If we look at a classic business-to-business scenario not long ago, we would have, for example, three typical points of interaction between the business and the customer: firstly, the firm's sales reps, secondly, trade magazines and thirdly trade fairs. Compare this to today's world of countless digital communication channels and web marketing with its non-stop, 24/7/365 access to communication, information and solutions: a radically changed playing field.
And the hard evidence for radically changed customer behavior is in: 60-70% of decisions made by B2B customers are made before any direct contact between customer and product/service provider is initiated.
Some research examples:
- A study by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) study, which looked into the behaviours of more than 1,400 B2B customers shows that almost 60% of the purchase decision process (i.e. investigating the required product or service, comparing solutions, clarifying requirements, benchmarking prices, etc...) happens before any direct contact or conversation with the provider is initiated;
- SiriusDecisions' research also shows that 70% of a complex sales process is completed before customers feel ready to speak to an actual sales rep
- Harvard Business Review: "The hardest thing about B2B selling today is that customers don't need you the way they used to"
- Forrester: "Two-thirds to 90% of the buying cycle is completed before a B2B buyer ever speaks with a sales rep"
- IDG Connect: "Business buyers spend just 21% of buying cycle in conversations with salespeople, instead spending 23% of the time in conversations with peers and colleagues and 56% of the buying cycle searching for and engaging with content
- UBM TechwebUBM Techweb: "70% of business technology buyers are at the RFP stage (request for proposal) by the time the vendor becomes aware of the opportunity "
The digital revolution has changed both the make-up and the rules of the marketing game. Identifying leads and prospects is certainly still high on the list of B2B marketing priorities. What has changed is how those leads are identified. The new tactic of web marketing is called Online Content Marketing – creating valuable and relevant online content that draws prospects into an evntually profitable relationship with your business.
While magazines and trade fairs are still important channels, they are no longer sufficient to enter into ever-more important two-way relationship with customers. Digital web marketing channels and social media are demanding an ever increasing share of the marketing landscape, and it's easy to see why: information and communication between supplier and customer is instant, direct and rich... and web marketing assumptions can be tested for feedback in a real-time environment.
B2B companies that master the demands of this new rule-book, who become adept at web marketing, who create valuable and relevant online content for their target audiences, and connecting in ever new ways, will be thriving in this new competitive environment.
In our next article we will look at the meaning of online content marketing in some more detail, and explore what this means even for a 'traditional' channel like your trusty old website.