Over the years, shopping in grocery stores has become an ever more isolated experience.
What once involved a friendly chat with a cashier is now all shrill self-service checkouts. Next up, checkout free stores that let you walk out with a full cart and drive away.
However nostalgic you feel about the demise of social interactions like these, the same thing is happening in B2B sales.
The Growing Independence of B2B Buyers
Research by B2B marketing agency Considered Content has revealed two-thirds of buyers in medium and large businesses are now self-serving more information before making any contact with vendors. And more than half (53%) would prefer to buy without any interaction with sales at all.
In short, today’s B2B buyers are decidedly aloof, and increasingly independent.
The good news? This makes marketing’s function all the more important. Because it’s marketing that oils the buyer journey — and if we know how buyers think, we can create the content and experiences for which we know they’re actively hunting.
In short, brands today need to excel in making it easy for buyers at any stage of the sale to get what they need. We need to do this both for buyers themselves and to help convince the rest of the decision makers in their companies (because, of course, in almost every B2B sale, there’s more than one decision maker).
Related Article: The New Priorities of Next-Generation B2B Marketing
Valuable Content Means Education, Information
This means offering multiple content paths to enable buyers to succeed, whether they are at the very initial needs-search stage or comparing vendors for a short list. They should be able to source richly informative, educational content — from guides and case studies to research and instructional videos. Critically, this content must be focused on their needs and their pain points (and crucially, not simply be all about you).
We must also equip salespeople with what they need to add value when they finally do interact with buyers. The most effective salespeople are those that can teach their customers something valuable about those customers’ businesses. This has already been well researched: see The Challenger Sale and the Sense Making Approach.
Ultimately, marketers should be making the research-to-purchase journey as painless as possible. Because where buyers encounter friction, their first instinct is not to struggle through it, it’s to go elsewhere.
Related Article: Why B2B Marketing's a Long Game, Not a Hit-and-Run SaaS Play
Buyers’ Remorse Is Real
But don’t think that just because buyers are aloof that they don’t expect excellent service. Buyers’ remorse is real and far from uncommon (especially in software sales).
You’ve successfully convinced buyers to devote time, effort and implementation costs into switching to your product or service. They’ve started to make changes to their processes to accommodate new systems. They have big adoption plans. But, suddenly, everything starts to seem very difficult. Sound familiar?
Things don’t integrate the way they thought they would. Their colleagues seem reluctant to use something new. The initial optimism slowly wears off.
When there isn’t sufficient momentum in adoption across a department or company, the few early adopters stop, too. Pretty soon, no one is using the product any more, and the whole thing becomes a colossal and expensive failure. (It’s a key reason why decision makers are so difficult to convince in the first place — they get the blame when it all goes south.)
This is why visible customer success is far more important than people give it credit for. The first six months — the honeymoon period — are absolutely key. You want customers to be happy with their choice, of course, but you also need adoption across their businesses. Because the deeper the adoption, the stickier you are.
You’d be amazed how many technology companies don’t bother to make contact with new customers until a month before their renewal date (when you’re already dead to them).
Go Beyond the Purchasing Stage
We can safely assume from the aforementioned research that, today, most users would probably rather figure out problems themselves, and hunt for the answer online before contacting customer service. (You’ll have your own war stories about contacting support.) This is why marketing content should go far beyond taking buyers up to the purchasing stage.
Good onboarding and customer service content can make a huge difference to your success. Aim for weekly or fortnightly communications, proactively answer frequent questions, offer video tutorials for the tasks your support team gets asked about most often.
All these are responsive and trackable so you can see what customers are looking at. This will also tell you exactly what you need to know about problems and pain points. Importantly, they’re also often viewed by prospects looking to see what you’ll be like to work with if they do become a customer.
Remember, a big reason why buyers are so reluctant to talk to sales or even support is because these teams are so often not very good at adding value, or helping. Customer service should be all about how to deepen your relationship with your customer and make them want to renew, buy more, or recommend you to a friend. It shouldn’t simply focus on, “How can we get through these tickets as fast as possible?”
All this is absolutely achievable, even when you can’t convince them to make time for a call with you. Content, actually, has never been more important.
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