The B2B market unlike consumer sales, has a notoriously long buying cycle. When marketing, sales and PR teams are fragmented as they often are, the buying journey for a prospect can be one with no clear navigation support. Here, Jon Brown, Pitch&Place engagement specialist at IBA International outlines some unified tactics that sales, marketing and PR can employ to guide prospects down the decision funnel.
The modern B2B marketing department can reap benefits and brownie points by providing busy and often stressed sales teams with marketing efforts tailored not only generate, but encourage and cultivate prospects at every stage of what is usually a lengthy B2B buying cycle.
From releases to articles, twitter to blogs – each has a role to play on the prospect journey
This means providing the sales team with content that can be used to aid them in their conversation with prospects, and social media support to encourage engagement. From the early stages of lead generation, a simple press release announcing a key customer win or an analyst report demonstrates momentum and industry leadership. These third-party endorsements are then supported by press placements of thought-leadership articles or company position papers that may finally influence a decision when a prospect is in the final stages of reviewing a bid.
You Have Valuable Content – Use It!
The PR team I work with have a saying: “You might have written the best article ever, but if it doesn’t get used, you may as well frame it and hang it on the wall.”
The same can be applied to all content and coverage generated through marketing and PR campaigns. The marketing team could be producing streams of on-message and useful content, the PR campaign could be achieving very good coverage, but if this goes no further then it’s only achieving a small part of what is possible.
First Step of the Journey – Build the Asset Library
Start removing the silos of content. Simply centralizing all marketing content – press releases and media alerts, customer case studies, articles, blogs, marketing flyers, white papers, even webinar recordings – is the next step in breaking down departmental boundaries and encouraging a dynamic communications ecosystem.
Content has a long ‘shelf-life’ and often, with a few simple ‘tweaks’, can still be relevant over 12 months after its initial creation. Having all that history in an easily navigable central repository – I like to call it an ‘asset library’ – means busy sales execs can get their hands on the content they require on case by case basis.
So now you’ve got your virtual travel case packed and are ready to support the prospect journey.
Share It – Work Together
Internal communication is a key element in making content available to the sales team. A short snappy newsletter with fresh relevant content, surprise news bulletins highlighting stand-out media coverage sales teams can use, tweets they can immediately use to support company success – all make them aware that marketing is a resource to draw on and use to nurture their prospects.
It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
B2B purchases are a long process. I’ve experienced pitches lasting anything from six months to upwards of three years before a contract is signed, let alone reach implementation and go-live.
Most marketers have heard the CEB statistic that 57% of the buying process is complete before a ‘customer’ even contacts the supplier, and that marketing-sales consistency will come in handy during the last third of the journey – but it’s sales and marketing’s job to get the prospect over the half way point.
A ‘Bite-Sized’ Corporate Narrative – Nudging Prospects Along
According to GfK Roper Public Affairs and Media, 80% of B2B decision makers prefer to get company information in a series of targeted, “bite-sized” articles rather than a single intrusive advertisement.
A press relations strategy is a really persuasive tool to underpin marketing by exploiting the power of cognitive resonance – using different media to communicate the same message, regularly, building a consistent ‘corporate narrative’. Key news announcements, case studies, position papers and thought-leadership articles placed in industry media should carry unified core messages.
Cutting Through the Social Noise
This corporate narrative should extend to social media – in particular blogs, LinkedIn discussion posts and Twitter in the B2B space. Remember, this is often a direct engagement via a tweet or Linked In rather than a third-party endorsement in a top tier publication or website.
With 27 million pieces of content shared on social media every day, you need to craft your social media carefully to what’s relevant. Every social update needs to be written to engage a target audience – taking into account where that person might be in the decision funnel.
For example, a tweet about the announcement of a new solution would need framing differently to a short LinkedIn piece talking about integration of your company’s solution aimed at a prospect further down the funnel.
Coherency, Consistency and Cultivation
These are just a few simple tactics that can bring together the often-separate sales, marketing and PR departments. By establishing a company position, producing content tailored for prospects at different stages of the buying cycle and then consistently pushing those messages from all departments – blockages in the decision funnel can be removed leaving organizations free to cultivate leads as part of a collective strategy.
About the Author: Jon Brown, Pitch&Place engagement specialist at IBA International. As Pitch&Place engagement specialist at IBA International, Jon is responsible for media relations and PR strategy for many of the company’s business-to-business clients, spanning North America, Europe the Middle East and Asia-Pacific. Jon is a graduate of Sheffield Hallam University and holds a Master’s degree in Sports Journalism.