Another hot topic discussed at our recent CEO Summit was the modern customer's buying behavior and how it affects your sales strategy. Customers are now in the driver’s seat.
Enterprise customers small and large have moved from sales cycles to buying cycles. “Find-try-buy” is common. Prospects are coming to companies armed, having done their digital due diligence to make their buying decision and, industry research tell us, are as much as 67 percent of way through sales cycle before engaging sales. The web and social networks are major influencers of purchase decisions.
Meanwhile, having your sales team connecting with prospects in a rapid-response and more intelligent way, still plays a major role. Because of this, marketing is becoming more critical. Data collected from marketing technologies can help educate, equip, and enable sales teams to get in front of these prospects more quickly.
Following are the top five takeaways from our sausage-making session, Your Customer's Buying Behavior Has Changed; Have You?
1. Position Your Company as the Go-To Thought Leader
Obvious, but how to do this effectively?
We discussed various ways to stay in front of prospects as they journey down the path to buyer. Over and over, we heard CEOs talk about their focus on becoming thought leaders in their target markets. Thought leaders are found by prospects, first, are able to frame the story to their advantage, and data shows that they take disproportionate market share. We live in a world of 10-minute attention spans. Being first with the most powerful, relevant message for prospects is key -- so long as you are focused on talking not about what you do, rather what you do for your customers, focusing on the big problems that are important to your customers' business.
Some CEOs also underscored the importance of industry analyst coverage and endorsement and how this has a real impact on enterprise buyers. This, combined with PR, case studies and other third-party validation is considered effective, and several participants notes that, often, your best customers are your best source for this content if you can persuade them to provide case studies and/or author articles citing business problems successfully solved.
2. Break Through with Benchmarking
Define the benchmarks for your target market. Prospects will follow, and competitors will be at a disadvantage. Many CEOs reported great results with their benchmarking efforts. One company fuels their thought leadership programs by setting business metrics expectations for prospects and customers. Customers appreciate the guidelines, and competitors can't compete because the benchmarks are unique to the company's results and expertise.
Another company took to creating surveys for use on-site at tradeshows. The survey results were picked up by a third-party analyst firm, validated, and then used by publications looking to recap the conference. The survey results became benchmarks, which then became sales tools and anecdotes to arm inside sales reps.
3. Hold Customer-to-Customer Events
Online communities have their place, and become even more effective when marrying with the physical user groups -- a great opportunity to create customer-to-customer interaction. One Edison company shared how they started a "Mobile Thought Leaders" event series (live events with up to 25 attendees), bringing together customers and prospects to share best practices and discuss issues and challenges with mobility. Here's how they describe the events on their site:
"The Mobile Thought Leaders program is designed to help professionals working with, or responsible for, enterprise mobility programs keep pace with emerging best practices and advanced case studies by networking with their peers."
In just two years, the Mobile Thought Leader program has grown to 100 live events, and expanded to include vertical webinars, surveys, and research. 2,000 enterprises participate in the regional events.
Another portfolio company shared stories of their successful user conference. They fund an exceptional experience for customers, enabling them to learn, share with their peers, and come away with actionable ideas to implement. The results have been millions in expansion sales pipeline, and customer stories were the key.
4. Content is King
Many CEOs acknowledged the importance of leveraging compelling content and marketing automation tools, e.g., Hubspot, Marketo and others, to nurture prospects, and help prioritize which prospects are hotter than others based on their digital activity.
Some CEOs in the session talked about how their marketing teams drive and orchestrate content creation and leverage a variety of formats, e.g., video, infographics, etc., to educate the buyer on pain points and solutions available. One CEO was able to report that prospects who had viewed their videos made it through the sales process 20 percent faster and with higher close rates. Another company commented how they maintain a library of 150 short-videos, reflecting customer use cases, to educate prospects in their discovery process.
5. Not Inbound vs. Outbound; Inbound + Outbound
With buyers' ability to start their buying cycle without you, popular belief is that outbound is dead, but it's not. The days of Glengarry Glen Ross cold calling are now behind us, but calling with insight and purpose can still absolutely drive qualified pipeline. Today, outbound can be much more marketing insight centric, and work nicely in conjunction with the inbound marketing approach that has been embraced by modern marketers and sellers. Our CEOs spoke about inbound vs./& outbound approaches.
One example: Chris Clark, COO of Fiberlink (acquired by IBM), emphasized the specific importance of timing in responding to inbound leads. His team's discovered the optimal response time for an inbound query to be four hours -- the right balance between a too-quick, 'big brother' type response and waiting too long that the prospect may have mentally moved on.
The energy invested in understanding, supporting and responding to signals in your buyer's journey will pay dividends, and the above ideas, are just a few examples of how Edison companies are giving this focus.