Marketing in the business to business world is all about lining up marketing activities against the customers' buying process. Most B2B companies think about marketing in a general way – we’ll launch a website, we’ll go to a tradeshow, we’ll do a webinar. But marketing activities and dollars spent don’t deliver results if they aren’t tightly matched to how customers make their purchase decision.
Here are the key pieces of information you need to know about how customers buy in order to put together an effective B2B marketing plan:
- What is the ‘trigger’ for needing to buy?
- Customers aren’t looking for your product or service because they have a wad of cash they feel like spending. They have a problem and they need a solution. What is the trigger that has forced them out into the market to look for a solution NOW? The answer to that question will tell you a lot about what message you need to deliver to get prospects’ attention. Is there legislation pending? Is there a Board Meeting coming up at which they need to report on progress? WHY are they in the market now as opposed to some other time?
- Who is involved in the purchase decision – who’s in charge of the process, who’s an influencer, who’s the main decision maker, who can say no.
- In business to business, it’s almost always a group of people who do the buying. You need to understand the dynamics in the group in order to have the right messages and activities for the various players.
- There is a ‘theory’ to this question and a ‘reality’. If you do a survey among customers you’re going to get the ‘theory’ answer, not the reality. What you need is the reality. Instead of doing a survey, do unstructured interviews and ask customers about how the purchase decision for a recent major purchase was made. Don’t ask them for a general process outline, ask them for the specifics of a real, recent example.
- What criteria do they use for making the decision – ie, what matters most to them and what is irrelevant
- Lots of companies rhyme off 10 different features that make their product or service better than the competition. Nobody cares. Customers have the ability to digest 2 or 3 features (better yet, benefits) – so find out which characteristics really matter to prospects.
- What are sources of information they rely on (online and offline)
- The majority of B2B buyers don’t use advertising as an indicator of a reputable supplier – they rely on endorsements from their network (referrals), demonstrated thought leadership (speaking at industry events, for example) and other sources. Find out directly from customers what sources they use to identify possible solutions for their problem – do they Google it, ask their network on LinkedIn, go to tradeshows, or something else? Also find out which sources have the most credibility in their eyes.
- What is the timeline for decision making
- It’s important to understand the speed of decision making so that your sales team is prepared to act quickly or slowly as appropriate. B2B purchases have a wide ranging scale – some decisions are done in a day, others take years. The marketing activities should be aligned with the reality so that no one is surprised – for the better or the worse.
There is no single answer to the questions above. The magic of B2B is that no 2 deals are exactly the same. But you will find similarities – and that is where your marketing should focus. A company that knows the answers to these 5 questions – in detail, directly from the target market – will be able to use the right marketing tactics at the right time with the right message. It will be much more effective than a company that attempts a string of general marketing activities in the hopes of intersecting with their target market exactly when they’re ready to buy.
The next question for most companies is how to reliably and cost-effectively get that information. I’ll cover that in my next blog.