For a long time, B2B Marketing was about creating direct mails, performing outbound calls as well as preparing and conducting some big trade shows around the globe. B2B customers mainly relied on personal meetings with Sales representatives in order to shape their Sales decision. As digital channels are gaining ground in the B2B purchase process, customer behavior and requirements for B2B Marketing & Sales are changing quickly.
The “new” B2B customer
In the past, the most important objective for B2B companies was to start talking directly to the customer. Marketing efforts were merely a prelude to Sales talks. Nowadays, B2B buyers are using more and more digital channels in order to seek Information and to evaluate upcoming Sales decisions prior to the personal contact with a Sales person. A growing share of Sales transactions is conducted purely online, too.
So the main task of the Sales team is not informing and explaining any more, but withstanding probing questions, convincing and maintaining a long-term relationsship with the customer. Since product usage gets more transparent with the integration of sensor-based measurement options (see iq! Blog Article about the role of sensors here), Sales reps have to monitor and accompany the usage closely (see iq! Blog Article about Big Data here).
B2B Marketing & Sales Funnel – past and present
Source: iq! Management Consulting
The “new” B2B Sales funnel
As the B2B buyer is acting more independently in the digitized world, the Marketing part of the Sales funnel gets far more important. Simultaneously, digital channels have to play a major role in the Marketing world of a B2B Company. Customers will check the Website, search for competitive products, check user opinions and other details. It is a bigger challenge to identify the customer following its usage patterns (see iq! Blog article about Digital Customer Dialogue here). And since the B2B buyer is behaving autonomously, there is a greater risk to loose him or her to the competition. Thus, the tasks B2B Marketing has to fulfill obtain a greater weight within the Sales funnel. Furthermore, Marketing has to cover additional steps of the funnel, too. Information and Evaluation takes place before meeting a Sales Agent in most cases. Therefore, key data of offers, prices and other conditions have to be retrievable via Marketing channels in order to stay on the radar of a B2B client.
The After Sales part is no longer restricted to answering Service & Support requests. Since data about product usage is more and more available, a continous dialogue with the customer should be aspired (read iq! Blog article “Customers become Users” here).
Additionally, customers expect a seamless and integrated Marketing and Sales process. Customers are not patient anymore and want the Information requested at any chosen point of contact at any chosen time, and in a familiar appearance. Boundaries between Marketing and Sales departments and their respective counterparts in other divisions, regions, etc. have to fall in order to align all commercialization efforts.
Purchase behavior in the B2B environment is rapidly changing and moving to digital channels. On the one hand, customers are more informed and contact Sales staff at a later stage in the Sales funnel. At that point, they most often need very specific guidance. The After Sales area also gains importance, since long-term customer relationsships are possible in the digitized Business world. On the other hand, B2B companies possess much more data about customers and products. This knowledge has to be applied in order to design a powerful and intriguing Sales process which provides appealing Information at the right contact points. This is crucial, otherwise competition is ahead and might close the deal first.