One of the challenges of business-to-business sales is that it has such a long funnel — compared with consumer goods one might buy on a whim. You’re looking at several connections, possibly with multiple people before you get to “yes.” How do you keep that connection alive long enough to make the sale?
Most B2B customers and prospects don’t want a call from you. They might want a relationship, but they probably want it on their terms, not yours. At the core of any deep B2B relationship is one essential skill or trait: The ability to listen and empathize (with a customer’s experience, in this case). The top brands are able to use that skill to establish authentic communication — authentic in that it creates trust and a willingness to keep the relationship alive.
I asked a few of the top minds in the B2B marketing field for their best advice on how to create and maintain lead relationships — and how to convert those leads into customers over time. Here’s what they had to say.
Nate Gilmore, vice president at Shipwire
If you are trying to get a brand new customer from the Web and get them to immediately buy a product/service, then [pay per click] is a conversion engine because the buyer search string often clearly articulates a buy signal that you can respond to with an offer through PPC. There is usually a high drop off between click through to offer and the higher barrier of getting the credit card; but that is where conversion optimization and cost per acquisition tools/ecosystem has had 10+ years of practice helping sellers.
When it comes to products with a longer sales cycle, driving repeat conversions and softer benefits like each fan now being a viral channel into that fan’s friends, then acquiring fans merits consideration. Perhaps you have a product in development or a marketing campaign that is more evangelical/idea-based, the softer/easier/less friction conversion to a fan page will be easier and have a much lower cost of acquisition. Because you acquired a fan, not a buyer. I consider fans or followers to be more like a newsletter signup. It’s the intermediate step to acquire a “name” that then needs to be marketed to for conversions.
Jeff Walters, catalyst at Strategy Outfitters
In short — give and ye shall receive. From prospects to advocates, any B2B customer will appreciate relevant, timely insights, such as:
- Information and insight — news, events, developments, industry trends, helpful insights, research, reviews and more.
- Support and usability insights (tips, cases, etc.) for those already using your solution — this is typically why they bother to connect with your business to begin with!
- One-to-one within the social networks. You can provide business leads that can help the customer grow their business. Or, you can offer personal connections that will benefit specific contacts as they develop their careers/businesses.
Todd Lebo, senior director of content and business development at MarketingSherpa
Marketing Sherpa, in their 2011 Social Marketing Benchmark Report, found that marketers are measuring the following to determine what is having the greatest impact on their social marketing activity (not the complete list).
- Visitors referred to website: 85%
- Reach of fans, followers and subscribers: 56%
- Search engine ranking positions: 54%
- Conversion rate (registrations, purchases): 54%
- Leads generated: 51%
- Inbound links: 44%
- Sales revenue generated: 35%
- Value of fans, followers or subscribers: 25%
The two channels most commonly used to deliver this content are e-mail and social media. Here is an example: A business software company’s customer-buying cycles are six to 12 months. Over the course of that time, they deliver a steady diet of informational webcasts, blog content and whitepapers. Many of these customers who haven’t bought follow them on Twitter or belong to their Facebook group, where they are triggered to view the content. The social platform that works best will depend on the industry, as some types of buyers like one platform and others don’t .
Another important note: the best B2B marketing organizations deliver other content besides their own via their social channels. They determine what their buyers want whether they create it or not and keep their buyers engaged by broadcasting it out to their prospects anyway. Net-net, social media is a great platform to stay engaged with customers over time. As a matter of fact, most B2B organizations get a higher “bang for their buck” aka ROI in social media efforts from nurturing than they do net-new lead generation.
Jeff Ogden, president and founder at Find New Customers
Be gentle and patient. Move beyond phone messages and e-mail blasts. For instance, why not comment (thoughtfully) on a blog post. Or retweet one of their posts.
The key in my mind is to find a way to help them. By using “gift giving” and by asking nothing in return, you’ll win their trust. Win their trust and you’ll win long-term sales engagement.
Want an example? A company visits Find New Customers. We chat. Turns out she needs a lot of help. So I share insights — not sales. Finally, she creates a presentation for the management team (using much of my content). A very easy sale.