The last six months have been incredibly busy for our agency – we’ve been to Dublin and London to work with a client, held workshops in Atlanta and Charlotte with three other clients, brought on two new employees, and have collectively spent over 500 hours in seminars and sessions at the HubSpot Inbound Marketing conference, Duct Tape Marketing Consultants Summit, Google trainings, and numerous other education opportunities.
In those six months, we have raised our business development IQ to new levels and seen a transformation in the way we approach many things. Here are the top 7 things that we have learned, relearned, or just simply had reinforced during the second half of the year. From our experiences, there are lessons you can take and a few predictions for 2016 that we can make.
Here are the 7 most important B2B marketing trends we learned in 2015:
1. B2B Businesses Need a Marketing Site - Not a Website
Yes, they sound the same, but they aren’t. At Leading Results, we put your web presence into one of 3 main categories: it is either a website, a marketing site or a transactional site.
A website, as we look at it, is simply a brochure or a support site on the internet. It is the digital representation of what you did last century in print and via telephone.
A marketing site adds a business development layer. It allows your potential customers to self-learn and self-identify themselves to you and allows you to get a better understanding of their wants and needs over time.
eCommerce adds the transactional layer to your marketing site that allows your prospective customers to complete the full buyer’s journey without any direct contact with your staff.
When the web strategy is done correctly, it is a hierarchy. And yes, your web presence can have a secondary purpose, and many do, as a combination of two of these.
Most B2B firms need a marketing site. This is a presence on the internet that allows a prospective customer, partner, or stakeholder to learn about your business, anonymously at first, and then, over time, allows them to reveal themselves to you. Forcing a visitor to identify themselves before learning very much, will scare many of them off. Allowing them to reveal themselves as they get to know, like, and trust your business is a much more human approach.
B2B is not retail, but as a frame a reference, a retail store is a good analogy. If you walked into a retail store that you’d never visited before and were immediately assaulted by a clerk who wanted to know everything about you before you even looked around a bit, you’d likely turn and walk out the door. But what if that same clerk made eye contact and smiled the first time you visited? Asked a bit more about you the next time? And so on, through a number of visits, until you’d developed a good feeling for the store, and likely shopped, and continue to shop, there. Your marketing site must follow the same metaphor.
If you sell supplies or consumables to other businesses, you likely need an eCommerce site as well – but without a good marketing site to differentiate yourself, you’re going to be competing on price.
Most importantly, remember that any type of online presence is meant to be living and breathing. Make changes often based on the reaction that your customers and visitors are having and how they are interacting with your content. Analytics are meant to drive your understanding of the users’ experience – don’t just look at the analytics and think, “interesting.” Make changes accordingly to improve the user experience. Remember that your website is a means of communication and often the beginning of a conversation when your potential customers speak (with their clicks, bounce rates, etc.). Listen and adjust accordingly.
2. You Don't Have to Execute All Marketing Tactics
There simply is not enough time and treasure to do it all.
Question: For a B2B firm, does social marketing make sense? Answer: Some parts do. LinkedIN has proven its worth to our clients over and over again. Twitter is great for getting a feeling of what conversations may be happening, but for getting your message out? Not so great.
For some businesses, tradeshows remain a great way to find leads. For others, using the telephone still works (some). And on and on.
Bottom line is that you really need to understand the customer’s buying process – the journey that your customers are taking – and you need to intersect with that journey in a meaningful way. You need to understand the moments that drive the small decisions, which ultimately add up to the big one.
The theme that keeps popping up in conversations is to do fewer things, better. We could not agree more.
3. Commerce Doesn't Happen without Conversation
You may not have to execute on every tactic, but for most B2B firms – especially those selling knowledge, complex products, or long-term services – you don’t make a sale without human follow up. That may sound like common sense, but many companies talk about inbound marketing without mentioning the need for sales development. And sales development is the conversation that happens after the conversion that results in commerce.
Maybe you are familiar with the terms MQL and SQL – marketing qualified lead and sales qualified lead. A marketing qualified lead is one that has given enough information to allow you to continue to market to them. An SQL is an MQL that has provided information that makes it worth it for a sales person to follow up. The problem with the concept of MQL and SQL for today’s sales and marketing teams is that the underlying assumption is that the marketing and sales processes are a linear progression.
As one presenter at the Inbound conference remarked, “I’ve never seen a CRM system that allows you to easily reduce the progressed state of prospect in a sales cycle.” And this is the problem. The customer journey, and all those moments that lead to purchase is squiggly.
How do you deal with that unpredictable process? Conversation.
4. Follow-Up is Critical - In Moderation
We don’t like to be sold – but we do like to buy. I’ve heard and said that phrase over and over, hundreds of times. And it still rings true. Following up on a conversion is important, but sensitivity to the timing, interest level, and customer’s process is critical.
