The B2B sales process has undergone a substantial transformation over the last several years. With the proliferation of the web and its impact on increasingly self-sufficient B2B buyers, firms are relying more on marketing to deliver sales-ready leads than ever before.

Engage B2B Buyers

In the past, the “vendor” controlled the process. They had the information and buyers were dependent upon sales (or business development) people, advertisements, product sheets and brochures to get that information. But times have changed, and today’s B2B buyers spend a lot of time online researching solutions, arming themselves with intelligence to help them make better purchasing decisions.

As we recently discussed, the old school sales funnel has been replaced with a buyer’s journey that is not always a straight and continuous line. For many B2B firms, the buyer’s journey is often long, methodical and increasingly less reliant on sales. In fact, today’s B2B buyers go through nearly 60% of the purchasing process before ever talking to sales. So the question is, what is your marketing doing to engage these buyers before they engage you? Here’s a list of 3 ways to engage buyers and better position your firm for the win.

1. Attract B2B buyers early on with the right kind of content

Content should play a critical role in engaging B2B buyers before they’re ready to speak with sales. But not just any content will work! What’s needed is customer-centric content—blog posts, whitepapers, eBooks, webinars, emails, social media posts and web pages—that focus on a prospect’s needs at each stage of the buying cycle.

Sales material is not what early stage buyers are looking for
B2B buyers in the early stage of the sales cycle are not looking for features and benefits, company information or why they should work with you and not your competitors. They’re trying to ascertain their needs, figure out what options exist and be as educated as possible before even contemplating who to buy from.

Focus on the needs and interests of prospects
Your content should speak to what B2B buyers are interested in and searching for online, instead of focusing on your products or services. Be sure to leverage buyer personas and create engaging content that identifies and addresses the problems, challenges, questions and information gaps your audience might have and provide them with valuable information about those topics.

2. Build lead generation into the DNA of your website

The brochure-style websites of the past are no longer effective at engaging today’s B2B buyer. What’s needed is a powerful, business development-focused website that has lead generation and conversion strategy at its core. A large part of engaging B2B buyers early on in the sales cycle is lead generation: turning an unknown visitor into an identified lead. It’s essentially getting them to “raise their hand” and express some level of interest in your company.

Convert unknown visitors into identified leads
Once a prospect has identified a need, they begin to research for potential solutions or partners. They’re looking for information to help them make a better decision once they’re ready to purchase. And if you’ve attracted a prospect to your website through creating early-stage, top-of-funnel content, you need strategies in place to convert an unknown visitor into an identified lead.

The process of lead generation
So how do you make lead generation happen? First, you should create premium content such as eBooks, whitepapers, reports and webinars specifically to address a buyer’s needs in the interest and consideration stage of the buying cycle. Next you’ll want to create compelling calls-to-action and place them in strategic locations throughout your website. These calls-to-action should drive visitors to offer-specific landing pages where they are given the opportunity to provide some basic contact information in exchange for the content offered.

3. Educate leads and push them closer to the sale with lead nurturing

Once you’ve identified a lead, now what? Just because they’ve registered for your webinar or downloaded a whitepaper doesn’t mean they’re ready to sign on the dotted line. In fact, studies suggest that between 30% to 50% of the leads that enter a pipeline represent future opportunities, but they’re not yet ready to buy. But according to a Genius.com study, 66% of buyers indicated that “consistent and relevant communication provided by both sales and marketing organizations” is a key influence in choosing a solution provider. In fact, research from the McKinsey Quarterly shows that, on average, a B2B customer will regularly use six different interaction channels throughout the decision journey. The point is, consistent and relevant communication can play a critical role in the buyer’s journey.

Nurture relationships with leads who aren’t ready to buy
Lead nurturing is the process used to “nurture” relationships with leads who aren’t yet ready to buy, in order to win their business in the future when they are. One of the primary tactics is creating “drip” email campaigns related to the initial offer or topic of interest.  Leads receive a series of relevant, automated emails at scheduled intervals that will keep them engaged over an extended period of time, with the goal of moving them towards a purchase.

Be there when they’re ready to buy
Once a prospect has considered their options, they begin to narrow down the choices and ultimately determine who to buy from. By providing helpful information to potential buyers throughout the sales cycle that can better inform their decision, you’ll stay top of mind and be there when they’re finally ready to make a purchase.

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B2B buyers have certainly changed the way sales and marketing is approached. Yes, it’s still about relationships, but leading firms are not waiting to be engaged by potential clients. Instead, they’re leveraging the power of content and technology to initiate and nurture relationships by engaging buyers early on in the sales process.