Why aren’t traditional sales approaches working as well today? A growing body of research sheds some light on what has changed.
It used to be so easy: Generate sales leads, work the pipeline, overcome objections and close sales.
Now, everything is different. It’s much harder for your salespeople to get face-to-face appointments. Prospects want to do their own research and product comparisons. They don’t want to talk to you until just before the sale. As a result, sales are stagnant.
Your company needs growth – now.
What the latest sales and marketing research says
Research from CEB’s Marketing Leadership Council and Google shows that business buyers do not contact suppliers directly until 57% of the purchase process is complete. That means for nearly two thirds of the buying process, they are forming opinions, gathering technical specifications, building requirement lists, and narrowing down their vendor options – with little or no influence from you.
Why is this a problem? By the time a prospect makes contact with your company, “they have hardened expectations about what they want out of a supplier – and at that point, your job is to take their order and fill it for the lowest price. They’re learning on their own, and there’s no room to teach them why what they’ve taught themselves is wrong. It’s marketing’s job to influence the 57% of the sale that occurs mostly on the web, before sales contact,” the report adds.
As a result, research conducted by Forrester Consulting suggests that the traditional role of the sales representative is declining. Only 20% of buyers purchase directly from a sales representative more than half of the time, and phone or email customer service is lagging at 17%, too.
During the past two years, the B2B research process has changed, according to a study Google conducted with Millward Brown Digital: “While 64% of the C-suite have final sign off, so do almost a quarter (24%) of the non-C-suite. What’s more, it’s the latter that has the most influence; 81% of non-C-suiters have a say in purchase decisions. Clearly, if you’re marketing only to the highest level, you’re overlooking the people who need to notice you,” the report states.
It also reveals that millennials are taking a lead role in B2B purchase research: In 2012, the age of researchers was more or less evenly spread out across age groups. In 2014, however, 18- to 34-year-olds accounted for almost half of all researchers, a remarkable increase of 70%. While they may not be the decision-makers yet, they’re starting to take a stronger role in the B2B purchasing process. Remember – they’re digital natives, with high expectations for online experiences!
CEB and Google’s analysis of traditional marketing, still practiced by many B2B firms, is especially damning:
“Most marketing leaders still treat digital as an unwanted appendage on the traditional marketing campaign cycle, which goes roughly like this: Create a new product, design a campaign touting its features and benefits, figure out a place to stick digital channels within that campaign architecture, execute, measure, repeat…
“(But) customer learning is happening all the time, and doesn’t coincide with your campaign calendar. Marketing organizations have largely been designed from the ground up to support and optimize campaigns, not maintain the continuous presence that the digital channel requires. Marketing management must adjust; if the customer is always learning, then marketing must always be teaching.”
The key, it points out, is customer education – which most B2B marketers appear to be ill-equipped to do:
“It’s not enough to teach; you have to teach well. And the dirty little secret of most content marketing is that it does neither. All of that leads us to the biggest problem with current B2B digital approaches: They rely on content that is not at all useful for customers in the midst of a learning journey. Most content is low value; it may be interesting or get a lot of ‘engagement,’ but it doesn’t help buyers make commercial decisions.”
If you’re struggling with flat-lining sales and need to spur sales growth, contact us to learn about our profitable alternative: Growth Cycle Marketing.
Articles about content marketing seem to be everywhere today. But few of them are focused on content marketing strategy. Why do businesses need to integrate it into their marketing strategies? Why now?
It’s time to shed some light on the critical importance of content strategy in the marketing mix.
Why content marketing?
The fundamental reason that content marketing has become immensely popular as a marketing discipline is that the way customers buy has changed. To understand the extent of that change, we need to look at the traditional buying cycle.
Traditionally, B2B prospects became aware of new products via advertising, direct mailers, articles in trade magazines and trade shows. The only place to get product information prior to the internet were these sources, or by visiting the dealer or the manufacturer itself. A salesperson would handle nurturing the prospect from the initial contact until the point of sale.
What’s changed? We are now over 20 years into the digital communications and marketing era. Customers in nearly every industry and profession are now comfortable gathering product information, reading reviews, collecting specifications and doing product comparisons on a self-service basis. Unlike the “old days,” the typical buyer doesn’t want a salesperson in their face until just before the sale.
The prolonged recession has accelerated this change, by making B2B buyers much more discerning about the products and services they are planning to purchase. In addition, travel budgets have been constrained for many years, making it harder for companies to send buyers and influencers to trade shows, conferences and other events where manufacturers are represented.
