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How to Educate a New Breed of B2B Prospects to BUYEach prospective customer has different needs as they progress through their buying journey. In the world of “BIG TICKET” purchases for items like houses or cars — or costly products like enterprise business software — buyers move through a natural cycle of educating themselves about the item before making a decision to buy.

Someone just becoming aware of your product or service may only be looking for some basic information, like a short video or an infographic. Contrast that with the needs of a CEO about to make an expensive company-wide software upgrade, who is looking for proven ROI data in a case study or detailed peer feedback in customer testimonials.

As marketers, we need to understand that at EACH stage of the buy cycle…

AWARENESS –> CONSIDERATION –> ACQUISITION –> RETENTION –> ADVOCACY

…your prospective customers are trying to educate themselves — through the content YOU offer them — until they feel comfortable enough to make a purchasing decision.

So, check your company’s site: Are you giving your prospects self-service access to educate themselves about your product or service? You should be.

At Cultivate Communications, we call this process of mapping content to prospects’ needs throughout the buying cycle “Growth Cycle Marketing.” This marketing process allows you to provide that extra nudge at every point in your developing relationship, ensuring that you remain “top of mind” when your customers are ready to buy.

More than 90% of B2B customers conduct some form of online research on a product or service before they engage with a sales person (Source: Salesforce, 2013). This means that most potential customers have initiated their buying process before they ever even talk to your company reps. In fact:

On average, the B2B customer has independently completed about 60% of the purchasing decision process by researching solutions ONLINE before ever calling a sales person (Source: CEB Marketing, 2011).

You read that right — a whopping 60%! Imagine how many touch points your sales team would have to make to get a person that far along in a purchase decision. That could take days, weeks, and maybe even months.

Marketing automation platforms automate the delivery of these touch points while listening for demographic and behavioral clues left by prospects as they engage with the content you offer on your website. Such clues could be clicking a specific link on a landing page or email, or filling out a form to download a piece of premium content (e.g., a case study). These are strong behavioral indicators of the type of content your prospects are interested in. This data is then used by marketing automation tools to move people into pre-set nurture campaigns that send triggered emails over time designed to further educate your target audience and get them to that 60% mark FOR YOU.

Desirable behaviors like visiting pricing pages or completing short forms to be able to download premium content allow marketing automation tools to apply scores to any leads entering your system. On the flip side, if a behavior is detected such as a competitor visiting your site or someone simply visiting your Employment page, a negative lead score can be applied for that lead interaction with your website.

When a certain score is reached based on a lead behavior over time, it gets pushed out to be worked by your sales team. By having your marketing and sales team agree on what constitutes a qualified lead, you can build lead-nurture and lead-scoring campaigns that will get your prospects 60% along in making their buying decision without ever engaging with your sales team. Get ready to convert your mysterious site visitors into ENGAGED PROSPECTS and BUYERS.

Game Changer, Force Multiplier, Your Secret Marketing Sauce… Call it what you want:  Marketing automation enables best-in-class companies to drive more qualified leads into the funnel that can be worked faster by sales teams. It’s no easy task, though. So if this is the year you plan to dive into marketing automation, talk to us about conducting a Readiness Assessment for your business, processes, and team.

Mike Kissel

See all articles by Mike Kissel → Connect with Mike online: LinkedIn

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