I’m a fan of digital marketing, online content creation and SEO.
I really am.
They’re effective strategies that generate leads in the form of qualified, knowledgeable purchasers who have a demonstrated need.
So effective, in fact, that many companies have shifted resources from direct lead generation and selling. They’ve moved direct engagement to a later stage in the purchasing cycle – the stage where prospects have already responded to online information.
Salespeople, in this scenario, have become order-takers for customers who have determined – through their independent online research – the specific product, service or vendor that best meets their needs.
However, powerful sales strategies – such as early direct engagement with prospects – have been rejected by some businesses before their time. So have the opportunities these strategies uncover.
It really is a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
The missed opportunity
It’s true that many B2B buyers prefer to research their purchase online before they speak with a salesperson.
It’s also true that many others do not. This segment represents a huge opportunity that companies are missing.
Is this true of your business?
This missing segment includes people who may not know they need your product or service. And it includes people who may not even know they have a problem yet – or perhaps cannot clearly define it.
These buyers probably haven’t yet heard of your company or your competitors.
When you target this segment early with direct engagement, via a simple phone call and relevant questions, you can help them articulate both their problem and your solution.
You open the possibility for buyers to see you as a trusted advisor, a problem-solver and a solution-provider. In many cases, once you develop a relationship, they will not even consider alternative solutions and will likely pay a premium for your product or service.
The ‘late engagement’ fallacy
The ‘one size fits all’ digital marketing / late direct engagement strategy largely ignores the segment described above.
As a result, companies leave business opportunities, customer relationships and potential revenue on the table.
The Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA), in its 2015 ‘How buyers consume information’ survey, recommends that B2B companies should remember three things:
During the purchase process for high-consideration solutions, buyers want to talk to people
You need to adopt an omni-channel approach to sales and marketing
The buyers’ journey will change depending upon the type of buyer and solution decision.
The omni-channel approach
I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t engage with buyers who have reached out to you as a result of your digital marketing activities. Of course, it’s essential to have relevant website content, social media engagement and effective SEO.
But you don’t have to think only of the buyers that respond to these. Sales and marketing strategies can be implemented for both of the segments I’ve described.
Different buyers prefer different channels to access the information they require to make a purchase.
For many, as I’ve suggested, the preferred channel is direct engagement with a sales professional.
‘Disrupt’ your prospects
If you wait until all potential buyers have completed their online research before you make direct contact, you diminish your chances of standing out and making it onto each customer’s shortlist of preferred vendors.
The earlier you engage with prospects, therefore, the better your chances of eventual success.
Reach out to prospects, and don’t simply wait until they reach out to you.
I acknowledge that reaching out may require you to ‘disrupt’ a prospect’s accepted business flow with innovative business insights they may not have considered.
Some may resent such disruption. Others, however, will welcome it.
Sales professionals who have the fortitude to attempt early engagement with prospects may experience a high rate of initial rejection. But they will also establish productive relationships with a significant percentage of prospects who appreciate the salesperson’s advice on identifying problems, analysing strategies and developing solutions that represent a win for all parties.
In this latter situation, salespeople tend to face little competition. They achieve higher closing rates. They often enjoy much higher margins. They also have a better chance of developing longer-term advisory relationships with their customers.
It takes courage and skill for a sales professional to disrupt prospective customers’ habitual thinking and to engage early in the purchasing cycle.
The rewards, however, can be substantial for both you and your customers.
By all means, you should take advantage of the power of digital technology to boost your marketing. But also keep in mind the early direct engagement strategies.
Throw out the bathwater. But keep the baby.