Pramil Jain co-wrote this blog post with Jason Bell.
This post is the sixth in a seven-part series examining top trends that are reshaping the high-tech industry.
Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock for the past few years, you’ve probably noticed that customer buying behavior has been shifting from traditional channels (including sales) to digital channels. Customers are increasingly going online to inform their technology procurement decisions, and it’s happening throughout the customer journey. According to Accenture, 94% of B-to-B technology buyers do online research, and 68% have purchased goods online. It’s becoming increasingly common for businesses to make B-to-B technology purchasing decisions before they even make first contact with a sales rep. In fact, by 2020, Gartner Research estimates that customers will be managing 85% of their relationships without talking to a human.
What does this mean for B-to-B tech companies? As this trend matures, companies will need to lean more heavily on marketing in order to find innovative ways to engage with customers during the purchase decision journey. Many are already doing so: According to Gleanster Research, 84% of top-performing companies are already using or have plans to start using marketing automation. Moreover, CMOs at top-performing companies see this shift as a potential revenue driver, with 77% indicating that the most compelling reason for implementing marketing automation is to increase revenue, Gleanster reports.
Figuring out how to respond to such a widespread and foundational trend can be overwhelming, but here are three key steps that you can take:
1. Redefine your role throughout the customer journey. Pay particular attention to how you engage your customers at the early stages, such as during initial research and fact-finding. Though customers are increasingly conducting their own research rather than turning to sales reps, it isn’t a viable strategy for reps to take a completely hands-off approach. We’ve found that the most critical moments for brands to engage their customers throughout the journey are moments when the customers expect interaction, or those in which the decision has the greatest impact on the customer or his business. What are those key moments in the early stages of your customers’ journeys that have the most impact on them? They may not expect engagement from you, but these are ideal opportunities for “surprise and delight” experiences, if delivered in a relevant, value-added way.
2. Ensure that your program is relevant to the customer. Think about how your marketing activities can be engaging the right customers at the right time with the right message via the right channel
- The right customer: Which customer segments are the most strategically important for your business as you look ahead? Have you built a customer segmentation framework to identify which customers (and prospects) deserve a disproportionate amount of your time, energy and investment?
- The right time: It’s important to engage customers early on in the process since waiting for them to come to you will likely translate into missed opportunities.
- The right message: Think about the content and information that will be a value add, and that your business is uniquely positioned to deliver. We’re finding that, as part of their information-gathering, customers are more and more likely to perform a detailed analysis of the costs and ROI before making a decision. How can you best deliver what they need to accomplish this critical task?
- The right channel: Digital channels are becoming the preferred way to consume information, and mobile in particular is growing in relevance: 42% of those conducting research use their mobile devices during the B-to-B purchase process, according to Millward Brown.
3. Track your progress and learn from early mistakes. Even the most well-designed program is going to miss the mark from time to time, so it’s imperative that you’re taking a holistic approach to measurement and also building in a feedback loop so that you can make updates the next time around. When thinking about measurement, business metrics and KPIs are obviously important, but don’t lose sight of the smaller drivers that lead to the bigger results and outcomes. How well is your message being heard and understood? What are your customers saying? What actions are they taking? Getting a read on these types of metrics is critical as you seek to understand not just whether your efforts are having the desired outcome at the end of the day, but also what the root causes are likely to be.
Getting all of these pieces right is no small feat, but if you take the time to thoughtfully and methodically build your customer engagement program by addressing these questions, you can successfully respond to the big changes taking place in customer buying behavior.
Currently, ZS is collecting insights from business leaders regarding the evolving nature of the sales organization. Please share your opinions in this brief survey regarding emerging sales trends as well as your teams’ capabilities and performances.