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Cracking the Code on B2B Marketing

Stories and Sales Along the Buyer's Journey. In ways large and small, the B2B buying cycle has dramatically changed.

By Brian Hart and Clayton Marsh, Hart Consulting Services

For any graphic communications company seeking new relationships with retailers & brands, keep this top of mind. The first two-thirds of the B2B buying cycle is where the relationship begins; it's where credibility starts. At this stage, content rules.

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  • B2B selling is now content driven, regardless of industry. If you sell to other businesses, you face a rapidly shifting landscape as you try to reach out to new audiences in new ways. In spite of these changes, certain principles still hold true. You must still prove yourself in an ever more competitive environment. And you still need a coherent brand voice and a simple, clear and differentiating message.

    At Hart Consulting Services (HCS) - A B2B Consultancy and digital marketing agency partnering with retailers OEMs and GCCs for the past five years, we describe the way that B2B buyers now interact with vendors and sellers as The New B2B Buying Cycle. Below, we describe a fascinating Buyer's Journey that we have segmented into thirds. To make the case simply, we are now living in a two-thirds/one-third buying cycle. The first two thirds of this journey are extremely important and for many organizations, this will feel like new territory. The last third of the journey is equally as important as the first two-thirds and will seem like coming home again.

    Traveling Along the Buyer's Journey
    Here's a quick illustration. Let's consider a buying cycle of nine months. The first two-thirds of this nine-month time frame, a period of six months, is when potential buyers gather information about your organization, your products and services. This is about visibility and relevant content. You're informing potential buyers.

    You're helping them to determine whether your organization is a good fit. At various points along the way, researchers and decision makers are at different levels of understanding. Each person, researcher or decision maker, has different information needs as they piece together who you are and what value you can deliver.

    This opening gambit, this first two-thirds of the cycle, is critical. For any graphic communications company seeking new relationships with retailers & brands, keep this top of mind. The first two-thirds of the B2B buying cycle is where the relationship begins; it's where credibility starts. At this stage, content rules. This, frankly speaking, is what has turned selling upside down and shattered the previous model.

    We Are All Publishers Now
    Though it may not be visible to us, a great deal happens well in advance of any actual direct engagement. Your offerings, published content that appears in newsletters, on websites, blogs, Facebook, etc., are being evaluated against your competitors'. You're being considered and scrutinized long before you even know who these potential buyers and decision makers are. Unsettling? Sure. But the upside is that you can shape and finesse your message; you can tell the story you want to tell. Many opportunities to sell exist in the first two-thirds of the buying cycle.

    In the final third comes engagement. The buyer is ready to finally begin to connect with you directly and something more familiar, closer to the traditional sales model, falls into place. Your content has done its work; your buyer has done the research, read your newsletters, received your offerings, read your white papers. Now comes a direct conversation with your organization and with it comes the opportunity to close new business.

    Creating Branded Content, Consistently
    Because fully two-thirds of the buying process is now content driven, HCS urges the companies we work with to develop an in-house content manager, or contract with an outside vendor to drive marketing communications. With a content development specialist on staff, HCS now has the capability to both develop your content and to push it out across different platforms and different media.

    The content development specialist assumes responsibility for building awareness through continuous, branded marketing efforts, pushing out fresh content daily, weekly or monthly. Ideally, this process is fully integrated with your marketing assets, databases and customer relationship management (CRM) to achieve the response, customer retention and conversation you're looking for.

    The key aim is to create relevant content and to put that content in front of existing and potential buyers. Examples of the types of content and the various platforms where that content can live are below.

      Case studies
      Competitive comparisons
      Email campaigns
      "How To" stories, blog posts
      Insider tips
      Success Stories
      Web content
    Influence and Decision Making -- Cultural and Cognitive Fluency
    A wide range of factors influences the decision making process, some more esoteric than others. "Cognitive fluency" is a psychological term. It measures how easy it is to think about something. Not surprisingly, most people prefer to think about things that are easy to think about. And it turns out that fluency, the name you give a product or a service, the choice of fonts in your e-mail messages, the simplicity of your message, whether your communications feel familiar or not, all can have a significant impact on persuasion, on your ability to influence buying decisions.

    "Cultural fluency" is a term we use to describe that sense of alignment between your company and your prospect. You have cultural fluency when your prospect can honestly say, "They understand us, and they see the world in similar ways. They get who we are and what we are doing."

