B2B buyers are not businesses, or individuals, they’re a disparate group of execs trying to build consensus. If you’ve ever tried to get group of execs to agree on anything, you understand, B-to-B marketing is complex.
Successful business marketing – measured in efficient customer acquisition growth – requires careful planning and meticulous follow-through to convert interest to revenue.
Businesses today have wisely embraced ABM – Account Based Marketing – to identify best-prospect accounts. Using targeted advertising and content, enabled by data-driven platforms, ABM is a powerful approach to engage a buying group within targeted accounts.
The B-to-B purchasing process is non-linear and often lengthy, which makes it trickier to get everyone in your prospect account to arrive at the same positive decision.
Marketing a part, product or simple service is relatively easy via digital channels. But a major decision at a large enterprise or government client can take months (sometimes years) and require tight integration between marketing and sales.
There are four key factors contributing to the challenge:
- Multiple individuals are involved in key decisions.
- Each brings his/her own perspective with the goal of meeting a particular need: financial, operational, training, etc. Thus, each requires tailored information.
- The journey to a positive decision has multiple yes/no decision points where vendors are dismissed or make the cut. Different individuals are engaged at different points in the decision process.
- Each company is organized differently, so you can’t approach businesses with a one size-fits-all marketing approach.
Rather than discuss the mechanics of ABM or how to select prospects, it’s good to take a step back and focus on the overarching construct of B-to-B marketing. Each stage of the decision process must be marketed, from awareness to consideration, to purchase/contract as well as post-purchase usage and loyalty.
Fundamentally, we are marketing to a decision, rather than merely touting the advantages of a product or service. It’s an important distinction. We must get everyone involved in the buying decision to positively embrace what we are marketing, even though they each have different needs.
To complete a complex sale, B-to-B marketers must first demonstrate an understanding of the needs that will be fulfilled by their product or service.
To close the sale, the feasibility and benefits of the solution must be clearly communicated to all the key parties based on their individual needs. Marketing to a decision means supplying the salient information to the right individual at the right time in the decision path.
In my experience, individuals who are involved in the decision can be thought of broadly using the following 6 “roles”. These may not exactly fit your audiences, but a good place to start is to define these individuals and what content will move them through the decision process – is it price, performance, ease of use, lower maintenance?
Typical decision-maker roles you will need to address in marketing:
- Specifiers (set the requirements for purchase)
- End-users (use the product or service)
- Purchasers (buy or contract, often procurement)
- Decision makers (decide what and when to buy)
- Influencers (have opinions on the decision)
- Gatekeepers (block or facilitate information)
These individuals may have a role in finance, operations, IT, transportation, HR, facilities, sales, customer service or anywhere else in a business hierarchy. You should already know how the decision is made in your industry. This knowledge comes from data, clicks, calls, responder information, sales teams, and institutional knowledge.
What they share are common needs for information to support a business decision: how this product or service benefits my company and how my involvement in the decision might benefit my career and stature within the organization.
Businesses don’t make choices, individuals do. They work together to come to a decision.
Armed with knowledge of those involved, B2B marketers build a journey map that traces the influences and behaviors that culminate in a positive decision. There are many templates for building a journey map, but most important is to use data, research and experience garnered from previous efforts.
A journey map must do three important things:
- Identify the key milestones and activities in the decision process and who is involved. This starts with how a business creates specifications/performs a needs assessment and ends in purchase/usage.
- Define what information is required by the individual based on his/her role in the decision process at these milestones.
- Documents how that information will be gathered and shared: what media and sales channels are used and how is information shared internally.
With accounts identified and a well-documented journey map, assets can be created and deployed to address the needs of each member of the buying group, using a mix of push and pull media via digital and traditional channels – including tele-sales and face to face engagement — to move the business to a positive decision. Is this easy? Not always. But the effort put into planning decision-focused marketing will help yield positive results and position your brand as a guide worth following.