Just because someone downloads a checklist from your website doesn’t mean they are ready to buy now, or even engage with sales in a conversation. Conversely, a prospect asking a very specific question or about pricing is probably much further along in their journey, and your response approach can have an enormous impact on the outcome for your company. This isn’t difficult to understand in principle, but in practice, we see many companies that aren’t good at reading the clues that buyers provide and then taking the appropriate action.
Follow-up too aggressively by email and a prospect may unsubscribe. Follow-up too little or for too short a period of time, and they may buy elsewhere when the time comes because they have forgotten about you. It’s a delicate dance, and it always changes. We have said before that marketing is not a set it and forget it part of the business, and that is never more true than now.
5. Be Memorable or You Will be Forgotten
Doing whatever it is you do better, faster, cheaper is not doing it more memorable. You may get the customer the first time, but will they remember you the next? And if you aren’t memorable, how will they remember to refer you to their friends or business peers?
To borrow a journalistic phrase – what’s your hook? What is that unique thing that represents what you do? What is the phrase, the tagline, the talking logo, the unique process, the unique packaging of products/services – any of those things can set you apart from all the competitors that look the same.
We’ve heard the stories from clients and prospects of customers that bought from someone else because they a) forgot the business did “that” thing or b) didn’t even know they offered “that” service. Heck, we’ve experienced it ourselves when clients did not fully understand the complete range of services we offer.
This is a very busy, very noisy, very complicated business environment we all operate in. It is hard to get noticed, but when you do, you have to be memorable so that all the cost of getting noticed isn’t wasted.
6. More Than Ever, Speed Matters
When we first started going online, the speed of a website mattered a lot because of our pokey access speeds. But we also had some patience when it came to surfing because it was a) new and b) we had no real expectations.
Broadband speeds at work and at home have changed our expectations. We want websites to come up instantly, and we want it to happen on our phone too (where access speeds haven’t quite matched wireless or wired networks.) So your website load time matters more than ever. If it doesn’t come up quickly, the back button is closer than ever.
The speed of follow up also matters more than ever – as in point 4 above – and it is not just the right amount of follow-up, but the speed at which it happens. We heard a stat recently that really surprised us until we thought more about it. If you follow up with someone within 5 minutes of them downloading something from your website, you’ll connect with them more than 70% of the time. Now, it is probably not a “sales level” follow up. If you think about it, though, it makes sense. It is about catching people in the moment, and if they have just downloaded something from you, they are “in the moment.” It’s in that moment that you can add a human touch to a digital process.
7. The Customer is the Most Disruptive Force in Our Current Business Environment
Full credit to Tiffani Bova of Gartner, who said this. Technology is always changing. As marketers, sales people, and entrepreneurs, we understand, accept, and even embrace this. The customer changing their buying process, however, has upended many long-time held truths and understandings. Access to technology, communication, and information through that smart phone in your pocket has fundamentally changed our buying behavior, forever. The shift is as monumental as the rise of the 2-wage earner family in the 1970’s. We just don’t do things the way we used to.
If you are B2B, you may think that this doesn’t affect you as much – and you could not be more incorrect. Businesses are no more than a collection of consumers, and the behavior we follow in our personal life is reflected in our business life. I sat in a meeting this past fall where we were discussing a technology application. The sales rep made a claim that one of the attendees did not quite believe. Rather than research it later or take the rep at his word, he simply pulled out his phone and did a search. Two minutes later, the rep was back-peddling. Your customers will hold you accountable for what you promise and the internet will help them.
Our Top Three Predictions for 2016
So, based on these lessons, what predictions can we make of the future? Here are three that we will be basing our decisions and plans on.
1. The Truth Will Set You Free
Your prospective customers will continue to do more and more research before engaging with your sales team because the research and learning they do on their own is verifiable. We are now more skeptical of what we are told and less skeptical about what we read or watch. That means your sales and marketing staff need to be better informed and better trained than ever before on how you solve a customer’s problem. Commerce won’t happen without a conversation, and that conversation has got to be forthright, to the point, and honest.
2. Do Less and Do It Better Will Be Most Important
Specialization continues its march forward. We are getting more tribal, more niche-y, and more specific about the issues we want to resolve. Businesses especially want a solution that solves their specific problem in a way that helps them better perform in their specific niche. You don’t have to, and should not, perform every service and sell every product that your ideal customer needs. Focus on solving a few problems, very well, and price for the value of your solution. When you can provide remarkable and differentiated solutions to difficult problems, you become both memorable and profitable. (And your marketing/business development is much easier too.)
3. The Content Explosion Will ContinueIt gets easier and easier to create content – writing, video, audio, images. But great content with value and meaning that is also entertaining to consume remains an elusive accomplishment for most companies. (Especially in the B2B space).
Great content is not easy. And it is not inexpensive. In keeping with the doing less and doing it better, you will need to get recognized above all the noise. You can try to be louder or you can try to be better. Noisier is annoying. Better is memorable.
So what did you learn this past year and how will it impact your 2016? Please leave us a comment or, if you found this valuable, take a moment to share it with those business peers that matter to you. Best wishes for a tremendously successful 2016.