Over 20+ years I spent in the B2B sales trenches, I maintained a healthy suspicion of “Marketing”. Now that I am the co-founder of a B2B specialist social media agency, I freely confess to a sea change in that attitude. This history does help us, though, as we engage similarly predisposed prospects. B2B Companies, because of a longer and more complex sales cycle, sometimes find It harder to visualize exactly how these new-fangled concepts like Content Marketing and Social Media fit into the equation. This post is an attempt to shed some light on the potential impact of B2B Social Media on the B2B buyer’s journey – and therefore on B2B Sales.
Let me share the story of a B2B sale I saw at close quarters, that provides some grist for this particular mill. A few months ago, we received a call from a mid-sized software technology company with some very specific ideas about their content and social media marketing needs. The interaction was unusual on a few counts, one their degree of familiarity with these activities, channels and anticipated impact, second the rush they seemed to be in and lastly in how little time we had to expend in building up our own credentials. They insisted on a proposal the very next day, which was discussed and negotiated within a couple of days and we saw a signed contract within a week of the first phone call. Great – so a B2B sales cycle that lasted just a week, right? Wrong, as it turned out.
As we started engaging, we asked them just how they came to hear of us – a niche player in a town many hundreds of miles away. The answer was revealing. Apparently a little over six months earlier, their COO had received an email we had sent out as a part of a campaign when we launched a specific offering for technology companies. They did not reach out to us at the time but the agency and our B2B focus seemed to stay in their collective consciousness. Over the following months, they noticed each time we created content touching upon specific aspects of B2B Marketing, be it a Slideshare presentation on an integrated B2B LeadGen approach, or articles we contributed to startup or marketing focused publications about effective Content Marketing and high impact B2B Social Media tactics. Unseen to us, they were educating themselves and forming their own conclusions about what was likely to suit their specific business needs. Their COO eventually proceeded to connect with me, and another senior colleague at the agency, over LinkedIn. It’s fair to assume he reviewed our profiles and visited our website before getting on the phone to us. Clearly, this was a B2B Sale that took a good 6 months from start to finish – just that a large part of this was invisible to us.
We have all heard just how much of the buyer’s journey is completed online before the seller company gets engaged – estimates ranging from 55% to even 80% are floating around. The numbers in the B2B space are just as clear – here are a couple of particularly revealing ones.
- 77% of B2B buyers claimed that they would not even engage with sales people before they had taken the time to do their own research. (Source: Corporate Executive Board)
- Over 70% of B2B Buyers admit that they use social media to help them in making their decision. (Source: Dell)
So, the B2B sale mentioned earlier started conventionally with an outbound email campaign and ended conventionally, with contract negotiations and closure, but all that happened in between was driven by content and social media. This is representative of, what is now, a fairly typical buyer journey.
- In the “Discovery” phase of the buyer journey, prospects are turning to social media to discover content that helps them identify for themselves what their specific business issues are, the possible impact on their business goals, and just what it will take to make that change.
- The “Consideration” phase is when they seem to start forming opinions about potential solutions worth considering. Social Media offers opportunities to connect with and learn from, other individuals from companies, that might have been similarly placed. Content seems to play a key role here in helping prospects make comparisons and draw up the contours of what could work for their specific needs.
- Vendors who have solutions to offer can get an early look-in into the “Decision” stage, only if it is their content the prospects are referring to over the early stages. This is a big change from the early B2B Sales days, when sales pros like my own younger self, were in control of the information flow to our prospects.
- Then coming to the final stages where the “Closure” happens – the role of social channels (like LinkedIn) in establishing a warm connection that can grow into a meaningful relationship cannot be overstated.
Zig Ziglar said, “Stop selling. Start helping.” This has always applied in the world of B2B Sales, only that in today’s Content & Social-driven world, the prospects are likely to turn to an online source to help themselves. It is this behavior that drives the big impact of B2B Social Media in B2B Sales – is your sales engine ready?