In a post last month I described the growing challenge that technology sales organizations are facing with the “sales rep not present” scenario. A study by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) found that buyers are now conducting up to 57% of their research during a purchasing cycle before they are willing to speak to a vendor’s sales representative. If customers are not talking to sales representatives then you might wonder how these buyers are gathering the information they need to make purchasing decisions. The CEB study stated “Potential customers are readily turning to their personal networks and publicly available information—increasingly via digital and social media channels—to self-diagnose their problems and form opinions about solutions.”
Peers – First and foremost buyers will ask other IT professionals how they have solved a similar challenge. They will talk to peers that meet at vendor advisory councils or user groups. They will reach out to former and present co-workers to solicit opinions. They will listen to case studies delivered at tradeshows. As a result, the importance of creating “word of mouth” buzz for your products amongst your customer base cannot be understated. Your customers are your best sales representatives because they bring a level of credibility and insights that even your top producing account executives cannot match.
Analysts – Many companies seek consultation from industry analysts. “You don’t get fired for picking a Gartner Magic Quadrant vendor.” Gartner, Forrester and IDC are the three largest firms, but there are plenty of high quality tier 2 analysts as well. A new generation of firms has open research models in which they share research for free. So your investment of time and marketing dollars to keep the analysts well-informed will continue to deliver a strong return on investment. Conduct regular briefings to the analysts that cover your space. Consider sponsoring webinars or research studies with these firms to add a new level of objectivity and neutrality to your marketing materials.
CEB’s Presentation on the Digital Evolution in B2B Marketing
Consultants – Some companies, especially large ones have a small army of systems integrators and/or consultants camped out in their offices. These trusted advisors are the first ones that decision makers will turn to when a new need arises. They come in many different suits and sizes, but to name a few these firms included IBM, Accenture, CSC, CGI, Perot Systems (Dell), SAIC, ACS (Xerox), Booz Allen Hamilton, Capgemini, Getronics, AtoS, Indra and Tieto. Chances are good you already understand the importance of these groups and have partnered with some of them in a referral or reseller relationship. But if not consider investing in a consulting relations professional to keep these firms up-to-date on your latest strategies and product launches.
Publications – Rumors about the death of IT trade publications have been greatly exaggerated. In fact, these magazines and newsletters remain an invaluable source of information for many IT professionals. Of course, these days most of the readers absorb the content online rather than in print format. But it is just as important as ever that your voice is heard in the news stories related to your sector. Traditional public relations approaches of pitching reporters continue to offer a strong return investment. With social media, there is also an opportunity to “newsjack” stories – inserting your unique views into breaking news reports. Reduced print circulation and advertising revenues have forced many of IT publications to cut staff. As a result there are more opportunities than ever to post guest content in the form of blogs, research studies or contributed articles to these sites.
Web Search – In almost every purchasing scenario buyers are doing online research. With a few mouse clicks they can enter their problem into Google, Bing or Yahoo and get a long list of websites offering education and consultation. And this online search presents the best opportunity for technology vendors to get re-engaged in the early stages of a buying cycle. Even if a prospective buyer is not interested in talking to your sales organization there is still a chance they may be willing to read the resources on your website. They will not be interested in overtly promotional or marketing materials. However, they may be willing to read educational or consultative materials you produce.
To be found in these web searches consider developing a suite of online marketing materials that map to the buyer’s journey. First, start with a general educational website that explains the technology you are marketing. This will be the first type of information a prospective buyer is seeking. The content on your site should be informative and unintimidating, but most of all it should be vendor-neutral. Second, develop a suite of downloadable tools that can be assembled into a buyer’s kit. The kit might include white papers, buyer’s guide, sample RFPs, research studies, case studies and pre-recorded webinars. To supplement your own branded materials consider licensing research studies or content from third parties. Third party content pieces have a level of vendor-neutrality and customer-centricity that is impossible for your marketing group to match. Third, develop a blog that provides an on-going series of job aids and consultative articles to reach your prospective buyers. This type of content will place well in search engine rankings increasing the chances that you will be found earlier in the buying cycle.