August 10, 2022 | 06:09 AM

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27.06.2011Influencing Your Buyer

With buyers in control a new requirement that most B2B marketers do not fully understand is that buying today is also based on earned trust.


Buyers have long resisted, and often resented, being sold to.  Their rapid embrace of the Internet and social media enabled them to buy on their own terms, circumventing the effort of B2B marketers to push marketing at them.  Buying is now not only social it is also transparent. The successes, missteps and follies of companies and their leaders are observable, in detail, to anyone who is interested.  The brilliance of innovative solutions as well as the unfortunate consequences of poor product quality is equally as plain as day.  With buyers in control a new requirement that most B2B marketers do not fully understand is that buying today is also based on earned trust.

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Trust, transparency, social media and buyer control have fundamentally changed marketing and sales.  Push marketing and the 4 Ps  of price, promotion, place and product have been replaced by buyer enablement and outcome, proof, value and experience. To be relevant, marketing must stop acting as sales’ advocate and focus on enabling buyers and earning their trust. That only comes from intimately understanding the buyer’s journey.

For marketing to be effective it must redefine how it mediates buyer value with the vendor’s value promise.  The way to engage buyers is by delivering the value they are looking for at key points along their buyer’s journey. Buyers expect value long before they actually make a purchase as well as long after they’ve bought.  A recent Forrester study found that only six percent of customers felt that B2B sales actually tried to align with their needs. Another study found that 70 percent of B2B buyers rated how vendors engaged with them as more impactful than what the vendor was selling.

Buyer expectation is that suppliers intimately understand their business, how they define value, and deliver on those expectations throughout the solution’s lifetime.  Any change in that experience impacts trust, vendor credibility and, ultimately, the buyer’s confidence. The bottom line is that marketing’s new charter is to gain the trust of buyers by enabling them; only then can they influence the buyers’ journey.

There are five major pre-purchase – I call them enablement – stages in the buyer’s journey: Problem Definition, Solution Search, Solution Evaluation, and Validation ending with Purchase.

Understanding how the problem is defined and manifests itself in organizations and the process buyers go through to recognize, acknowledge, accept, and gain organizational commitment to solving the business challenge is a critical first step.  The origins of some challenges are clear but many are not and it’s the latter that often trips up marketers.

Solution search includes investigating industry best practices, understanding root causes of the problem, and collaborating with peers and colleagues.  It is not until the end of this stage that the buyer defines how they plan to solve their problem and begins to investigate potential solution providers. While marketing claims to understand the actions and motivations of buyers in each stage, in reality B2B marketers and tools like lead management and marketing automation focus on the solution evaluation and validation stages.

Only through market research, in-depth interviews across a broad spectrum of constituents can marketing understand how the buyer’s thinking evolves, what happens during each stage of the buyers’ journey; and how to effectively enable the buyer.  Marketing must discovery where buyers go, when, and for what information to achieve which goal for each stage.

Don’t assume that buyers are always interested in purchasing a solution. Their interest is as much about how peers have addressed the challenge (or not) as it is in the range of solutions they might consider.  If marketing knows where buyers go for what type of information then marketing can be at the right place (channels) with the right assets (information) for each buyer role and offer calls-to-action that are, for the buyer, the logical next step.  Only by aligning to the buyer across all the enablement stages can marketers begin to build trust and, if achieved, influence the buyer to engage with sales earlier.

For the buyer, the customer lifetime experience is more important than the point of purchase.  Continually receiving meaningful value is a key trust building activity. Regardless of the form the value comes in – whether it is content, tools, connections, and/or free products – the level of value realized during the enablement stages sets the buyer’s expectation of the value they can expect as a customer.

This is a critical time for marketing. Marketing needs to lead with an inspired vision, gutsy and decisive leadership, fact-based decision making and a laser focus on how to build trust through buyer enablement marketing.  Done correctly and consistently, buyer enablement will translate into engagement and drive revenue growth.  The real opportunity is for marketing to guide the company in to how to continually create and deliver meaningful value; however the market and its buyers define ‘value’.

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