The New B2B Buyer Dialog: A Conversation with Kathleen Schaub

Most B2B companies will readily acknowledge how much the Web has transformed the way they market their product or service, most visibly in the form of vehicles like search, content marketing, social media, and lead management. Fewer companies, however, can claim to have adapted their sales process as readily.

Kathleen Schaub has made a career of helping companies drive revenue, most prominently in executive roles at companies such as Sybase, Cadence, and Vanstar (formerly ComputerLand.) Now as founder and principal consultant at TrellisOne Consulting, she helps B2B companies transform marketing practices, aligning them with business objectives in order to improve sales performance. She has a lot to say about how B2B companies need to adapt better to the reality of how their customers buy products and services.

(HS) What’s different about the B2B selling process compared to say, 5 or 10 years ago?

(KS) Before the Internet, the B2B buyer making a complex decision had relatively few sources of information. Vendors leveraged that knowledge gap. The vendor sales person was the primary gateway to information the buyer needed to decide – a tremendously powerful position.

Fast forward to today. The Internet and social media have triggered a turbulent change – the rich dialog has shifted on-line and away from the sales person. Plus, B2B buyers have become expert buyers. They often know more than sales people. They engage with sales people later in the buying process. If your company has been persuasive on-line, you’ll make the short list. If not, there’s little hope for recovery. The impact on sales productivity is big and irreversible. CSO Insights reports that sales productivity is at a 15-year low point. IDC Sales Advisory says that only half of sales people make quota.

(HS) We all understand how dramatically the Internet has impacted B2C businesses – whether it’s how people buy a new car, or choose a restaurant. How has the Web impacted B2B companies?

(KS) The Internet creates a direct connection between consumers and suppliers. You don’t need a sales person at all to buy some consumer products – music, stocks, and airline tickets, for example.

This same thing is happening in B2B, just not as fast or as completely. B2B buying is more complex, requiring more information, interaction, and trust than typical consumer purchases. However, already 70% of the B2B buying cycle is complete by the time sales people engage, according to SiriusDecisions.

Even for consumer transactions involving a sales person, such as a new car purchase, B2C companies must contend with Web-based influences, such as rating services and an explosion of peer opinions. The proliferation of Web 2.0 technologies – social, video, mobile – will continue to make even complex B2B buying easier.

B2B buyers cut their teeth as consumers and then bring buying preferences and skills to work. We can expect pretty much everything that starts in the consumer world to cascade into B2B.

(HS) What are the biggest mistakes B2B marketers make in the context of today’s B2B selling process?

(KS) B2B marketers must shoulder greater responsibility for the actual sale, not just create awareness or produce leads. The biggest mistake is failing to see this new reality. Marketers may not own the final deal close. However, as owners of their company’s digital channels, they must tee-up the deal through digital dialog.

Signs that B2B marketers haven’t adapted:

• measuring program activity rather than revenue outcomes (or not measuring at all);
• producing product-centric content rather than buyer-centric content;
• spending an inordinate amount of budget on batch-and-blast lead generation campaigns rather than nurturing;
• failure to align with sales on funnel taxonomy, processes, and metrics; and
• insufficiently arming sales people with the tools needed to finally close the deal.

(HS) What are the top 3 recommendations you’d make to a B2B marketer to improve effectiveness?

(KS) First, B2B marketers must map their buyer’s journey. We learned from our B2C brethren that digital commerce requires a detailed understanding of the buyer’s questions from early problem exploration through to the final solution negotiation. Step-by-step, we then lead the buyer through their journey by publishing targeted content and providing tools that answer those questions. Ask your buyer what they need in order to buy. Collaborate with sales people to learn what they know. Develop campaigns that move buyers from step-to-step.

Second, live and die by data. If the buyer’s journey is your map, then marketing data is your GPS. It will tell you where you and your buyers are today (even if you must first learn that you’re lost!) Data will give you feedback and direction. Become a data zealot. Align with sales and executives on what to measure. Share data with the sales team. Discuss it at every meeting and let it inform your decisions. Data is power.

Third, exploit automation. Automation is the interaction platforms for the new buyer dialog. It will also manage and deliver your buyer-centric content and will produce, manage and analyze your data. Engagement flows through search engines, social media, and content aggregation sites in the early stages of the buyer’s journey, then through your website and marketing automation platforms as your buyers advance. Testing, monitoring, and measuring tools assist you along the way.

(HS) Thanks Kathleen!

3 thoughts on “The New B2B Buyer Dialog: A Conversation with Kathleen Schaub

  1. Teicko Huber

    I like your post and think you did a good job answering all the questions.

    I have one question about the quote regarding the 70% of the B2B cycle as being complete…Your source goes directly to the Sirius home page, but there is no mention of the source. Do you know the context in which this reference was made, or if they even made the reference?

    Cheers.

  2. Kathleen Schaub

    Thanks for your question, Teicko. I got this statistic in a presentation given by Tony Jaros of SiriusDecisions at the 2009 Eloqua Experience users conference. Since, then, I have seen it quoted by SiriusDecisions customers and partners in various forums.

    The reason that the exact report is not linked in this post is that SiriusDecisions, like most research firms, puts their premium content, such as reports, behind a pay-wall.

    Your question is a good one. I believe the report was their annual B-to-B Buyer’s Survey. However, I’m going to follow up with SiriusDecisions to be certain.
    /Kathleen

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