Business to business marketing - a FrenchTech talk on 13 July

This is a summary of the talk I gave at FrenchTech on 13 July 2016 in which I shared some of my experiences as a European who’d started a tech business in South Africa and spoke to some takeouts from a book I co-authored earlier this year (Business-to-Business Marketing: A Step by Step Guide was published by Penguin Random House in early 2016).

I’ve a long-standing affinity with France. As a youngster growing up in the Highlands of Scotland, I'd often hear talk of the Vieille Alliance – or the Auld Alliance as we referred to it. I remember being extraordinarily confused as an eight year old watching Scotland play France at Murrayfield. The Frenchman sitting in the row in front of me kept shouting ‘Allez les Blues’ .. ironically, France were playing in white and Scotland in blue.

I had many happy holidays in France and when I left university with little idea as to what direction I wanted my career to take, I headed for Paris where I spent a very enjoyable year discovering myself.

From there I moved to London and embarked on a career in media relations. A few years later I took a holiday in South Africa and fell in love with the country. On my return to London I met a South African woman … a short while later we married and a year or two after that we took the decision to relocate to Cape Town.

Naively, I assumed I'd walk into a corporate job over here. That didn’t happen, so I was forced to be entrepreneurial from the get go. In the 15 years I’ve lived here I’ve founded seven business, closed four which failed and sold one. The other three are each at different stages in their lifecyle, but the lessons I’ve learned along the way have helped build a solid foundation from which I can help these businesses thrive.

Among the lessons, there are some obvious ones and some less so. Finding the right local partner was essential, and I’d actively encourage all foreigners living in South Africa to make sure they don’t get too sucked into an expat lifestyle. You need to integrate in your new country and build a local network to succeed.

It’s incredibly easy to become despondent at the constant stream of bad news coming out of this country. Inept politicians, a stagnant economy, crime, and a failing infrastructure all contribute to a general malaise that can quickly become dispiriting. But despite all that, this is a land full of optimism … a country that, to my mind, presents huge opportunities for entrepreneurs who are able to see silver linings.

One of the big learning experiences for me was seeing how poorly South Africans understood marketing. While things have improved over the last decade and a half, when I arrived, most businesses seemed to think the marketing and sales function were one and the same.

It was this that promoted me to found Rogerwilco, a digital marketing agency. Growth was tough for us for the first few years as neither my partner nor I had any contacts or insight into the local digital industry. Hard work, however, pays off and our business is now one of the larger independently owned digital agencies in the country, has won multiple awards for its work and represents some of the biggest local and global brands.

The same realisation that South African’s didn’t get marketing also encouraged me to write the book with a longstanding friend (another European who moved to South Africa). Rather like an elephant’s pregnancy, it took an age for the book to come to life, but it was a fabulous journey and I want to share some insights – particularly around how companies can use content effectively to speed up the buying decision making process.

I often speak about the need to focus on the ultimate question. It’s the question every organisation wants to hear. They want to hear it as often as possible and they want to be hearing it a lot more than their competitors.

By understanding what customers are looking for, it’s relatively easy to encourage, assist and motivate them to move through the buying cycle towards the moment where they ask: ‘Where do I sign?’

The Ultimate Question might be the last in a long list of questions from B2B buyers that need answering. It might be the easiest question to answer, but it’s the question you need your customers to ask.

Let’s go back to 1958 and The Man in the Chair advert.

It was commissioned by McGraw Hill the business and trade magazine publisher and was voted best B2B ad of the 20th Century by Ad Age.

The tag line was: Sales start before your salesman calls – with business publication advertising.

In it, a wet behind the ears salesman pays a visit to a grumpy executive who asks a series of pointed questions that are all about establishing the authenticity of the salesman’s company and products

The Business Marketing Association in the US ran a live version in 2008 to celebrate the Man’s 50th anniversary and to stress this key point:

Times change, Markets change, Technologies change … fundamentals don’t.

As B2B marketers in 2016, we are still governed by the same rules today as our predecessors were in 1958…

But answering the Man in 2016 is a lot harder because while the questions buying decision makers ask haven’t changed in 60-odd years, the way they gather information has

The internet has matured into a trusted resource and today’s buying decision makers use it to sell to themselves.

This has created the phenomenon of the self sold customer. In the process, it has severely diluted the effectiveness of traditional B2B sales teams because customers are increasingly deciding what they want online and on their own.

Self-research means there’s an accelerated buying cycle –one in which many of a Buying Decision Maker’s questions are answered long before they even contact you. By the time they do, it may be simply to ask how much, how long?

Before breaking down the questions buyers want to have answers to, it’s important to understand who’s involved in the buying process as we cannot communicate with them if we cant reach them. And we can’t reach if we don’t know who they are.

There are two clear categories:

Outsiders – this includes wholesalers, industry analysts, specialist consultancies & professions, support and service providers, commentators in the media, special interest groups, standards boards and statutory regulators, industry associations, and even the general public.

And Insiders who are likely to be finance, strategy, business analysis, sales, HR, production, marketing, logistics, IT, project management, R&D, support.

Each group has specific questions and wants information to be presented to it in an accessible format.

To understand what matters to these people, in the book, we break the buying cycle into six distinct phases. I’ll come back to these in a few minutes … for now though, the quick summary is that they’ll conduct their own research in phases 1-3 .. you’re not going to hear from them at this point … but by the time they reach out to you in phases 4 or 5 chances are their question is going to be ‘how much’

So let’s explore how we can motivate the ultimate question – Where Do I Sign?

