The nature of the B2B buyer is changing - the evidence is in our pipelines. The decision making process, which has always been slow and complicated, is now even longer and more unwieldy.
The economic climate means that the old adage of 'you'll never get fired for buying IBM' no longer holds true. Now we can say ‘you'll never get fired for deferring a purchasing decision' or 'you'll never get fired for implementing the lowest cost solution’. The shadow of the unseen decision maker- more often than not the finance department - looms large.
Marketers need to rise above the frustration and develop new strategies to generate profitable and sustainable demand.
Adam Needles of Silverpop pointed me to Jolles model of the decision making process. A more sophisticated interpretation of AIDA, it helps us consider our proposed activities in the context of where a prospect is in the buying cycle.
An enlightening finding is that purchasers spend 79% of their time in the acknowledgement phase - deciding whether or not they have a need that requires satisfying at all.
Armed with this information, we can make great sense of the importance of structured and relevant engagement marketing activity. This might include inbound marketing, such as search and social media, or more traditional outbound tactics including sponsorship and advertising. These are all areas where it is hard to show a short term ROI, but, as shown by Jolles model, they need to be in every marketing plan in one form or another.
The key to ensuring the investment is ultimately returned is buyer relevance. Businesses have to commence and maintain a dialogue with prospects on issues that are relevant to the buyer. The mantra must be: identify the issue and own the conversation.
Richard Bush, MD of Base One Group said recently:
“We need to change our traditional approach of: 'Find; Convert; Develop; Keep' to 'Engage; Convert; Develop; Keep”
How to engage is the tricky bit. Insight is at the heart of building more buyer-centric campaigns and a variety of techniques can be used. There is, of course, the option of formal research, but more economically, a Twitter search is a great way of feeling the pulse of people's reaction and opinion on any topic. A simple Google Alert can do the same job, as can reading the trade press. And let's not forget the basic principle of keeping engaged with sales talking to the people that are talking to customers every day.
When the central issue is identified, it can be used as the platform for advertising messages, email campaigns, blog posts and press releases that inform and engage. The goal is 1:1 marketing on a mass scale.
There is no denying that it is difficult. The central issue for one audience will be different to the central issue for another. Segmentation, niching and top-slicing are probably the best chances that we have got and, even to get to this point, research, data analysis and an incredibly robust CRM system are essential to delivering the right message to the right prospect at the right point in the buying cycle.
Can it ever be automated? Companies like Silverpop and The Annuitas Group are making immense strides with lead scoring and lead nurturing, but even with great systems, marketing messages that don’t engage are lost in the wind.
The business that can identify and own the topic of the day is the business that will be top of mind when acknowledgement moves to search.