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Reach All Levels of the Decision-Making Process

Many business-to-business marketers focus on reaching executives at the CEO, COO or CIO level through broad business publications. And many spend a lot of money without getting the maximum return for their investment.

Though senior executives play a key role in the buying process, the people who most often determine a buying need, set the specifications and decide on a supplier are the day-to-day managers. The BTB buying process is lengthy and complex, requiring input from multiple perspectives and final approval from the senior executive level.

A BTB marketer needs to:

o Target all decision makers from senior level on down.

o Reach most of them as early as possible in the buying cycle.

o Deliver messages tailored to the purchase responsibility of each job at each stage of the buying process.

Depending on the magnitude of the purchase, senior executives may have little involvement in the transaction. The CEO of a biotech company may OK a multimillion-dollar lab facility to exploit advancements in mapping the human genome, but is unlikely to weigh the pros and cons of one supplier vs. another or specify every detail of the lab design. And if that lab needs to buy a new centrifuge, the lab technologist is the one who will pinpoint that need, track down suppliers and decide which model to buy.

An IndustryWeek survey of 175 CEOs and senior executives at manufacturing companies with annual sales of $100 million or more identified the most important aspects of their jobs as building a strong executive team, establishing and communicating the company vision, establishing the company structure and evaluating the competitive climate. In other words, the senior level focuses on big-picture issues.

The production, operations, engineering, sales and marketing managers and their staffs most often are the people identifying a need and searching for the goods to fill it. They typically work together in a multi-stage process, with members of each department taking part in the purchase decision. Senior executives’ role is generally final sign-off, based on the recommendations of the lower-level managers.

Organizational buying. The BTB buying cycle can take six months to a year. It starts with a business opportunity or problem that drives the need for products or services. The people on the job surface an idea. They determine and document specifications for the purchase, search for and qualify potential sources, request and analyze proposals, select a supplier, establish an order routine, evaluate the item’s and supplier’s performance and establish a system for feedback.

Multiple decision makers gather information, demo products and decide as a group. For example, an online retailer decides to buy new telecommunications technology to improve customer service. At least seven job titles are involved in that process: design engineer, Webmaster, network administrator, operations and troubleshooting personnel, administrator, telecommunications manager and chief information officer. Each group has different buying motivations, objectives and concerns. But each functions under one overriding philosophy: make the company more successful.

It’s equally important to determine what the individuals want from the seller. Decision makers want the best technology, often the latest technology. To find it, they look to the seller.

Buyers today expect more help and input from sellers. In some cases, the seller is even the one surfacing the need – bringing the idea for a new product or an increase in efficiency, educating the buyers and leading them through the purchase cycle much like prescription drug advertising leads the consumer through that buying cycle. The most successful marketers enter the organizational buying cycle at the earliest possible stage.

To reach all decision makers, a BTB marketer cannot use a one-shot, one-size-fits-all ad. Each job title in the buying process has different priorities and seeks different information to make a decision.

There are generally three categories of buyers: economic buyers, the people who release the money; user buyers, the people who interact with the product daily; and technical buyers, the people making performance judgments about a product or service, screening vendors based on features and capabilities.

Marketers need to be much more detailed when communicating with the technical and user buyers than with the economic buyers. The message to senior executives, for example, should not focus on the capabilities of equipment or services, but reinforce that a vendor is a credible, trustworthy and reliable.

To delineate its messages and get the right information to the right people, a marketer needs a clear understanding of a firm’s objectives, markets and competitive strategies. But sending multiple messages to a broad range of buyers is costly and inefficient if done solely by traditional BTB offline advertising. The Internet is the most effective method to reach decision makers. In less than a decade, the Internet has become an essential tool for business decision makers. They use it in all stages of the buying cycle as well.

Buyers want the easy access to information that the Internet provides and are more likely to buy from companies that can deliver information and services online. A study by Jupiter Media Metrix found that more than 80 percent of BTB buyers will be “strongly influenced” to trade online with suppliers who offer more comprehensive services, including collaborative product design, interactive planning and supply chain visibility.

Vendors can win business through interactive marketing, which the data show is a positive in the marketer’s column. Buyers say, “That is the kind of company I want to work with as I buy.”

Delivering benefits. BTB digital marketing provides sellers with a greater degree of specificity in reaching a target audience, greater flexibility to tailor messages to different buyer groups, lower costs than direct mail or other forms of traditional BTB marketing, and more direct communication at higher speeds.

The Internet gives another opportunity to reach a multitude of people with different messages in a cost-efficient way. The Internet also enables personal communication with decision makers.

If competitive pressures are strong and the pace of technological change is great, buyers generally shorten the purchase cycle, conducting more intense search efforts and spending even less time on the process. Online, a brand becomes part of a decision maker’s consciousness quickly.

Digital marketing, when done right, can build a partnership creating a better opportunity for the marketer’s product or service. The flip side of quick communications is that a vendor with a bad Web site or bad online practices can kill its brand just as quickly as promote it.

According to Jupiter, only 41 percent of BTB companies respond to customers’ e-mail inquiries within six hours, and only half of those who do respond offer an accurate resolution to customers’ questions.

Simply posting a static frequently-asked-questions page is not enough to grab companies in the early stages of the buy cycle who are trying to evaluate a product and a vendor’s worth. Communication needs to be truly interactive.

Decision makers from senior executives to the user level are online doing research and looking for information to solve problems or improve efficiencies. Simply targeting senior executives through broad-based business publications will not reach all the key people in the buying process.

Even if it did, it cannot offer the tailored messages needed for each position to make a decision. To reach marketing, sales, R&D, production, operations, CXOs and other key BTB decision-makers, Internet marketing is the way to go.

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