Marketers Play Big Role in B2B Buying: CKGSB Knowledge Series

November 11, 2015

Ruth P. Stevens, president of eMarketing Strategy, told the CKGSB Knowledge Series presentation “How B2B Buying Has Changed and How We Need to Change With It” that marketers can play a big role in driving business-to-business (B2B) sales by forming relationships with customers as they research a company's products and services over the Internet.

Ruth P. Stevens, president of eMarketing Strategy, told the CKGSB Knowledge Series presentation “How B2B Buying Has Changed and How We Need to Change With It” that marketers can play a big role in driving business-to-business (B2B) sales by forming relationships with customers as they research a company’s products and services over the Internet.

“Business buyers are researching our products and solutions online way before they are talking to us,” Ms. Stevens, an expert on customer acquisition and B2B marketing, told an audience at CKGSB’s New York office on November 11. “The traditional B2B sales person has lost control of the customer relationship. The customers are getting their information online first, and then 60 or 70 percent of the way down in the buying process they are saying, ‘Come talk to me.’

“Marketers have to kick off the relationship by using marketing communications based on buying signals and try to educate the customers when they are doing their research,” she said.

While using analytics tools and automation technology to gather specific customer information in support of a potential B2B outreach is critical, it is just as important to keep the data timely. “B2B data tends to degrade very quickly,” and sales can be lost when outdated data is allowed to undergird an outreach to a customer, Ms. Stevens said.

Illustrating how quickly data can become irrelevant, she cited statistics from marketing data provider Dun & Bradstreet showing that 706 United States companies move their offices every two hours. “Typically business (people) are changing all the time,” Ms. Stevens said. “They’re changing jobs, they’re changing companies. So the data degrades.”

She recommended that B2B marketers follow a five-step “data hygiene” program. First, ensure that data is entered correctly. Then motivate and train staff who talk to customers to capture fresh data. Next, apply data cleansing software, where possible (typically such systems can only clean material that can be standardized). Following that, create a customer preference center on the Internet. Finally, conduct outbound communications to collect phone numbers, email addresses and job titles.

The presentation by Ms. Stevens, who consults on customer acquisition and retention and teaches marketing at business schools in the U.S. and abroad, continued the monthly CKGSB Knowledge Series. Greg Marchi, Chief Representative of CKGSB Americas, said in his opening remarks that the Knowledge Series aims to share insights and information on specific topics while providing attendees with networking opportunities.

Greg Marchi, Chief Representative of CKGSB Americas, left, introduces Ruth P. Stevens, president of eMarketing Strategy. Ms. Stevens spoke on “How B2B Buying Has Changed and How We Need to Change With It,” in a CKGSB Knowledge Series discussion at the school’s New York office.

Ms. Stevens’ presentation highlighted the differences between business and consumer buyers. A key difference is that most business buying is done by multiple people. Just 7 percent of business purchases are done by single individuals, she said. For a purchase over $25,000, an average buying committee in a company with more than 1,000 employees might comprise 21 people, including technicians, users, decision-makers and purchasing officials, she said. The number of parties involved increases with the value of the purchase.

“If we are trying to sell into a business, we have to know who are those 21 people, what are their names, how can I get hold of them, what do they care about, how can I influence them, how can I explain to them in terms that are meaningful to them why it’s my product they should be buying versus Brand X over here, my competition?” Ms. Stevens said.

Digging into how marketers can acquire and retain relationships with customers, Ms. Stevens has co-written with Theresa Kushner the book, “B2B Data Driven Marketing.” Her presentation included a discussion on a key topic from her book – capturing contact information that allows marketers to communicate with prospects and customers directly.

Internal sources that businesses can use to collect customer and prospect information include sales contacts, billing systems, credit files, fulfillment systems, customer service systems, Web data (including logs and social media) and inquiry files and referrals, she said. External sources include business partners/channels, prospect lists (including compiled files, response files, prospecting databases and customized data) and surveys.

The B2B website is the “single most productive source of prospecting data today,” as long as you stimulate visitors to your website to leave behind contact information, Ms. Stevens said. “When we visit websites it’s basically anonymous. In B2B, it’s essential we try to find out who they are. Because if they’re in our website they’re already searching in our category,” she said. “They have some interest in our product or service and we can’t afford to let that interest stay anonymous.”

Visitors, she said, can be motivated to leave behind contact information through effective content marketing. She cited the website of RSA Security as an example. If a person Googling “corporate data security” comes across RSA, they are offered a downloadable research report described as “prescriptive advice from Fortune 1000 security executives.”

“If you’re researching about security wouldn’t you want to know what security executives at Fortune 1000 companies are saying about it?” Ms. Stevens asked. The user would be enticed to fill out an online form which gives RSA information needed to stay in touch. She added, however, that just 2 percent of visitors will be likely to fill out the form.

Companies also can gather contact information through Internet Protocol addresses which identify a browser’s user. A website owner can use Google Analytics to identify the user’s affiliated company. Software systems can automate the time-consuming process of looking through Google Analytics to find the company’s name.

One such system is VisitorTrack, which alerts the user that a visitor from Company X was on a site. The alert says how long the visitor spent on certain pages, and which keywords were used. Alerts can include a list of senior executives’ phone numbers, email addresses and titles, which are public information.

In a discussion with Mr. Marchi following the presentation, Ms. Stevens explained the difference between “Big Data” (highlighted in a recent CKGSB Knowledge magazine article) and the data she referenced in her remarks.

“What I work with is small data,” Ms. Stevens said. “Most of the people I know are selling to 10,000 accounts, maybe 100,000. I have a friend who sells to five companies, compared to consumer marketers who are selling to 120 million households.

“There are 120 million households in the U.S., and there are 12 million businesses,” she said. “That’s 10 percent. So, small.”

In an interview before the presentation, Ms. Stevens said her views have been shaped by the writings of  Theodore Levitt, an American economist, professor at Harvard Business School and editor of the Harvard Business Review noted for popularizing the term globalization. Mr. Levitt argued that a corporation’s purpose was to create and keep a customer, rather than merely making money.

“He opened my eyes and I pass this along to my students to the concept that if you have a customer you  have a business,” Ms. Stevens said. “Products come and go but the source of revenue and profit is the customer.

“So Levitt said the goal of business is to acquire and keep a customer. I might add the phrase, ‘at a profit’. Because there are customers we have to try to convert to profitability or not serve,” she said.

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