’t already members of your social networks to be part of the community, thank existing customers for their patronage and recognize brand advocates for their support. Consider leveraging this intelligence to boost post-holiday sales pushes with viral programs starting the day after Christmas. By inviting new customers to join your social communities you’ll be building an even bigger foundation to market to throughout 2012.

5. Survey and build buzz. Use collaborative filtering and data to highlight popular products by category, region and customer segment. Solicit feedback and survey customers about their experience with your brand or products and encourage them to share that experience on your social communities and across the social web to build buzz.

It’s hard to believe the 2011 holiday season is upon us. However, with a little planning and coordination there’s still time to leverage the power of your social communities to build sales for 2011 and beyond.