Thinking B2B: B2B — from marketing to business conversations
by Warren Moss (@warrenmoss) South African B2B companies are obsessed with moving from ‘product’- to ‘solutions’-selling because they believe that B2B buyers are looking for solutions, instead of products. While this is absolutely true, the B2B companies totally overestimate their influence in the purchase journey.
Not too long ago (not necessarily ‘pre-internet’ but ‘pre-knowledge of how to access and navigate the information on the internet’), B2B buyers relied on salespeople for education about products and solutions, positioning these B2B sales people as trusted advisors who’d inevitably win the sale because they’d taken the buyer through the entire purchase journey, from problem identification to solution provision. Today, particularly in B2B, the B2B buyer understands more about what solutions are available than ever before, meaning that both B2B sales and marketing organisations need to take a new tack — ‘solution-selling’ is dead, and ‘insights-selling’ is the key to successful partnerships.
A recent Corporate Executive Board (CEB) study of 1 400 B2B decision-makers showed that over 60% of the purchasing decision, including researching solutions, ranking options, setting requirements and benchmarking pricing, is completed before the B2B buyer has a conversation with a potential supplier. That is frightening. That means that your B2B salesperson coming in for a conversation needs to offer the buyer more value than already achieved, in order to have any chance of winning the deal — if not, they’re more an annoyance than an asset.
B2B marketers and salespeople now need to look to the future and understand the potential of a B2B buyer’s industry and company, with a focus on showing them how they can grow and win, instead of showing them how to ‘fix’ a problem they’re most likely 60% of the way to solving, themselves. B2B salespeople need to be armed with insights packaged and delivered to them by smart marketing organisations, which show the B2B buyer what their unknown needs are, rather than revisiting the known ones.
In a solution-selling world, B2B marketers created explainer videos, brochures, sales collateral and slide decks to help sales people articulate the complexity of products to potential buyers. Now, the buyer can — and will — find that detail anywhere in the world, at the click of a button. In an insights-selling world, B2B marketers need to change their mindset to one of a partnership with salespeople, arming them with insights designed to appeal to a target group of companies with needs they may not even know they have yet.
This requires a change of mindset within the B2B marketing organization, too. The focus needs to shift away from producing ‘solutions’ collateral and move towards researching and understanding the buyer’s industry, company and what they need to do to grow their business. Modern B2B marketers need to be able to have business conversations with buyers, not just marketing conversations. Marketing and sales also have to be aligned, rather than working in support — and the only way to do that is to have joint KPIs.
B2B companies that recognise the need to evolve are brilliant candidates to target with insights-selling. Solution-selling was about going into a company and uncovering and then addressing a customer need. In insights-selling, addressing unrecognised needs opens up the list of companies that sales people can approach, because the insights they’re armed with don’t limit them to companies with a ‘problem’ that needs to be solved.
Often the most-successful client wins will come from showing clients the future of B2B marketing within their organisations, not selling them B2B agency and advisory services. Show them what the future of their organisation is, in the sales and marketing context: what they could be doing, what they should be thinking about — and how they should be doing it. Those are insights that they don’t have, because they’re focused on finding solutions to problems they have right now.
If we, as B2B marketing agencies, position ourselves as a genuine provider of insights that can help them grow their businesses, the likelihood that they’ll partner with us increases dramatically. Supported by a modern marketing team offering real insights, the modern ales person needs to be more of an intellectual and a teacher, able to have different conversations with a buyer and offering genuine value in coaching the buyer through a process they already largely have a grasp of, rather than just trying to sell them a product.
Warren Moss (@) is the CEO and founder of Demographica, a multi-award winning full service agency that specialises in the B2B category. He is the chair of both the Direct Marketing Association of South Africa (DMASA) and the Assegai Integrated Marketing Awards (Assegais), as well as the only African to judge the B2 Awards, which recognise the top performing B2B marketers in the world. Warren contributes the monthly “Thinking B2B” column, which looks at the latest trends in B2B communications and explains why it is fundamentally different from B2C comms.
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