By Robert Crowe
Convenience is king in our mobile consumer culture, and that’s having a big influence on B2B marketing and sales. Manufacturers need a comprehensive ecommerce platform that makes it simple to capture and convert leads – from desktop computer to a mobile phone – with an integrated digital marketing strategy.
The last thing you want to do is make it hard for a B2B customer to spend money. Unfortunately, this happens all too often when industrial and manufacturing companies lack a clickable call to action to “buy now” or, at least, “find a dealer.” There are fewer barriers to purchase when marketing and sales are linked to the same medium.
Maybe your team has decided to delay online sales until someone develops a comprehensive strategy. Plus you can’t act until the team finds an elusive ecommerce platform that meets the expectations of investors, vendors, distributors, and, of course, end users.
Whatever the case, you probably fear that stepping into the online sales game might create channel conflict, forcing you to compete with the trusted vendors who have sold your products for decades. Then again, many of those old-school vendors are probably losing sales to competitors because they haven’t quite figured out ecommerce, either.
Whatever the case, this delayed action is forcing your company to lose market share to manufacturers who have their acts together.
Baby Steps – Buy Now or Find a Dealer
While the C-Suite folks sort out the complex process of integrating communications with an ecommerce platform, marketing managers can take basic steps that help strategic tactics like PPC and retargeting to capture sales.
Start by directing leads to existing distributors and vendors with the capacity to sell online. Create a “Buy Now” link or “Find a Dealer” link that takes customers to the quickest route possible to a sale in their region. If you manufacture some products that are also friendly to B2C buyers, it’s probably time to set up an Amazon.com account, where you can quickly send PPC leads.
Worried this will create conflict with vendors whose existence is threatened by Amazon? You bet it will. We live in disruptive times, so sometimes a little conflict in your sales channels is what it takes to kick start a real ecommerce platform for your vendors and distributors.
Still need to justify your actions? Consider this: B2B industries tend to be dominated by distributors and vendors who have owned the old sales funnel for decades. In today’s buying cycle, decisions are more complex than the days when brochures were throwaway collateral. Yes, B2B is still driven by vendors pushing particular equipment thanks to the C-Suite relationships that land certain brands front-and-center with the sales force.
But there’s no denying that the sales cycle is longer. B2B end users are increasingly behaving like B2C consumers as they take more time to navigate the sea of digital information, yet they also expect to be able to buy now and buy conveniently via mobile phone. They expect convenience because they have convenience.
According to the recent “The 2014 B2B Buyer Landscape” study by Demand Gen Report, the sales process is also stretched out as more people within a company become involved in purchasing. Some 68 percent of 150 B2B buyers surveyed said they are using more sources to research and evaluate purchases. Also, 58 percent said they are spending more time researching purchases, while 51 percent are doing a more detailed ROI analysis. Those are increases of 10 and 30 percent, respectively.
“Between vendor web sites, search engines, and recommendations via social media and trade publications, there is a plethora of data for a potential buyer to determine what solution is the right fit for their needs,” according to the report.
At esd, we evaluate these new trends through the McKinsey & Company Consumer Decision Journey (CDJ). Both B2B buyers and B2C consumers are spending more time researching during the “Active Evaluation” stage of the CDJ. They need to feel confident before the purchase and they crave validation after they make the buy.
They want to share their experience on social media channels and they want to hear what others have to say about it. Senior executives are using LinkedIn as a social media channel of choice, while non-executives choose blogs when evaluating B2B purchases, according to the Demand Gen Report.
Back it up with Data
As you encounter conflict within your B2B channels, it’s important to keep reminding your team about the changing world. The Acquity Group LLC 2013 “State of B2B Procurement” study found that nearly 58 percent of B2B buyers made purchases online, while another 37 percent planned to use a larger part of 2014 procurement budgets in ecommerce. This is happening at the same time online retail sales are growing globally by 17 percent, according to consulting firm A.T. Kearney, while mobile purchases account for 25 percent of all ecommerce.
That’s being driven by advancing technology in mobile, social media, big data and cloud computing. At the same time, consumers are increasingly changing behavior by seeking convenient information on mobile devices.
The sales cycle is getting longer and more complex for many B2B companies, so marketing organizations have to work harder to boost brand awareness and nurture leads through the longer buying process.
When it comes to the moment of purchase, McKinsey’s research says that most people had not narrowed their choice to one product. You can only hurt yourself by making it hard for people to make the purchase.
Whatever you do, don’t make it hard or even impossible for your leads to make a purchase online. Incorporating a simple “Buy Now” or “Find a Dealer” button is the first step to kick starting a more comprehensive ecommerce strategy.
Robert Crowe is the Director of Communications at esd & associates. Robert is responsible for creating strategies that increase media awareness, brand recognition, and audience engagement. Before joining esd, he spent 12 years in city government and journalism. While writing for the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News, he was recognized with awards for his crime reporting, breaking news and watchdog articles.