B-to-b marketers must adapt

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In a world where prospects know more about what they're buying than most sellers do, b-to-b marketers need to rethink their role and their value add. Forget about moving prospects through the sales cycle, and focus on assisting them through their buying process.

Selling cycle, buying process — are we splitting hairs? Hardly. Sales cycles are built around a methodology for driving leads from awareness through preference to purchase and loyalty. The flaw in that logic is that we can't drive prospects to do anything. They drive the process. Our job is to get them to include us in their process.

First, map the buying process for each customer segment, and take the time to micro-segment your audiences. Understand the problem each segment is trying to solve, as well as the process they go through to research a solution and make a decision. Know where they go to get educated and be there.

Second, create relevant content for each stage and player in the process. Consider the multiple decision-makers and influencers involved in the b-to-b buying process. Use personalized techniques, such as customized URLs, to make the experience unique and targeted to each person. Speak their language. Talk business, not features and functionality. And, don't be afraid to address your audience in non-business channels — they are people, not a nebulous buyer segment.

Finally, match the effort expended by prospects to the value of the information you're giving them. Prospects don't want to be sold to, especially early in the buying process. They may abandon your offer if they think they're going to get hassled by sales just for doing their homework and checking out your content. Make sure your campaigns have a good mix of low, medium, and high commitment assets, such as whitepapers, webinars and assessments, that cover the spectrum of buying process activities and enable you to collect information over time.

It's not about what you sell, it's about whether customers believe that you can solve their problem better than someone else can.

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