B2B buying is changing. Moving forward, every player along the supply chain, from manufacturers to warehouse operators to shipping facilities, will need to learn new strategies to strengthen their relationships with potential customers.
The first and most important step is reshaping the traditional buyer experience. According to The New B2B Buyer Experience, the latest report from Showpad, the dynamic between sellers and buyers is going through a fundamental shift: The path to purchase is taking longer. According to our data, over 60 percent of manufacturing executives said that the length of their purchase process increased compared to the prior year. One reason is that deals getting more complex. Buyers are spending more time researching on their own before contacting sales reps. And more people are involved in the purchasing decisions than in the past.
But there’s good news. Even as buyers do more research online, salespeople still play a critical role in the purchasing process. Look at this hopeful data:
- Sales reps still matter: 35 percent of B2B buyers in manufacturing find interacting with sales reps superior to gathering information on their own, while 30 percent prefer to conduct their own research.
- Content and conversations are crucial for research: When conducting research, nearly half (47 percent) of B2B manufacturing buyers prefer online reviews, while more than half (62 percent) like to have conversations with industry peers. Only a quarter (24 percent) of B2B manufacturing buyers want to use case studies when conducting research.
- Interactive content is king: Half (52 percent) of B2B buyers in manufacturing find technical specs most useful, while 39 percent want streaming video as a component of the sales process. Only 14 percent of buyers in manufacturing find slide decks helpful.
Clearly, buyers are not happy being left on their own to slog through content they find cumbersome or not tailored to their needs. They want an industry expert who can serve as a guiding hand to lead them to a solution that will solve problems. Otherwise, why should they give sales reps their valuable time?
Serving as Solution Providers to Buyers
Sales reps now need to earn their time more than ever before. They can do that in one powerful way: By presenting themselves as solution providers.
By offering expertise with content that adds value, sales reps will create better buying experiences and strengthen the trust with their buyers. This is critical as we see that top decision-makers research by reading websites (69 percent), seeking opinions from industry peers (62 percent), and online reviews (48 percent). Reputation matters—by making the purchasing process a pain-free experience that leads to success, sales reps will gain a strong foothold among buyers. The caution that they are showing in these results can be turned around through opportunities for sales reps to show they create solutions to challenges their buyers are anxious to solve.
This new sales paradigm requires efforts from both sales and marketing to enable sales reps through sharing customer insights while continuously developing sales rep skills through ongoing learning and coaching. And in this new era, the integration of marketing and sales enablement technologies is mission critical.
Four Steps to Improve the Buyer Experience
Here are four ways to improve the buyer experience for both your sales reps and your customers:
Position your sales rep as a trusted advisor. Not only are buyers finding it difficult to find the right information, but the information they are finding is not helpful in the purchase process. Sales reps can step in and deliver the right content at the right time. Their guiding hand can include connecting the dots from what the customers may think they need to what the research shows will save them money and foster growth over the long term. This will require reps improving their education to learn more about the company and individual buyer. The more educated the sales rep, the better the buyer experience.
Make it easy to share content internally and externally to reflect the growing number of stakeholders. Customers lead busy lives, which means that when they need to read content, that content needs to be essential and shareable among peers. According to Showpad data, about 50 percent of manufacturing deals involve three to four people and more than a quarter involve up to 10 people. That means that all content, from product specs to ROI calculators, needs to be readily accessible by not just the point of content, but everyone he or she is working with. Don’t make them work for it.
Personalize when possible. Buyers are looking for solutions to challenges, so give them content that speaks specifically to their market, their region, their product—anything that creates a buyer experience that is unique only to them and them alone. Once customers get the essential information quickly and easily, they will be primed for content that takes that information one step beyond. They’ll also see you as a partner who knows them. That builds trust.
Don’t forget the human touch. In the age of rapid technology, customers still want a personal connection their sales reps, either in-person or on the phone or email. More than half of manufacturing executives say they prefer getting answers via phone (53 percent) or email (55 percent) from their reps before deciding on a purchase. This means that sales reps need to pay attention to their response times as one missed call or unanswered email may impact the purchasing decision. Secondly, the preference for on-site visits (34 percent) opens up the opportunity for sales reps to introduce technology that engages their customers and helps them get answers on their own.
Theresa O’Neil is the vice president of marketing for Showpad.