How Suppliers Must Adapt to The New Indirect Buying Cycle

In today’s B2B remote work environment, buyers have fewer opportunities for face-to-face sales calls and developing relationships than in the past. Instead, establishing and building relationships depends more and more on digital connectivity tools and media.

Coincidentally, tech-savvy millennials are making more B2B purchase decisions. And they are more inclined to rely on communications technology for their interactions with product and service providers. These time-strapped managers are more likely to visit supplier and peer review websites and more likely to attend supplier-hosted webinars before ever meeting with a sales rep.

A Longer Buying Cycle

Together, these phenomena have led to an indirect B2B buying cycle that takes longer, complicates the journey, and involves multiple stakeholders. The onus is on suppliers to monitor these new-generation buyer trends, adapt their marketing and sales strategies to fit user preferences, and continuously gauge performance as buyer preferences change.

In this digital business world, a vendor’s digital channels – website, social media, search engine and banner advertising – are more than likely the impetus for a buyer to meet with a sales representative. So, aligning marketing and sales tactics to create a single, synergistic strategy is critical. More than at any time in the past, Sales & Marketing” must be more than a perfunctory department name.

Winning strategies will require hiring and training sales in data and predictive analytics. Likewise, marketing experts in effective technology adoption and implementation will ensure digital marketing generates both brand awareness and leads.

A New Generation of Buyers

Above all, understanding this new generation of purchase decision-makers and their buyer journey using advanced technology is the starting line for every business. Outreach, a sales execution specialist firm that helps companies grow using AI and machine learning recently commissioned Forrester Consulting to explore the new buyer preferences and the buyer journey.

The results of the study confirm that buyers value a consultative, collaborative, and efficient sales process. Training suppliers will follow millennials’ digital interaction data trails to engage them creatively and effectively.

According to the report, buyers expect vendor sales representatives “to answer questions in the moment, lead with data, and guide them through the buying process.” To effectively follow the buyer’s digital journey, a supplier’s marketing and sales must operate in concert, leveraging the same data to deliver the seamless, personalized, and insights-driven experiences buyer’s demand.

Customer Lifecycle Explained

Forrester Research, in its “A Blueprint for Customer-Obsessed Enterprises,” identifies six phases of the B2B customer lifecycle:

• Discover — Finding products, brands, or services that meet a fundamental need

• Explore – Compare services, alternatives, pricing, and other value considerations

• Buy – The process of completing the transaction

• Use – Use of the service or product begets first impressions and satisfaction

• Ask – Request specific assistance or guidance

• Engage – Ongoing post-purchased engagement beyond service

Today’s decision-makers seldom engage with a sales rep until the Explore or Buy phases, preferring that a vendor’s representative only remain in touch until the time a buyer is ready to move ahead.

A Collaborative Buying Process

Because sellers now enter the buying process comparatively late in the game, they must make the most of every buyer interaction. Today’s buyers believe their sales rep will answer complex questions that speed up the sales cycle and increases confidence in that vendor.

Buyers expect sellers to collaborate with them. They prefer a rep who defines the purchase process yet gives the buyer leeway to determine next steps and timing. They appreciate a rep’s ability to foster an efficient and collaborative sales process.

Data-Driven Sales & Marketing Approach

According to Forrester, buyers are more likely to purchase a product/service if the salesperson takes a data-driven approach, that is, using data to inform sales practices and decision-making processes.

While the description sounds simple, being data-driven — rather than simply having data — means not just collecting data but analyzing it and putting insights into sales and marketing tasks.

Even companies who have access to data struggle to use it effectively. Many companies say that disparate information and limited visibility into data impact their sales organization. In fact, a majority of B2B sales executives are dissatisfied with their ability to deliver valuable, data-driven insights. Becoming data-driven requires a distinct, detailed plan, and input from every department within a company.

Put Data to Work for You

Once a clear data sales & marketing strategy is in place, including an always-up-to-date sales contact database and integrated technologies, it’s time to put your data to work through:

• Enhanced Sales Training – Analyze data relating to your top performing sales reps to identify trends that suggest that can be incorporated into sales training.

• Productivity – Define tasks that contribute to better sales productivity. This can help identify technology and tools that streamline your sales reps’ processes.

• Lead Scoring – Assign point values to each lead or prospect based on specific criteria, leading to identification of high-value data points that contribute to a sale.

• Personalized Outreach – By analyzing buyer personas, a rep can personalize the sales pitch to appeal to the prospects’ specific needs.

• Leverage Social Selling – Collect a prospect’s social media behavior – what platforms do they use, what content do they share, and so on — to improve the effectiveness of sales messaging.

• Improve Marketing Content – Work with the marketing team to integrate any sales’ buyer persona insight to create more compelling marketing content.

Executive Involvement Is More Important Than Ever

Buyers expect a supplier’s entire executive team to sponsor and contribute to today’s buying process. Sellers must recite quantifiable business benefits of their product or service in economic terms because the buyer’s CFO is a key stakeholder in any transaction.

Sellers must strategize the messaging, tailor content, and commit to a positive return on investment. While this is not a new concept, senior executive involvement and sponsorship is more important than ever. Buyers want to have relationships with a supplier’s executives. Forrester stresses that executives must be accessible, personable, and prepared to deliver measurable value.

To learn more about marketing strategies for the fleet industry, talk to Ed Pierce at Fleet Management Weekly – (484) 957-1246. No obligation, just good ideas!