The world of B2B sales is more complex today than at any other time, which means closing sales is more difficult than ever. The B2B buying cycle has grown especially perilous (if you’re the one selling, that is) because your customers are increasingly educating themselves online, rather than relying on account executives to do it for them.
On one level, this makes B2B selling in all sectors much more difficult. But if you dig a bit deeper, you’ll discover there’s just as much opportunity to set yourself apart as well. You just have to enter the arena intelligently.
Below are 3 strategies to do exactly that: demystify, smooth over and simplify your customers’ B2B buying cycle.
Peer-to-Peer Education through Community
The smartest thing you can do with this trend toward self-education is to follow it. But follow it quietly… so quietly that your prospects don’t notice.
The key here is to make education a top priority on your site and then produce content and an user experience so enthralling that they don’t want to go anywhere else. Many of your competitors will focus on shouting at their prospects all about why their product is the best choice. Not you.
Instead, you’ll educate your customer about your wider industry, how it applies to their sector and then introduce aspects of why your product or service is the optimal choice.
You could (and must) accomplish this goal through a variety of means. A regularly published blog and an active forum are both fantastic ways to do this. We all understand how a blog can benefit your marketing activities, but a forum?
Here are some of the ways that having a branded forum can be helpful in education:
- Peer-to-peer support. Having a peer, one that is not a salesperson, that supports your product to potential prospects is a powerful form of testimonial. Not only will the trust factor be higher, the ability to answer all prospective questions are more relevant.
- Individualization of learning in scale. Personal responses to forum topics are not limited in time or the length. Forum members have the freedom to continue dialogues about topics that interested them most. Remember, discussions on forums can be read by thousands of members thanks to Google. So, answering one question for one user has the benefit of scaling to many more.
- A better user experience. Forums offer the advantage of archiving discussions by category, topic, or other criteria.
Answer the “Extra Mile” Questions
It’s not enough to prioritize education alone, however. In the 21st century, your website (and its surrounding community) is your biggest salesperson. In an age where the traditional sales rep has been replaced by the web, how can you reliably shorten your B2B buying cycle? By routinely answering your customers’ “extra mile” questions.
What’s an “extra mile” question exactly? It involves going past basics, and explaining to your prospects why your product and your company are the absolute best choices they could possibly make to solve their problems.
Answering an “extra mile” question involves devoting an entire forum section to a certain customer segment. Conversations build up from members of that segment who’ve bought from you and prospects will go there for firsthand experiences from people with businesses and priorities like theirs.
You can also keep track of common questions from your customers or areas that you think will generate a lot of questions, and create blog posts around them.
Doing everything you can to answer “extra mile” questions shows that you’ve thought about your customers with extra care. So naturally, you must be in a perfect position to guide them to success. That impression will do wonders for your B2B buying cycle.
Help your Customers Define their Priorities
There’s one more powerful ingredient you need to focus on if you want to shorten your B2B buying cycle and keep it short. You need to assist your customers very clearly and strategically define their priorities. But in the complex and fast-moving world of B2B sales, your customers themselves are often unsure exactly what they need (let alone how to organize their priorities).
This is another excellent example of where an active community forum is a great benefit. Your customers could hear from individuals who were in their exact circumstances and decided to use your services. Firsthand is always the best way to receive information.
In many cases, your top-of-funnel prospects are still looking for help among their peers on niche forums online. In many online forums, your prospects know they'll be reaching a set of peers and competitors that have experienced what they're going through. Often, the community has been set up by an organization or association they belong to. And for most industries, it's the same group of people online that they'll see at tradeshows and other events.
Instead of losing control of your brand, why not set up a similar forum on your website? Not only will there be brand awareness, you have the advantage of SEO-juice that will help drive more traffic through better rankings for long-tail keywords.
Self-education is the rule of the day amongst B2B prospects, meaning that someone could be mid-cycle with you, stumble onto a compelling competitor and be lost forever.
The way to combat this is through community management via forums, blogs, content and more. You need to realize that your site must be your top sales performer in the digital age and then act accordingly.
Structure your efforts around assisting rather than combating prospects’ self-education, answer the “extra mile” questions and help them define clear priorities. If you reliably manage all this, your customers’ B2B sales cycle is sure to be considerably shorter.