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    The Different Buyer Roles
    As we consider different buyer personas, we find two distinct roles: Researcher and decision maker. In the marketing realm there are more than two personas but for now, we'll deal with these two. Below, we've broken down these roles to shed some light on the kind of people you need to reach and what some of their motivations are.

    These buyer personas, somewhat simplified in this example, work in tandem and define the new norm in the B2B business development cycle. The new model is about relevance and simplicity. You push out relevant content on a relatively frequent basis to carry your story, in white papers, video and case studies, out to the people who need what you make or sell. The new B2B Buying Cycle is about education, information, building awareness and credibility.

    Identifying Retail Personas
    Understanding these customer stakeholders / individuals gives us the ability to establish a profile to build consensus and drive awareness toward an integrated marketing outreach. These profiles aren't exclusive nor are they absolute. But across retail, these descriptions shed light on the type of attributes your target buyers may align with.

    New research has identified seven major profile types.

    1. Go-Getters. These individuals are motivated by organizational improvement. They're constantly after good ideas. They're all about great insights wherever they find them.
    2. Educators. These people are passionate about sharing insights. Educators are sought out by coworkers for input. They're especially good at persuading others to take a specific kinds of action.
    3. Skeptics. These people are wary of large, complicated projects. They're likely to push back on almost everything. Even when pushing a new idea, they advise careful, measured implementation.
    4. Guides. People who are guides are always willing to share the organization's latest gossip. They're known to provide information not generally available to outsiders.
    5. Friends. Like the name suggests, friends are readily available and will happily help reps network with other stakeholders in the organization.
    6. Climbers. This individual is concerned mostly with personal mobility. Climbers back projects that improve their own profiles, and they look for rewards when their projects succeed.
    7. Blockers. Another phrase might be, defenders of the status quo. Blockers are strongly oriented toward preserving the status quo. They have little to no interest in speaking with outside vendors.

    Understanding Why We Think, Feel and Behave as We Do
    We've outlined what we believe is the new norm for business development, how things have changed. And we've identified what customers need from you as they begin their journey from exploration to engagement to purchasing.

    Now to briefly return to some of the issues around persuasion and decision-making. Real benefits can be gained by approaching purchasing from a psychological standpoint.

    Clayton Marsh, HCS's Retail Design Strategist & Marketing Consultant is also a licensed psychotherapist. Clay's unique experiences and insights bring HCS and our customers real value. Clay helps clients shape new pathways for change and growth and he's had many opportunities to learn what works.

    As you gain a greater understanding about your customers and prospects, about the buyer's journey, about cognitive and cultural fluency, new discoveries emerge. You can reframe and simplify your messaging. You can employ different methods of communication at different times for different audiences. You can change fonts. Or you can decide to take specific actions, free trial offers, purchasing discounts, the use of testimonials.

    The possibilities are endless. The more that you understand, the more you can overcome obstacles, gain greater influence and grow your business.

    Note: This article is an excerpt from Brian Hart and Clayton Marsh's recently published book, "Way to Grow 2.0: Leading Edge Marketing Strategies and Tactics for the Graphic Communications Industry."

    Brian Hart's 30 years of experience in the custom manufacturing, graphic communications, and retail marketplace have positioned him as a highly regarded industry specialist. During his professional career he has been involved with start-ups, privately held companies, and small and medium private equity-based firms. Hart was an early advocate for sustainable business practices, and was one of the first business leaders to recognize the power of marketing automation. Over the last decade, he has focused on facilitating and optimizing support teams and execution prerogatives within the In-Store marketplace. Hart introduces OEM and material manufactures to the retail and graphics community, helping them evaluate the road ahead.

    Clayton Marsh offers over 22 years of experience in the retail marketplace as a legacy brand designer. He has assisted both nationally and internationally recognized brands to message, shape and execute In-Store. Marsh works with graphic communications and OEM product companies to message and visualize strategies that resonate at retail. His familiarity with retail environments, campaign design and campaign rollouts allow him to quickly identify core-messaging value based on real world experiences. Marsh focuses on the balance between creativity and visually sophisticated messaging and marketing tools for effective communication, leading to more powerful ideas and visual impact for retailers and for graphic producers and In-Store retailers.

    This article appeared in the SGIA Journal, January/February 2014 Issue and is reprinted with permission. Copyright 2014 Specialty Graphic Imaging Association ( All Rights Reserved.

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