When we break everything down to basics, as businesses, what do we actually do for our customers?
Pose this question to B2B companies, and many will launch into a jargon-fuelled spiel about being “innovative providers” of this and that, or having a “feature-rich solution”, or how their people are really very good.
It’s understandable but, at its heart lies a fundamental mistake in B2B marketing. Customers do not care about your business or your product; they only care about their business or their own standing in the company they work for.
A good marketing strategy will consider that mindset at every single stage.
The B2B buying process
If we were to strip out all the sophistication from the B2B buying process, what would we see?
1. Someone in a business realises they have an unmet need.
2. They make a judgement about whether this is something that needs to be addressed now or later.
3. If now, they look for possible solutions and narrow these down to a few possibilities.
4. After interacting with possible suppliers, they make a final decision and buy.
5. If their purchase works, they will be happy and stay as customers.
6. If some needs remain or change, the process begins anew and they go back to market - either to the same vendor, or to find a new one.
Notice this is not a one-way funnel: it is a cycle of identifying issues, adopting different strategies and planning for repeat purchases.
So how does this work in the real world of B2B marketing?
Understanding customer psychology
Before we ever get to engage with prospects, they must understand they have a problem that needs solving or an opportunity to pursue. Once they do, they explore ways to fill that need.
No-one starts by looking for a specific product or service. That means, while you can highlight a challenge and influence the way the issue is viewed, you cannot jump the gun and fast-track them to the end of their journey.
To try may even do some damage, because it suggests to potential customers that you are thinking less about their needs and more about their budget.
Instead, you have to show a tangible route from where they are right now (“I have a problem”) to where they need to get to (“solved it!”). It’s about process more than product.
Once a business knows they have a problem, that it’s important and urgent, and how it can be fixed, they can begin searching in earnest. If you’ve done the groundwork of being helpful and valuable in the initial stages, you’ll be in a far better position to make the shortlist as a preferred solution.
At this point we return, again, to the customer’s needs. Your solution might have a thousand more features than your nearest competitor, but what’s meaningful for the customer? How can your products and services help them make progress towards achieving their goals? How can you help them make money, save money or compete more effectively in their markets?
If buyers think they are just comparing apples with other apples, they will simply haggle for the best-priced apple they can find. But if you can establish you are different in at least some of the ways that matter, you become less of a commodity (and a harder target for procurement’s best efforts).
If you have resisted a ‘me-me-me’ pitch, and replaced it with ‘you-you-you’, you’ll be getting closer to the sale. At this stage, it’s important to understand buying decisions are not rational but emotional (no matter what we’d like to believe).
Instead of battling through every objection, focus on the human elements. Reassure customers about what will happen if things go awry, what it will be like to work with you and what the next few months will look like once they sign the deal.
Because if they do the sign the deal, that is not the end of the process. It is the beginning of a relationship that may result in a lifetime of value for the company. It is, after all, a cycle.
Completing the circle
We now come full circle as the customer explores new opportunities or encounters new challenges. There will always come a time when challenges resurface, markets or businesses change, and the product is reviewed.
Of course, this time around they have an existing relationship with you. If you’ve done your job, it will be you that helps them spot new opportunities or gives them early warnings of problems they may need to solve.
Again, this is not an excuse to dive in and upsell. These customers are still likely to be more focused on the “why should I care?” mindset than “what’s available to help me?”. You may have some leeway with them and be able to build on your current engagement, but this doesn’t mean you can jump straight to the close.
Always remember, this is about their business and what matters to them. Ultimately, little else matters.
Copyright © 2019 Article made possible by Jason Ball, founder of B2B marketing specialist Considered Content