How to Humanize the B2B Sales Process
Much of the business-to-business selling process has changed from the days when rounds of golf and extended lunches were used to develop a personal relationship to bring a sale to a close. Today’s digital age of computing and the Internet have allowed buyers more control to research and compare more thoroughly before engaging a seller, which creates a more informed level of decision making. It has brought the rapid acceleration of inbound marketing which in many cases has lengthened the business-to-business sales cycle.
Buyers are more empowered, independent and demanding so it is imperative that sellers move beyond generalized ads, a product sales pitch or an avalanche of generic emails and now humanize the selling process to engage the buyer and build a relationship of trust – personalizing the experience for the potential customer so that the prospect will turn to the seller when the purchase decision is reached.
The Demand Gen 2015 Lead Nurturing Benchmark Study reports that among the B2B companies surveyed, marketers are using more sophisticated tactics and targeted messaging in lead nurturing, using data and predictive marketing in nurturing campaigns to determine where in the process a buyer is; who is more likely to convert; and using a buyer’s actions and interests to determine the nurturing path for more personalized contact.
Several effective techniques to help personalize the experience for potential customers include creating personas, segmenting prospects and content mapping.
A sales organization must first know its customers – what they want, their goals, and the problems they are trying to solve. A buyer persona is a fictional customer profile representing a common type or category of customer, filled out with demographics and psychographics. Enterprises usually target more than one type of buyer so there may be multiple buyer personas. The goal is for the seller to understand who comprises its audience of existing customers and potential buyers, and to visualize and relate to them with a better understanding of what influences their behavior and how they make decisions.
A persona generally includes demographics such as industry, size, revenues, geographic location, income, company title or position, age and the like; and may also include psychographic information such as interests, attitudes, opinions and lifestyles. The most effective personas are based on research and actual data, often gleaned from an existing customer base, to answer such questions as what the buyer is trying to achieve; how is the buying decision made; what are the challenges, concerns and motivations; what influences the decision; and what are the primary sources of information on which the buyer relies.
A well-crafted buyer persona can provide a seller with an informed understanding of how to align marketing and nurturing decisions to the potential buyer’s expectations. This in turn makes the sales more meaningful and relevant to the buyer.
While effective buyer personas are the basic groundwork for a seller to understand the target audience and potential buyer, prospects even within the same persona category will be at different stages of the buying process. Even at lead generation, some may be in an early research phase while others are much further along in the buying decision. A seller wants to engage the customer early on, build and nurture the relationship throughout, to the sale conversion and beyond. To personalize the buyer’s experience, it is important to segment the prospects into the various stages of the buying process in order that contact and communications can be relevant to prospect’s needs at that particular stage.
The segmentation can be done based upon a prospects actions and behaviors.
Sales acceleration tools can track and analyze a prospect’s specific actions such as email engagement and tracking, web activity and visits, downloads of white papers or case studies, topic of content consumed, requests for more information, and responses to calls for action. The buyer’s activities inform the seller about the buyer’s likely stage in the buying process so that the seller can respond in the most appropriate way to move buyer forward and closer to the purchase decision.
Buyer personas and segmentation provide insights to understand a prospect’s characteristics and stage in the buying cycle. A third key element in personalizing the experience is content mapping – that is, understanding a buyer’s needs at each stage of the buying process and providing relevant content to help the prospect through decisions at that stage and to move forward.
The goal is for the content, messaging and communications to be tailored for maximum effect – providing a relevant, personal and persuasive experience. Early stage content may include accessible, general educational materials such as blog posts. As a customer shows more interest, the seller might provide content demonstrating industry expertise and leadership such as a white paper, or invitations to seminars or webinars. When the customer becomes more focused, product overviews, technical specifications, or demonstrations may be appropriate. As a buyer gets close to a purchase decision, case studies or testimonials may serve to emphasize specific value of the product or service.
In business-to-business sales today, buyers are able to research buying decisions independently of sellers. The challenge for sellers is not just to generate leads but how to engage potential customers early in the process, and then maintain that engagement to build a relationship of trust. To do so and be successful, sellers must respond by personalizing the experience for more demanding, empowered buyers – in effect, humanizing the sales process once again.