New research from CEB’s Marketing Leadership Council shows that potential business customers are increasingly using digital channels to form opinions about major purchases. Today’s business buyers do not contact suppliers directly until 57 percent of the purchase process is complete. The challenge for marketers is to be present in these channels at all times with content that educates buyers and helps guide commercial decisions.
For those seeking to deliver tailored customer experiences based on deep customer insights, digital data and new analytic tools are a treasure trove. There are major shifts that are happening in the industry when it comes to B-to-B buying and selling. Now—thanks to the Internet and mobile technology—the amount of accessible information is astronomical. Currently, 58 percent of all leads come from the web, and that number is expected to increase to 71 percent by 2015. Only a few years back, the typical sales cycle started with the seller in the driver seat, and continued down a road in which the buying and sales cycles were directly aligned.
Today, more prospect interaction is occurring online, which is shortening the actual time for sales engagement. Buyers in the Internet age are far more educated than ever before, and as a result, are now in the power position as navigators of the sales cycle. Most buyers also favor digital interactions over in-person meetings, so by the time a sales representative engages with the buyer, a digital dialogue has already begun and opinions have been formed. The need for an early digital relationship has never been higher.
Interestingly enough, few marketers receive formal marketing training relevant to today’s dramatically changing industry. So what do these shifts in the buyer/seller relationship mean to channel marketers? It should mean they put the majority of their focus on inbound marketing and react to these B-B changes by leveraging the role of the web.
It’s Marketing’s job to influence the 57 percent of the sale that occurs mostly on the web, before Sales contact, but three challenges – incomplete digital integration, ineffective content, and a poorly-optimized channel mix – are keeping marketers from growing mindshare and making the most of what they are getting already. First, it’s important to understand as much as possible about your buyers and their purchase process to market your solutions most effectively. Typical customers start their purchase process by going to their search engine of choice; thus, understanding the search terms your customers are using is critical to ensure your company shows up. This relates directly to SEO and how well your website is working for you.
Most B2B marketers have wised up to the value of content marketing, but many are still early on in the journey from product-focused to relationship-building content marketing. According to the 2014 Forrester Research/Business Marketing Association/Online Marketing Institute study, Compare Your B2B Content Marketing Maturity, while 51% of B2B marketing leaders rate their content marketing practices as very mature, an overwhelming 85% fail to connect content activity to business value — and, as a result, fail to retain customers or win their long-term loyalty. In fact, when asked to look back at the past 12 months and rate the effectiveness of content marketing efforts, only 14% of those surveyed gave their content practices high marks for delivering value back to the business.
Developing a strong digital strategy is a critical part of any marketer’s arsenal. Customers will be able to find you in their searches and use your content and resources to help guide their choices. It will also help position your company as a trusted thought leader in the industry by providing customers with solutions that address their pain points, and ultimately drive traffic to your website. By developing an effective digital marketing strategy you can play a leadership role helping to drive sales, tap into new customers and increase your company’s online presence.