If you sell business to business (B2B) - and especially if you are launching a new B2B product or service - here's good news: Your job is far easier than business-to-consumer sellers who must convince hordes of fickle, faceless, un-invested citizens to buy their latest gizmo.
But you - as a B2B maven - can easily get potential customers to do much of the heavy lifting for you. B2B sales expert Dan Adams says they'll even do it willingly. "Compared to end consumers, your B2B buyers are more insightful, interested, rational and fewer in number," says Adams, president of Ohio-based Advanced Industrial Marketing, Inc. "They are perfect marketing partners and if you don't take advantage of their clear-headed wisdom, your new product launch will suffer."
The purchasing process has changed. The Internet and other digital technologies now drive the B2B marketplace. It's all about the free exchange of information. And unlike yesteryear when the onus was on you to seek out customers, it now makes sense to let prospects find you on their terms and timetable. Research by MarketingSherpa.com shows that customers now find suppliers - not the other way around - in 80 percent of B2B transactions. Adams recommends these steps to B2B success:
1) Make it easy for prospects to find and study your new product. Think less about convincing prospects with sales reps and more about helping prospects find your product when they are ready. B2B buyers like to research, analyze and make rational group decisions. You can either make their job difficult or easy.
"Easy" looks like this: Your prospect does a Google search using key terms related to your product or service. Results turn up some content that happens to be linked to your website. To make this work, you have to be accessible and interesting: Send out news releases full of content that will appeal to readers (and editors) of online magazines, journals and blogs in your field.
Include both a link to your website and the keywords your prospects will likely use on Google. When prospects search, they'll find articles that lead to you. If your website is packed with interesting presentations, videos and comparisons they could spend an hour or more doing the work you'd normally pay a sales rep to do.
2. Encourage word of mouth. A kind word about your new product from a trusted colleague or expert is far more convincing than a sales pitch from you. Consider these six approaches:
- Identify and promote to industry thought leaders. Use communications to VIP editors and bloggers.
- Promote to people already in groups such as trade shows and conferences so they can discuss your product.
- Seek opinions from industry experts: Commission lab tests... seek evaluations... create advisory panels.
- Gain testimonials from respected early adopters. Get advance samples in the hands of willing customers.
- Locate the key decision influencers at prospect companies and build relations with them.
- Make it easy for these decision influencers to tell their colleagues about your product, with leave-behind presentations, e-mails with links to interesting videos and content-rich newsletters.
3. Let prospects help define your message. To get the message right, Adams recommends uncovering customers' hot buttons by conducting "voice-of-the-customer" interviews in the process of developing any new product. Then you shamelessly use their specific language in your advertising copy and as keywords to attract their Google searches.
"And while you're at it, ask this simple question, 'How does your company learn about new ideas?'" suggests Adams. "This lets you understand your target market's media preferences - trade shows, seminars, websites, e-mail, and so forth - so you can optimize your media mix."
This alone won't assure success. There's still plenty of work for you and your hard-working sales force. But it makes sense to let prospects carry much of the load. And when you put your B2B prospects to work, they actually like it.
"Basically, you're making it easy for them to do what they naturally do," says Adams. "They're going to research new ideas. They're going to share their opinions with colleagues. And they're going to give advice to suppliers clever enough to ask for it."
Adams has a terrific e-book on the New Rules of B2B Product Launch that you can download free with no registration or email required.