The only way we can fulfill their needs in phases 1-3 is with content. Content marketing is a bit of a buzzword at the moment .. But people have been running content marketing campaigns for ages.

Why – because content generates confidence. Confidence generates demand … and demand prompts the ultimate question.

In the B2B space – John Deere started producing the Furrow in 1895. It is a magazine with informative tips for farmers – what to plant, when to plant it … commodity price projections … and long range weather forecasts.

But the fundamental rule of the Furrow is that there is no sales pitch for John Deere’s products. No ‘Our tractors are better than our competitors’ ... just useful, relevant and credible information.

And in the B2C space Michelin’s been producing its restaurant guide since 1900. Like The Furrow, the Michelin Guide doesn’t sell anything. It presents content the brand though its audience would find interesting.

The organisation that’s probably best known for promoting content marketing is the eponymously named Content Marketing Institute (CMI).

They revealed their latest research at their annual conference late last year. 88% of US-based B2B companies use content marketing as a cornerstone of their marketing.

But few use it successfully. Just 30% which is down on their last survey where 38% felt it worked effectively for them.

The decline in the efficacy of content marketing prompted the CMI’s Joe Puluzi to suggest that if Gartner’s Hype Cycle was applied to the tactic it would demonstrate that the adoption of content marketing has moved past the Peak of Inflated Expectations and we’re entering the Trough of Disillusionment.

While that sounds bad, it doesn’t mean content marketing is a busted flush.

Far from it. Although there’s a lot of content out there, good content will continue to resonate.

For content stand out and build confidence – particularly in the first three phases – it must adhere to B2B’s five big buying motivators – Response, Service, Time, Quality and Price.

Kill the notion of thought leadership. It’s arrogant. Suggests you know more about your customer’s business than they do. Speak to their needs. Focus on what it is your business to know …how you create value for your customer.

Tell the truth – authentic content is believable content. To serve an effective purpose content must build the confidence that motivates buying. From you. If your content is relevant and credible, then the market will want to talk to you. And hopefully share it with their peers.

So let’s revisit the six phases of the B2B buying cycle. We’ve already touched on how the internet enables the market to form opinions on your company and your products without contacting you directly.

Increasingly, your market expects to complete phases 1, 2 and 3 on their own … before the sales cycle even starts. You can use the buying cycle to construct a content map that improves the chances of you being able to deliver the right content to the market at the right time.

INSIGHT CONTENT. In phase one customers are thinking about improving their enterprises. They’re trying to identify their needs. So you need to demonstrate insight. Your content should emphasise that you know their market, the challenges it faces and how to meet those challenges.

That means you may need to motivate change. And you can do that by highlighting how you can help customers respond positively to what’s going on around them. Do this and you show you’re in tune with your market.

Types of content will be trend and product analysis, white papers and opinion articles on the future of their industry. Demonstrate insight and and your customers will listen. Insight shows you understand their challenges.

KNOWLEDGE CONTENT. By phase 2, customers are beginning to set criteria for what they want to achieve. They’re creating their business case. Hopefully based on the insights you gave them in your phase 1 content. At this stage you should show you know your customers’ resources are finite.

For example, they only have a set amount of money to solve their challenge. Demonstrating you understand these allows you to showcase how your products or services will help make a practical contribution to their success. Content types: best practice guides, ROI calculations that show attainable benefits. Knowledge-based content demonstrates you understand how to fix customers challenges.

FACT CONTENT. By the time customers get to phase three your content needs to focus on relevant, operational facts. They’ve figured what their problems and where the solutions lie. They’re now looking for the people who provide the best fixes. Content about how your company works and how your services will contribute to their success. This content is typically product guides, technical data, case studies. Knowledge demonstrates you understand how to solve customers challenges. Facts say you can solve them.

EVIDENCE CONTENT. This is the point at which buyers will be reaching out to you and validating whether your claims to date are credible.

They need documented proof. It’s not always easy to give – for example it’s easier to check out a product than a service – you can test drive an earthmover but how do you validate the competency of the service department.

Types of content - Testimonials, peer information… remember but that while the research up to this point might have been carried out by juniors, the person who enters the buying cycle now is likely to be a senior BDM with a high level of purchasing authority. Evidence proves you can walk the talk

REINFORCING CONTENT. By now you’ve validated that you’re the right partner. In these last two phases the deal is all about making sure there are no surprises. People are looking for an assurance that reinforces the confidence you’ve created in the previous phases. They’re looking for Financials, SLAs, aftersales information, contracts, legal documentation.

They’re about to ask the ultimate question.

So the framework looked at the questions your buying decision makers are asking and gave some pointers on the types of information the market wants. We now need to get more specific and look how to motivate buying.

You can do this with core brand messages that translate what you’re selling into the big five buying motivators: Response, Service, Time, Quality and Price.

Let’s take an example. You want to sell an earthmover to a company that makes roads. You need to communicate that yours is reliable. But that means different things for the various people involved in the buying process:

High levels of reliability that cut your earthmover's downtime and so increase their productivity is a really attractive feature for the Sales Director at a road-builder.

Why? Because he can tell customers that higher productivity allows him to build roads faster and at a lower cost than his competitors. And because he can work faster, he has the opportunity to do more road-building deals. So he has the potential to make more sales and earn higher commissions.

Reliability is also an attractive feature for the road-builder’s Finance Director. But for him, in addition to the attraction of increasing sales, reliability also translates into lower cost-of-ownership and a higher return on investment. This creates the potential to increase income, improve margins and raise profitability. So he can grow his performance bonuses.

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