b2b selling, heck, selling in general

Yes. I have an entire white paper on b2b marketing.

But.

Some things just need to be said again (and again and again and again).

For some reason there seems to be a wacky belief that b2b marketing is so radically different from consumer marketing that … well … if you can do one well you could never do the other well.

With that said.

Just out of sheer spite I am going to invest some energy suggesting some thoughts on how the underpinnings are quite similar (so if you are a b2b business and you are speaking with some consumer guy and you think you are wasting your time pay attention because if he/he suggests some of these things they get the nuances and the similarities).

Let me begin with a word I have come to absolutely abhor. Brand (or branding).  Inevitably any discussion seems to begin here so I will try and get it out of the way.

Whether your company is selling products or services to individual consumers or to businesses there is a need to get above the “noise.” Creating a branding imprint in the business/consumer world relevant to you is the “simplifier” and can assist in the sale (and getting a higher price, and getting considered more often, and being differentiated in a sea of sameness, and, well, you get the point).

Look.

Good ‘branding’ is not about stirring rational people into frenzy so they make irrational decisions. It is about communicating the benefits and value proposition that a business or product provides its customers.

Okay. I think I got the “B” word out of the way.

Anyway.

I had this old dated factoid lurking on my computer (and I can only imagine what the numbers are today … higher).

In 1998 the average U.S. office worker received more than 160 messages a day via e-mail, fax, voice mail and conventional mail (lets go ahead and assume it is exponentially bigger now).

Go to a grocery store and you are faced with over 37,000 different products with distinct SKU’s (stock-keeping units) compared to 8,000 in 1970. Some other examples:

SKUs 1999 1970
Orange juice 70 20
Coke 25 6
Crest Toothpaste 45 15
Philly Cream Cheese 30 3

All that said …  it seems obvious with that many choices … establishing some added value (in the form of a brand) is almost necessary to be successful.

Oh.

Are you now thinking that maybe all of a sudden I am not talking about b2b anymore because I used some consumer facings information? Nope.

For every product on the shelf there is a business decision maker choosing to put them on the shelf. So combine the numbers I just gave you above with the fact a grocery buyer is seeing twice as many (ones that end up dying and ones that they just cannot justify putting on the shelf) and all of a sudden you start seeing some of the challenges a b2b marketer faces.

So how the heck do you attack this issue (keeping in mind I am suggesting the more you tie consumer thought process and business thought process the more likely a company will be to be well prepared to meet any customer challenge).

First.

Any business (that includes the sales and marketing departments) has to recognize and plan for various buying styles/attitudes as well as the various buying cycles of their customers (this is the same with anyone b2 or consumer).

I (being JWT trained in customer buying behavior analysis) believe in beginning with the basics.

Let’s call it a Consumer Buying System (because it is called that …. oh … and by the way … a b2b customer is a consumer also … anyway). Think in terms of simple phases/stages in a purchase decision cycle:

–          Predisposition.

–          Stimulus to act

–          Consideration

–          Search

–          Choose

–          Buy

–          Experience

(then it circles around again which would be called the “purchase cycle”).

Yeah. Sure. Here you go. An explanation of The Consumer’s Buying System.

This is more than just a theory or model for consumer behavior; it is the key to understanding the purchase process from the consumer’s perspective, and the tool for allocating the right communication resources and sales techniques at the most appropriate points in the cycle.

The easiest way to us it is to put yourself in the consumers’ (prospects, potentials, interested rejecters, customers) shoes and look at the category through their eyes. What makes them enter it in the first place? What criteria must their brand or service selection meet? Where do they get their information about the brands or services in the category, and where do they go to actually make the purchase?

Not all categories involve the same degree of time, effort and consideration. The buying process for chewing gum may last no more than a second or two; for a car it could take months, a business software system could take years and the consumer may make several loops through the search and channel contact phase before actually arriving at the contract/buying stage.

How do we use it?

It’s easy to use (and in its simplicity many may want to complicate it) because once you can describe how the consumer moves through the buying system for your particular category you can ask yourself all the right questions: “Where in this cycle is there a role for advertising, promotion, direct response, PR, telemarketing, sales, etc.?”

So.

Because I am ranting about the b2b specialty that no one can do but b2b specialists … let’s look at some real numbers and see how they could be improved by this Consumer Buying System process.

According to recent studies at any given time:  15% is in buy aspect, 70% is not in a buying aspect (43% will enter into a buying cycle in the next 18 months) and 15% will not purchase from your organization.

Ok.

Next.

According to a Marketing Sherpa study:

7% are sales ready, 11% are mid term prospects, 73% are long term prospects and 9% will not purchase from your organization.

You look at these and think you have some good information.

Well. Not really.

In fact.

If I were to take the consumer buying system and apply it against each of those percentages I can actually derive what percentage of all those percentages would be likely to consider me, likely to run across me during a search phase, what percentage I can actually impact (and I could provably figure out what would be most important to say to them if they ‘glanced off of me’ while searching for information that would be most likely to get me back in the game).

In addition I could see what percentage of the buyers (consumers) actually have different criteria they are evaluating in the choose phase then when they were in the consideration phase (you would be surprised how often ‘price’ is a low priority in consider phase and then when choose comes rocking down the road price all of a sudden rears its ugly head … oh … in fact … that is often why companies/people aren’t REALLY choosing the lowest price because their initial consideration set was flawed if they truly wanted the lowest cost provider … anyway).

That’s just a couple of quick examples.

Ok.

Maybe it would help with the b2b people if we call this entire mumbo jumbo ‘Final disposition versus sales staging.’  Yeah. It’s the attempt to gain a true understanding of the status of your potential customers and existing customers all in one buying system analysis/discussion.

Look.

The buying system is simple but complex.

