Here’s the problem with B2B selling today. Eighty percent of buyers journey through their buying process without contacting a salesperson. They know more about you than you know about them. They only need you to do a final trust check and negotiate the price alongside your competitors. There was no selling cycle. The buyer also cut herself short. By not taking the time to get to know you she has actually increased her risk that the ultimate experience as a customer might not match her aspirations as well as if she had taken the time to get to know you along the way.
Ask yourself how the buyer got so deep into a decision process without including you. She did this by talking with peers and trusted influencers. Their opinions are more important than most of the conversations she has had with companies bent on selling her something she may not need. So she goes to her contacts in LinkedIn, she reads trusted influencers on Twitter, she views discussions on YouTube, she checks out blogs. And she performs a variety of searches on Google or Bing.
There is a solution.
Be there with the buyer and her colleagues as the behind-the-scene buyer journey unfolds. Get a personal understanding of the buyer: her interests, her needs, her circles of influence. Don’t, whatever you do, pitch your product before she is ready to ask for your input on your solution. Instead, help the buyer make good decisions along the way—good decisions for her. Put the buyer’s needs ahead of your own. Become trusted because you are trustworthy.
Good question. How do you do this?
Glad you asked, because there is a way to do this that will get you into the conversation early. You can do this almost as silently as the buyer is attempting to run along the purchase journey without you.
The first thing you need in place is a firm partnership with your marketing teammates. Together, you can build out a portfolio of content in every medium possible—content that addresses the kinds of questions the buyer is asking. If the content is truly about helping the buyer make the best possible decision, she will find it useful when she finds it on the web. Well thought-out content that helps the buyers resolve their quest for solutions to help them achieve their aspirations and overcome the challenges that stand in the way of their aspirations.
A piece published in Harvard Business Review over ten years ago suggests several principles that apply even more to the online world than to traditional marketing and sales back then. “Harnessing the Science of Persuasion” by Robert Cialdini gave us all the direction for engaging in the buyer’s quest:
- Be likable. People like those they who like them.
- Give before you ask. People pay in kind and trust those who help them.
- Use influence. Become a source of knowledge to these influencers.
- Be consistent. People distrust flip-floppers.
- Be an authority. Publish your own content on your blog or as comments on other media.
- Be exclusive. The first to share rare or exclusive information become valued sources.
Now, don’t think for a second that you can fake mastery of Cialdini’s six principles. I would add a seventh. Don’t fake sincerity. People will spot the wolf in sheep’s clothing. To be successful today in marketing and sales, you must really care about the customer’s experience even more than making a sale. The huckster of the past cannot compete in social selling because sooner or later he will stumble over the tripwire and tell a fib to gain leverage. One fib will destroy trust and credibility and will raise the risk of working with you to a level that is unacceptable to the buyer.
Okay, so far, we understand the buyer’s journey. And at a high level , we have a solution: Get in on the conversation. And we have a bedrock of principles that can make participating in the buyer’s journey more successful.
Next, we will provide a few insights into how you get in on the conversation.
Decide what conversations you want to be in on. This will not look a whole lot different than traditional direct marketing and selling. You need to know the individuals at your targeted accounts. No easy way to do this. It takes time but it will put you out ahead in the race for revenue and President’s Club.
Our suggestion is to go to the corporate sites on LinkedIn, G+, Twitter and Facebook and watch the conversation they are having, most likely with their potential customers. Make note of key individuals and influencers within your targeted prospects. Search these same social networks for individuals working at these companies . . . for example, you believe XYZ company could benefit from your product, then enter the company name in the LinkedIn search and take note of all the names that come back. Look these people up and check out their profiles to see if you should be following them on LinkedIn. Check the same people on the other social networks and follow them there, as well. Search their names on Google, Bing or IE to see what you can learn about them. Carefully build out your list of people with whom you need to be following.
Now find out who influences the people you want to follow. Who are they listening to when they make buying decisions. Go to their list of contacts in LinkedIn or their followers on the other social networks. Who are your contacts following? Which influencers are most likely to have impact in your industry or in the kinds of problems your company solves. These people hold the power to recommend you as someone with knowledge that could help them solve their problems. Add these influencers to your list of people you follow. Keep track of the conversations.
Begin to monitor the conversations that have been happening behind your back.
Jump in with a comment or send them content relevant to their conversations. Be helpful. Do this often enough and they likely will notice and begin following you. Now they have joined your conversation where you post content of your own or relevant content that your marketing department has published. LinkedIn, Slideshare, Twitter and Google Plus are heavily used for business oriented conversations. Facebook, can lead you to a different understanding of the people you are following–less business and more social– but you will find conversations here that are more personal and may be helpful in starting up conversations.
Now instead of the prospective buyer going 80% of the way on their buying journey, you are already in the conversation. You have provided them useful content. You have influenced their visit to your website where they can learn more about your offerings.
You are now inside the conversation while your competitors are wondering where their next sales lead is going to come from.