B2B Marketing Tips for Reaching the Web-influenced Buyer

My fiancé and I met with a travel planner this weekend to help us plan our honeymoon in May. She has been in the business for over 30 years, has traveled all over the world, and makes travel arrangements for many corporate clients as well as individuals. We spent over an hour and half discussing our preferences and getting her recommendations on how to get the most out of our trip. After we’d left the meeting and were walking back to the car, my fiancé turns to me and says, “She had some good suggestions, but I’m going to do some more research before making any decisions.” I promptly agreed with him that we should do our own research – using the Internet as our only search mechanism, which was so implied it didn’t need to be stated. The experience got me thinking about how drastically buying behavior has changed. Granted, her personal experience was helpful to us in narrowing down destinations, but when it came to booking, neither of us were comfortable using her as our sole information source – we needed the validation of online sources. In fact, I can’t even remember the last time I made a major (over $1000) purchase without first researching it online – and I’m not alone. Forrester estimates that $917 billion worth of retail sales last year were “Web-influenced.” It also estimates that online and Web-influenced offline sales combined accounted for 42 percent of total retail sales and that percentage will grow to 53 percent by 2014, when the Web will be influencing $1.4 billion worth of in-store sales.

While these are statistics and scenarios refer to b2c buying behavior, the b2b buying process has gone through similar changes in the last 5 years. Modern B2B buyers are using online sources to conduct independent research before ever speaking to a sales rep, and turning to the Internet to confirm or verify information throughout the buying process. The result – your online presence and interaction has become increasingly important. So how should Marketing and Sales adjust to reach the modern b2b buyer?

In The Left Brain Model: The Right Demand Generation Model for the Brave New World of B2B Marketing, Demand Gen expert Malcolm Friedberg sums it nicely when he states, “The evolution to a buyer-centric buying process represents a paradigm shift that requires Sales and Marketing to redefine established roles. In this environment, Sales is increasingly focused on the final, downstream decision-making process, while Marketing is playing an expanded role managing upstream buyer education and lead qualification.” A few things to think about when addressing the modern buyer:

1. The sales cycle is a joint effort between Marketing and Sales: Gone are the days of Marketing filling the top of the funnel with leads and dumping them into Sale's lap. Since modern buyers are turning to online sources for information throughout their entire buying process, your online content and lead nurturing should add the right value at the right stage of the buying process.

2. Your website is the first sales-call: Your website should help guide prospects through their buying cycles and present a clear problem-to-solution content path. When prospects gets on the phone with a sales rep, they’ve most likely already gone through their website thoroughly. A sales rep should be able to add value beyond what’s on the website.

3. Buyers Respond to Noise: With b2b buyers researching options on the Internet long before contacting a sales reps and continuing to reference online sources throughout their buying cycle, the louder your organization is online, the better. Search engines are posting results from social media sources - such as blogs, community forums, user reviews or twitter feeds, mentions or links on other websites, published articles, etc. When a modern buyer turns to a search engine and types in a phrase, they are looking for someone to respond. Whoever responds the loudest (produces the most results) with the most relevant, valuable content wins their attention.

Buyer behavior is constantly evolving, and to be effective marketers, we need to be refining the way we communicate to evolve with it. Nothing can replace human interaction, but your organization's online presence is a powerful player in the b2b sales cycle and most likely your prospects' first and last impression of you. Similar to my fiance and I needing online sources to validate our travel agents recommendations, today's b2b buyer wants independent research to confirm their sales rep has given them the facts and that they're making an informed decision. Where are they going to turn to get that validation? The Internet.