Adding meaningful status or stages to your marketing efforts can greatly enhance visibility into the overall marketing/sales pipeline activities AND put you in a position to understand the timing and movement of your prospects.

So.

Ultimately this process is set up to understand that buying phases exist and having an execution strategy for each phase to drive customers down the path to a transaction (adding value and setting expectations that can be met so that they end up satisfied).

Oh.

Another benefit of this Consumer Buying System thing? Long term consistent performance.

Sales and marketing often treat all prospects and customers the same. They deploy the same strategies, messaging and collateral to all. In doing that of course you obviously lose the ability to deliver relevant content at the appropriate time.

Maybe worse? You lose the ability to build relationships with those that are not in a buying mode but will be at some time in the future. Oh. And you lessen the probability that you will be in front of your customer when they enter a buying mode.

The value of thinking in a ‘consumer buying system’ like this way is you end up thinking long term engagement and not short term project.

Everyone fits into the funnel. Customers, interested, interested rejecters, dissatisfied, whatever. They all fall in and become part of the cycle.

Therefore activity avoids a ‘Project mentality’ (and even ‘just get me some leads to call’).

(note: my entire write-up on the company TelAffects addresses this: http://brucemctague.com/an-interesting-company-and-idea).

An additional benefit is a continuous effort (which maintains any momentum) instead of a more sales driven ‘stop-and-start’ activity style. I guess I could throw in that a continuous buying system communications plan invariably entertains the idea of an “ongoing dialogue’ attitude rather than “oops, I need to talk with you today” attitude (that also inherently strengthens efforts and efficiencies and relationships).

The consumer buying system inherently also integrates activities by simply suggesting it is all one cycle and therefore specific tactics aren’t utilized in a vacuum but rather in coordination with everything else affecting the cycle. And by integration I mean not just traditional marketing … but all aspects (let’s call them touch points) of interaction between the company and potential customers.

Ok. I will stop on that discussion point.

You get it. The Buying System forces everyone away from “one off” actions and inherently incorporates a longer term focus (without sacrificing short term).

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Yet. Many fail to invest in a process (although I just gave one for free) that develop strategies and deploy tactics at each buying mode.

Ok. One last thing.

The buying system thought is dead if you don’t have information.

In fact.

If you use the buying system (which is so frickin’simple) it is difficult to go into data overload and easy to gather pertinent information.

Why? Because it is a thinking process/methodology … you are actually systemizing information. Okay. In English that means as you gain data, rather than analyze data, you bucket it first. You put data into the system where the data/information most useful to you.

After a while rather than conducting massive research studies and huge data dumps you are rather simply updating or filling in holes as you gather items.

A process like this stops data overload and lets you actually go ‘do.’

And.

It really helps if you aren’t solely dependent upon ‘research research’ (you know … traditional qualitative or quantitative research) but rather you have the ability to capture prospect and customer information through sales (or marketing or even telemarketing).

Sales and marketing should be constantly striving to gain information on their possible customers (in fact you can build a parallel consumer buying system for those costumers/consumers who have never purchased from you with the purpose of not getting them to ‘do’ your buying system but seek the moments where they may actually sneak close so you can suck them into yours <… uh … that’s called converting competitive users …> and customers that will give them insight into not only their organization’s sales cycles but purchasing behavior.

Often the most overlooked and most valuable information is the information captured directly from your prospects and customers from previous dialogues.

Why does this happen?

Lack of attention from the sales and marketing personnel to gather and enter information.

Lack of consistency across the sales and marketing teams to gather and enter information.

The lack of understanding on how to use the information in a meaningful business dialogue.

These are solvable but that isn’t the point of this write up.

Here is a fact (that many marketing groups fail to see despite its obviousness).

The buying system is truly dependent upon information and information is often most attainable through sales (or any customer interaction including telemarketing and service providers). Once you have the information (an you have something as simple as a Consumer Buying System analysis) it is incredibly easy to Train sales and marketing people on “how” to use the information and “when and where” to use the information (in fact … sometimes the Buying System is so simple that people want to try and get something more ‘complicated’ because something that simple cannot be right).

Look.

(sticking with b2b)

Here’s the deal. Doing more with less seems to be a common issue we all face regardless of our roles or our responsibilities or industry. That means companies just need to be plain smarter with their activities and, in particular, with the information available and how they use that information (and leverage the information across their entire demand creation – consumer buying system – pipeline information process).

Yes.

I have written about a company called TelAffects. I didn’t want to call them telemarketing but, if you do, then you have to admit that many companies never receive the potential benefits of a well planned telemarketing program (read my article if you don’t agree).

People just don’t approach telemarketing in b2b as an effective marketing tool and integrate that activity into the entire process (as a marketing tool as well as an information tool).

Anyway.

The buying system naturally incorporates partners and alliances (telemarketers, crm, service providers, and suppliers) because the all affect the buying system and get built in to the entire fabric weave of interactions.

So.

All that said it all really falls apart if you don’t get the core thinking right.

Core thinking being value proposition, brand strategy and positioning in the marketplace (what need to does the company want to fulfill and how does the company want to be perceived by the customer).

An excellent example of brand vision in the semiconductor equipment industry is provided by Jim Morgan of Applied Materials. As chairman of the world’s leading semiconductor equipment supplier. He said, “Information is power. Information is wealth. Information is self-determination and in the 21stCentury, we have the potential of placing information in the hands of people around the world. This is the promise of the networked economy; the hope of individuals around the world; the purpose of Applied Materials.”

But. Core thinking is an entirely different article and write up.

This is about how b2b isn’t just for b2b rocket scientists. It’s for anyone who is smart enough and understands principles of differentiation and buying behavior.

Enough ranting.

Suffice it to say a good consumer marketing person can do b2b and a good b2b person can do consumer. And that’s that.

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Written by Bruce