As a result, most companies that have continued to rely on traditional marketing and sales are now facing flat or declining sales. Business owners and marketers desperately need a new strategy to drive growth.
A new model of marketing
If customers have changed the ways in which they buy, then we must change the ways that we communicate with them.
Enter content marketing, which seeks to inform and educate prospects, rather than interrupting them with endless ads and offers. The most successful content marketers conduct research to deeply understand the needs and motivations of their prospective customers, develop content that addresses those needs and consistently publish it. Over time, your target audience gets to know, like and trust your company, which can lead to increased sales and other desirable outcomes.
Savvy companies are now enabling prospects by assembling collections of content and resources that are based on the needs of their ideal buyers. In a sense, the content becomes a surrogate salesperson, helping to nurture prospects through their buying process to the point of sale.
A growing body of evidence proves that this type of marketing strategy, when implemented strategically and based on real customer needs, can pay big dividends in terms of increased sales and customer loyalty.
There’s no question that content marketing can be a valuable part of the marketing mix in today’s organizations. This leads us to the question:
Why now? What is the risk if you maintain the status quo?
If one of the leading content marketing strategies is to create the “go-to” collection of content and resources that are focused on the needs of the buyers you want to attract, then it follows that there’s a definite first mover advantage in doing so. If you are able to create the first authoritative information portal in your industry, that gives you a distinct advantage.
If you’re not the first mover in your industry, there is still hope: You just need to get a bit more creative and define a narrower content niche that you can “own.”
“We have the power to create things, experiences, moments and stories that change people” ~ Bernadette Jiwa
You see it all day, every day. You open your inbox and there it is: your name in the subject line. You get home from work after a busy day, kick up your feet and flip on Netflix—and there it is again: your name. You sign into Facebook and you see an ad pointing you to a website you recently visited.
WHAT is Online Personalization?
The aforementioned examples are all instances of online personalization (sometimes called content personalization). BusinessDictionary defines online personalization as “tailoring the presentation of a website’s content to match a specific user’s instructions or preferences.” This form of custom-tailored marketing is achieved by collecting data about prospects and customers, then using that data to tweak online experiences to perfection.
WHY You Should Care About Online Personalization
Online personalization has become a key part of digital marketing strategies. As humans, we crave customized experiences. A study from the University of Texas at Austin attributes this to our desire for control. Google searches 30 trillion pages, 100 billion times a month. 60 hours of video is uploaded every minute on YouTube. More than 30 billion pieces of content are shared each month on Facebook.
Get the point? There’s A LOT of content out there! Online personalization helps you break through the noise and improve your marketing ROI.
- Personalized emails improve clickthrough rates by 14% and conversion rates by 10%.
- In-house marketers who personalize web experiences (who are also able to quantify that improvement) see a 19% uplift in sales, on average.
- 40% of consumers buy more from retailers who personalize the shopping experience across channels.
- Leads nurtured with targeted content produce a 20% increase in sales opportunities.
And the list goes on. Hey, online personalization works!
HOW to Get Started with Online Personalization
Not every business can be a giganto expert at online personalization like Amazon.com (constantly pulling data and signals to personalize their users’ shopping experiences). However, there are a few basic things you can do to hop aboard the online personalization train, today.
1. Segment Your Email Marketing
Online personalization in email marketing is one of the most cost-efficient methods. Don’t always send the same email to everyone on your list. Break your lists down into various segments and tweak your messages accordingly.
You’re in the staffing business and you work with companies looking to fill positions in marketing and IT.
- Segment out the companies that have a need to fill marketing positions into one list. Then, send a monthly email featuring your top marketing candidates.
- Likewise, create a separate segment for companies looking to fill IT positions. Send a separate monthly email featuring your top IT candidates to this list.
Sending a monthly e-newsletter? Most email marketing software (like MailChimp and Constant Contact) offer the option to insert a ‘receiver name’ field. Use it!
2. Segment Your Social Media
Facebook uses data in ad targeting that’s fairly easy to implement. Let’s say you offer computer repair services to small- and medium-sized businesses and you’re only able to offer those services within 50 miles of Brookfield, Wisconsin. You’re not going to want to run a Facebook ad that will be seen by everyone and anyone in the entire United States. Determine what your target audience looks like and set up your ad accordingly.
Here’s what your targeting might look like…
Online personalization is not only a great way to break through the marketing noise and improve your marketing ROI—it’s also a really fun way to get creative with how you market to your audience! Give it a shot and you’ll be amazed at the results.
Need some help getting started with online personalization? Contact Cultivate Communications.
Image “Hello My Name Is” courtesy of Flickr user Travis Wise licensed under CC by 2.0.