Have you ever been absolutely sure that your product or service was the best solution for a particular prospect, only to find out that they chose to go with another vendor? What about that great product comparison whitepaper you developed which generated an amazing number of sales leads but no sales? Or the by-the-book email nurture campaign that just doesn't perform like it should?
One major reason for these, according to a fascinating new study from Enquiro Research, is that the standard model of business buying as a thorough, rational, step-by-step process just isn't accurate. Instead, this study of over 3,000 business buyers suggests that B2B buying is driven largely by attempts to control personal and organizational risks. In other words, according to the authors, "99% of B2B buying is about covering your butt."
These insights put a new spin on the drive to improve B2B conversion rates - if business buying is driven more by risk mitigation than rational optimization, what does this mean for landing page content and offers? How can B2B online marketers create the lowest-risk environment for prospects to increase registrations, quote requests or purchases?
In a world where risk protection dominates rational evaluation in the business buying process, the following are important for improving B2B online marketing conversion rates:**
Understand Business Buyer Risk
To reduce business buyer risk and improve conversion rates, its essential to understand the extent to which your company, products/services or offers may be perceived as risky by your target buyers.
Purchase consideration clearly matters - there's less risk in asking someone to provide their email address for an e-newsletter subscription than there is in a $100,000 purchase. Market position also matters, but its not just your company's standing in the Fortune 500 or Inc. 5000 that makes a difference. Is your company the dominant player, or just entering the market, in the specific product or service for which you want to improve conversion rates? For example, few would doubt that Google's "conversion rate" for signing-up new pay-per-click advertisers, where they're the clear market leader among general search engines, is much higher than their conversion rate for radio advertising in their recently discontinued Audio Ads program.
For those of you marketing low price/low consideration products or services from a dominant, market-leading position, good news! There isn't likely to be all that much you can do to improve conversion rates by reducing business buyer risk since risk is so low already.
On the other hand, B2B marketers working to establish their offerings in new markets and/or selling higher-consideration purchases may have considerable opportunity to improve conversion rates by addressing business buyer risk factors.
Become an "Approved Vendor" Through Teaser Offers
B2B online marketers struggling to drive conversions of a high consideration product for a relatively new business that hasn't established a dominant market position are in a very difficult position. Even with a brilliantly conceived and executed marketing program focused on an accurate, rational view of your products' superiority, quality conversions that lead to sales are still likely to be relatively rare. More often than not, prospects will fall through because they "got a great deal from an existing vendor" or "went with a vendor that's already approved." None of the standard advice about improving conversion rates through better landing page design will put a dent in this issue because its not about making it easy for your prospects to see what they should do and act. Instead, the problem is not being on the approved vendor list in the first place.
So what do you do? Become a champion for a teaser offer (e.g., simplified product, free 30- to 60-day trial, etc.) that lowers the perceived risk of getting started for your target audience. To be an "approved vendor", whether formally through the AP department or simply through the trust built up via multiple, positive interactions around the teaser offer, gives you a considerable leg up on future business. Its not as simple as landing page design but, if better landing page design was all you needed, you wouldn't be reading this.
Use Search Marketing to Drive Word-of-Mouth
The Enquiro research suggests that word-of-mouth can be hugely influential during the business buying process, particularly for "blank slate" purchases where the buyer/company has no prior experience with purchasing that type of product or service. While search marketing is an extremely powerful tool for getting your message in front of business people searching for solutions, B2B search marketing tends to focus much more on driving prospects to whitepaper or webinar registration pages, or to ecommerce sites, than driving people to view and participate in conversations about a company's products or services (for an exception, see Office Depot's success incorporating customer reviews into paid search campaigns).
If your target buyers see your solution as moderately to highly risky, there's reason to believe that alllocating a portion of the search marketing budget toward driving more online and offline word-of-mouth activity will positively impact conversion rates. While it may not happen overnight, fueling the conversation can reduce the perceived risk of conversion.
Address Buyer Risk in Your B2B Demand Gen Program
One of the major challenges in driving online conversions or creating a more effective B2B demand gen programs is personalization - making each landing page, e-newsletter or offer as relevant as possible to the target prospect - and addressing business buyer risk gives us another opportunity to make demand gen practices more personally relevant. To improve conversions by reducing business buyer risk, you might consider the following changes to your demand generation program:
- Match prospects with happy customers that came from similar "risk" profiles - rather than matching a "blank slate" prospect with a reference customer that's been with you for 20 years, have them talk with customer that made their "blank slate" purchase with you within the last couple years. Also, consider getting references from multiple people involved with the decision to purchase your product or service, and matching prospects with references at their same job level and role in the purchasing process.
- Consider linking to customer reviews or forum conversations from your conversion pages - giving prospects more than one option sounds like landing page heresy, but this may not be the case for higher consideration purchases and less established brands. If visitors to your landing page have any doubts at all about converting, at least take them to content that reduce the perceived riskiness of converting.
- If you sell primarily to large companies, get creative with landing page technology- consider doing a reverse IP lookup on visitors to your landing pages, identifying the company and serving a dynamic content block on the page indicating that your company is already an approved vendor for the visitor's company (if you are). Sounds creepy? Possibly for very early stage offers, but less so when a prospect visits for detailed spec sheets or to request a quote. NOTE: this won't work well for small companies.
What do you think? What would you do to improve conversion rates by reducing buyer risk?
For more background, you can download the first whitepaper from Enquiro's new business buying study, "Mapping the BuyerSphere", from the Enquiro web site.
**These recommendations, and many more, are part of Business.com's presentation "Improving Search Marketing ROI During a Recession: Top 10 Insider Tips," during the Online Marketing Summit 14-city Regional Whistle Stop Tour from May 5th through July 2nd, 2009. For a 20% discount on OMS registration from Business.com, use discount code business.com20.