Geoffrey Anderson, back for a new installment in the TMC Leader's Blog. I have blogged on the trends in marketing often, and about the efficacy of the buzzword du jour, "Social Media". Today, I am going to talk about how the world is changing in the buying process and how marketing needs to "respond" to these shifts. First, I would like to recommend the book Influencer Marketing by Duncan Brown and Nick Hayes, to all tech marketers (including those who are in the communications branch). It is a concise treatise on the how the buying process has evolved with the advent of the internet, Google et. al.
There are a couple of undeniable trends in the market landscape. First, customers and prospects are doing their homework. A lot of homework. Often they will use all the tools at their disposal, internet searches, online review sites, review agragators, and attempt to get at all the collateral that they can prior to their first contact with the company. If you think back to the pre-Google era, the company held all the cards. They actively sought out opportunities at tradeshows, with magazine ads, articles, and mass media/mailing. In the post-Google era, they expect to gain access to this content without the messiness of having to talk to a salesman.
The other trend, and the one that is well laid out in the Infleuncer Marketing book is that early in the sales process, often before a prospect determines that they even have an unmet need to fulfill, there is almost always an influencer in the process. An industry expert, or a distinguished/respected colleague or someone who is deemed an opinion leader is either consulted, or offers advice. One thing that is certain is that this influencer is not the target customer, and that they are usually not part of the prospect organization. Thus you have no way of knowing them, and their reach.
In the way back time, Sales often initiated the discussion about a solution to a lead, and was involved at each step of the decision process. Sales methodologies such as Miller Heimann, or Strategic Selling are steeped in this consultative process. But now, sales often finds that they are contacted only after the decision has been made to buy, and the list of vendors is selected.
How does this affect us in Marketing?
First, clear, effective content needs to be freely available to prospects just "kicking the tires". They want to be treated like intelligent adults, able to research and draw high level conclusions on their own. They know what they want, and how to define what 'it' is. Thus, the content we as marketeers generate needs to stand on its own, telling the story we want, and be helpful to as many people as possible.
Second, the content needs to be freely available. White papers, application notes, case studies, webinars, data sheets and more need to not be behind a registration firewall. Customers want to be able to access all the information on their own terms. When they want to be contacted, they will let you know. This is the change that is the most difficult for Marketing Communications managers to make. Their first instinct is to collect contact information for each piece of collateral accessed, and make this a lead. But it isn't a lead until the prospect contacts you.
Third, whether you are a denizen of Web 2.0, a participant on Twitter and Facebook or not, you need to establish a presence and monitor chatter on those channels. The new breed of buyer and decision maker looks to these unconventional channels not for their primary information, but to help them in their pre-selection phase to rule out unsuitable suppliers. So participation is essential. But there are other activities that are proven to help influence the prospect: Establish a blog - draft an opinion leader to contribute, and make sure that it is known.
The game has changed, and those who recognize the change in dynamics are able to best capitalize on these shifts. Sales has become less consultative, and more focused around high impact, quality content that is readily accessible to interested parties. Lastly identify, and work with opinion leaders in your field to subtly influence the process before you are even thought about in the path to a solution.
Until next time, happy marketing!