Forrester analyst Andy Hoar wrote an excellent report—“Death of a (B2B) Salesman”—about how B2B buyer preferences have quickly and fundamentally shifted. The name of the report refers to the trend that B2B buyers increasingly prefer to self-educate versus talk to sales representatives to learn about products and services. They also think that buying online is more convenient than buying from a salesperson. As Andy Hoar concludes, the B2B buyer behavior has changed signiﬁcantly in the past few years, but B2B corporate sales activity has not.
When more than 70% of customers do not want to interact with sales representatives, the appearance of the sales funnel changes in a dramatic way. Instead of looking in a printed catalog and calling the sales rep, B2B buyers are now starting their buying journey—and their entry into the funnel—by searching Google, Amazon Business, or other B2B eCommerce sites, increasingly using a mobile device while being on the go. You need to quickly help them find you, guide them to the right solution, and gain their trust without any human interaction. This is not easy to do, but a lot of business and revenue will be lost if you fail. In contrast, a lot of business will be won if you succeed.
So how can you turn this dramatic shift to your advantage and gain B2B sales superpowers?
Step 1: Get found.
To be found you need to be great at SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and provide Google and Amazon with the right high-quality content. SEO is constantly changing as Google and others optimize and modify their search algorithms, and many people make a good living out of consulting on the subject. However, without that high-quality content, these consultants cannot help you, because the foundation for successful SEO is high-quality, keyword-rich content. You need to provide this content to all your attracting channels, and to do so, you need to produce large amounts of it. It is much more efficient if it is created and stored granularly—instead of as large chunks of text—and is professionally localized.
Step 2: Guide the customer.
If you succeed with step 1, congratulations! The buyer has found you. You now need to guide them, as they most likely landed on a product page and not on a Home or category page. Your goal now is to provide the buyer with a guided navigation that quickly presents relevant products and the associated ecosystem of up-sells and cross-sells. Since the buyer may be using a mobile device, time is of the essence, and your on-site search and navigation will determine if they will find what you have to sell.
Your on-site search must be fast and efficient. Most likely, your search functionality is driving the guided (faceted) navigation. It is called a search engine for a reason, and the fuel for that engine is product content—high-quality, granular content.
Step 3: Gain trust.
If you have your product attributes and assortment in order, the B2B buyer should now have a few alternatives to choose from that match their need. Like any great sales rep, your goal now is to build rapport and trust with the customer—through your website interaction. You need to make it fast and easy to compare products, by providing all the necessary information. Most importantly, you need to display accurate information that is consistent across all the touchpoints in the customer's buying journey. Even small errors, such as the gross weight being lower than the net weight, will make the rest of your information not seem very trustworthy. On the other hand, a product video or a 360-degree spin will increase the chances of a sale, by increasing the customer's confidence in your product.
Selling complex products
If you sell complex products, it is often necessary to have an expert, such as a customer care or sales representative, help the customer to create a correct order. However, even if that is the case, most buyers will have done considerable research before they contact your sales rep or product expert. B2B buyers are empowered buyers, and you need to empower your sales team to meet this new challenge. Buyers and sellers alike need access to all the knowledge you have about the product, and they need it in real time, just like your website. You may also need to augment this information with a CPQ tool (Configure Price Quote) with configuration capabilities, which will unquestionably drive the need for more and extremely accurate product information.
Content is still king!
I hope you get my point. Content is the foundation for turning this dramatic shift to your advantage, in all phases of the buying journey, and irrespective of the systems and tools you invest in. Don't get me wrong: digital marketing and sales tools are necessary to manage the new B2B sales funnel efficiently. But before you invest in tools that empower customers and sales reps alike, invest in your content and keep investing in it. Content is a lot like fruit; it is a perishable asset with a shelf life, and you can never stop producing and updating it.
Johan Boström, Co-founder and Evangelist, inRiver