With B2B purchases often made by groups of several decision-makers, online B2B sellers should form a multi-prong strategy of understanding customers’ needs and providing relevant content and helpful customer experience, Katy Sanchez of Firewood Marketing writes.

KatySanchez-FirewoodMarketing

Katy Sanchez

As consumers, we’ve become accustomed to online buying processes that are streamlined and easy to navigate—all the information we need at our fingertips to facilitate a purchase in just a few clicks. It’s simplicity that, as consumers (and humans), we’ve come to expect.

With business-to-business buying, it’s a different story. Nearly three-quarters of B2B buyers surveyed in 2019 by global research and advisory firm Gartner Inc. described their buying purchases as “very complex or difficult.” And given the growing intricacies of B2B purchasing, buying decisions are now being made by groups or committees typically composed of six to ten decision-makers, each bringing four to five pieces of relevant information to the decision-making table. All of which is making it more and more difficult for buyers, well, to buy.

So, how can B2B sellers help make buying easier? By equipping individual buyers with the information and the tools they need—something Gartner calls “buyer enablement.” And a big part of the process is building trust by truly understanding your customers’ challenges, providing them with information and solutions, and along the way fostering a human connection. People buy from people. Here’s how to get there.

Understand your customer  

Customer data and user profiling is the starting point in creating a meaningful experience that will help buyers better understand their needs and find a solution—your solution—to the challenges they face. Here are a few tips to establishing a strong customer data strategy:

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  • Talk to your customers. This is the best way to gain insight into who they are—their motivations, needs, and pain points—and what emotions they experienced when they bought your product or service. Listening to your existing customers is critical to understanding how to attract new buyers.
  • Gather third-party data. Firmographics (firm demographics) can help B2B marketers identify and segment target accounts by categories. Technographic data shows the hardware and software technologies your targeted accounts are using. Industry and market research can provide greater overall knowledge. And intent data can help determine purchase probability based on online behavior.
  • Partner with sales. Consult sales account plans and conduct internal interviews with salespeople to gather feet-on-the-ground account intelligence. Meet with existing customers to understand how your company can help streamline their buying process.
  • Measure buyer engagement across all marketing initiatives. B2B buyers will typically use multiple channels to research and interact with a brand during their decision journey. So don’t limit intent data to what prospective buyers are researching online. A broader analysis of buyer interactions with your brand—including attendance at in-person events and webinars, for example—will give you a good indication of the types of channels and content that your audience is more likely to engage with.
  • Build buyer personas and understand how they interact. Incorporate in-depth customer profiles and identify members of buying committees to create meaningful experiences for these individuals. It’s important to go beyond single buyer personas and look at the interconnections between personas—some may not share the same reasons for buying and disagree on solutions, resulting in divergence in personal and organizational priorities. Understanding who the influencers and blockers are is important in guiding prospects to purchase.

Deliver content that connects

Buyers want to know that B2B vendors understand the challenges they face. In a 2019 survey of B2B buyers on their content preferences, 68% said they wanted B2B vendors to organize content by issue or pain point. And the top two content formats preferred were case studies (cited by 47% of respondents) and webinars (cited by 39% of respondents).

When preparing content, keep these things in mind for creating empathetic and meaningful connections with your target buying audience:

  • Humanize your customers. Who are they? How do you help them? Create customer stories that will resonate with examples your audience can relate to.
  • Humanize your company. Prioritize interactive experiences with prospects and showcase your in-house experts. Create a dream team to host webinars, write content, and speak at events.

Make buying easy

Want to make it easier for your prospects to buy? According to Gartner, when B2B buyers receive information that helps them determine whether to buy, they are more likely to experience a high degree of ease when purchasing, and three times more likely to buy a bigger deal with less regret.

As a marketer, your job is to deliver experiences that help make the buying process easier. A combination of highly consumable digital and human channels—like workshops, relevant case studies, readily accessible specifications or technical details, and customized pricing and incentives—help accomplish this. Here are some content tactics to help making buying easier:

  • Peer-to-peer stories. Showcasing how your solution helps customers with similar challenges can be extremely powerful. Specific use cases by industry and role can help your audience see the direct application and impact on their business.
  • Workshops, value engineering cases, and proof of concept. Taking a proactive and prescriptive approach by making customized recommendations to help guide customers through decision-making will increase the likelihood of purchase ease while decreasing the likelihood of purchase regret.
  • Free trials, free training. Help buyers familiarize themselves with the technology without being pressured by sales. Incentives tailored to your audience will accelerate trial and conversion.
  • Readily accessible specifications or technical details. Cool demos with new digital technologies like 3D will go a long way in engaging audiences.

Case in point: Steel manufacturer Tenaris

Global manufacturer Tenaris, a producer of steel pipes and related services for the world’s energy industry and other industrial segments, offers a variety of products that require deep dives into data sheets, informational specifications, and other technical details. Yet the company website was difficult to navigate, and information key to decision-making on purchases was not readily available.

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To streamline the information-gathering process for customers and prospects, and to make it easier for them to request demos or connect with sales, Tenaris completely redesigned the company website. Print materials and PDFs were transformed into optimized digital assets, and site structure was redesigned to eliminate the use of microsites.

Recently, the company also introduced the new Digital Box section, expanding its offering of digital tools to provide more cost-efficient solutions to its customers. For example, the new Digital Box includes the Rig Direct® Portal, powerful software that allows customers to place orders, track shipments and deliveries, manage rig returns, and access invoices. The result is an easily navigable website that provides direct and clear information to expert users as well as new visitors.

Keep it human 

There’s no doubt that B2B buying will continue to evolve—there will be more information to deliver, more channels to explore, and more tactics we haven’t yet thought of to facilitate ease of buying as we move forward. But one thing that will not change (at least in the foreseeable future) is that B2B buyers, like their consumer counterparts, are human. Creating human connections with your prospects by understanding their needs and then delivering content across multiple channels to help make buying decisions easier, will go a long way toward building the trust necessary to convert those prospects into buyers—your buyers.

Katy Sanchez is senior director, strategy at digital marketing agency Firewood, part of the S4 Capital (SFOR.L) group of companies. 

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