To move your B2B sales process online, you need to do four main things:
- Refine and study your target market
- Focus on personalisation and use sales-aligned marketing to build trust online
- Make it easy to “try before you buy”
- Codify this journey within a scalable process
If you haven’t moved your B2B sales process online, 2020 is the year to make it happen. Online channels have played an important role in B2B sales for more than a decade. Social distancing requires the embrace of digital-first sales in a far more totalising way. It’s not enough to augment face-to-face relationships with online resources. Every B2B brand needs to overhaul legacy sales processes that aren’t fit for purpose.
So, how do B2B brands cultivate complex relationships over long sales-cycles when you can’t get together in the same room? It’s about trust, frictionless purchases, and the ability to try before you buy.
Here, we’re going to walk you through the details of building a robust, digital sales process tailored to the specifics of B2B. It’s a process that we (at Gripped) have already embraced. Certain elements will take time and expertise to execute. But there are quick wins that will help today.
Let’s get started.
Step 1: Learn from SaaS — Code Marketing
There is a subcategory of B2B businesses that have for some time now been fully immersed in digital-first sales strategies. That would be SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) offerings. This is partially by design. But it’s also driven by a set of unique factors about SaaS that made online sales a natural fit. Understanding these can help you align your business with foundational elements of a successful B2B online sales process.
The online-compatible characteristics of SaaS are:
- Online distribution: SaaS products exist and flow through online channels. So, logically, digital sales are a natural component of that process.
- Low ACV: ACV (annual contract value) is your overhead (labour, electricity, etc.) divided by your quantity of output. Compared to many B2B products, SaaS has a low average annual contract value. While not universally true, the phenomenon of digital transformation has placed pressure on low ACV SaaS brands to keep customer acquisition costs low to promote profitability. Automated online processes have been critical to managing B2B balance sheets.
- Quick sales cycles: Compared to other B2B products, SaaS sales cycles are lightning fast. B2B customers have everything they need to make a decision without drawn-out, face-to-face lead nurturing.
- Frictionless onboarding and free trials: B2B SaaS drives quicker sales cycles. SaaS businesses are ideally equipped to provide users with free trials and freemium versions of their product. That quick provisioning bridges the gap between an undecided prospect and customer with a gratifying and trust-building experience.
Not every one of these unique factors can be applied to your business. But you need to draw on elements of them all in order to replicate the success of online SaaS sales — starting with the free trial.
What is Code Marketing?
Code Marketing is the application of the “SaaS free trial” to marketing more generally. Coined by HubSpot’s Brian Halligan, the term describes any marketing strategy which enables customers to trial products and services through self-service and online channels, and then leverages that experience to deliver paying customers.
What this might look like for your business really depends. But it’s all about enabling prospective customers to experience your brand (and what you have to deliver) before actually purchasing it — or, at least, making a long-term commitment. It’s “try before you buy”, and it’s a critical foundation of the “Gripped approach” to successful digital sales and online marketing.
A Code Marketing example
Our own business is a good example of how this concept might be applied. Gripped is a B2B marketing agency. We use technology, but our business is really a human-driven service — not something that is easily packaged as a free trial.
So, what have we done? We’ve embraced Code Marketing principles in three ways:
1. We’ve doubled down on actionable content marketing: As believers in inbound marketing, content was an existing staple of our internal marketing process and the strategies we execute for our clients. But to help prospects experience what it might be like to be our client, we’ve really focused on actionable content that explains our internal planning and defines the value of successful campaigns. As an example, look at:
- B2B Inbound Marketing ROI Calculator
- Best Practices Template: Determine Your SMART Marketing Goals
- Checklist: How to Run an Inbound Marketing Campaign
- The Founder’s Guide to B2B SaaS Growth
Practical content makes it easier for prospective customers to imagine what it would be like to engage with our service.
2. We’ve created detailed case studies: Again, this was an existing part of our strategy. But we’ve spoken with clients in order to gain their permission to publish greater detail about the results we’ve delivered. This creates an important element of “social proof” and builds trust — again, making it easier to imagine what it would be like to be our client.
3. We’ve made it easier to do business: We operate a recurring revenue business model. We try and avoid project work and build long-term sustainable relationships with customers. We do that so that we can focus on delivering results, instead of “short-termist” thinking. However, since lockdown, we’ve deliberately made it easier for businesses to engage in one-off or trial services in order to “dip their toes in the water” before making a commitment.
For example, we now provide:
- Persona building workshops
- Single-quarter content marketing and account management plans
- Independent website projects
We’ve also made it easier for existing customers to vary the services we deliver on a month-to-month basis and introduced a FREE Growth Assessment in which we’ll provide basic consulting services upfront, for free.
Changing our pricing and sales model is probably the largest switch we’ve made in order to embrace an accelerated digital-first sales process. Our business (like most non-SaaS B2B businesses) won’t allow us to provide extensive free trials. However, we can provide “commitment-free” trials, starting with a genuinely free analysis of what we’d be able to deliver.
Together, these changes to our service offering and marketing strategy have made it easier for leads to transition into customers. Upfront value, social proof, customer-first resources, and limited commitments all minimise sales cycle friction. The outcome is a foundation on which an online sales and marketing process can be far more easily applied.
You need to figure out your own set of actions based on the specifics of your business. If you want help, get in touch.
Step 2: Make sure you understand your personas
Code Marketing is about creating online-ready foundations within your business model. With that in place, it’s time to look at targeted next steps on both a strategic and tactical level. First on your list should be revisiting and refining your customer personas. In order to personalise online interactions, you need to know who you are speaking with, and that means defining your personas.
Persona is one of those buzz-words-of-art that has evolved from the Latin (a theatrical mask) to mean a fictional character, which you create to represent typical types of people who are most likely to use your brand, service, or product in a typical way.
You define your customer persona by:
- Researching your target audience: This could be through surveys and marketing analytics to give you insights into who your customers are and who is likely to go elsewhere.
- Focusing on narrowing down similarities: What major distinguishing features separate your audience from the general population? Once you have culled that data from all your research, you can use it to locate the not-so obvious features of your market segment.
- Segmenting your audience: Your research will shake out several types of customers. You segment your audience to create the personas that most closely represent them.
- Creating customer persona templates: This step results in data similar to what you would collect from real people. You list personal information, professional/job roles and skills, habits and hobbies, and likely goals and challenges that your product or service can satisfy.
- Continuing to monitor, iterate, and test your buyer persona: You have made some assumptions about your target personas and you may have created alternative sets of marketing materials. You need to know which works best, and you’ll discover this through feedback from your sales team. Which materials based on which personas are generating the quality leads and conversions you seek?
We also have a more detailed blog post if you want a more detailed look at how to create a buyer persona. It’s vital that you get this right so you can form a foundation with prospective customers, which begins by building trust.
Creating trust is central to B2B Sales
Before the tsunami of eCommerce, creating trust was a product of face-to-face relationship building. If you want to duplicate online what you formerly did in person, you must take persona creation seriously.
If you want to learn more about defining your buyer personas and ensuring you’re reaching your target market in the right way, here are some more resources:
- How to Create a Buyer Persona
- Why B2B Buyer Personas Are Important to Your Business
- How to Create the Perfect Value Proposition
You can even book your FREE one-to-one growth assessment with us — not only will we help you create your buyer personas, we’ll assess your current sales and marketing strategy and give you the insights you need to move your B2B sales process online.
Step 3: Align your sales and marketing
In B2B SaaS, your sales and marketing teams need to work together. Marketing resources and data collection are the central resources that help create that personalised online experience. That automated information is the foundation of customer resource management and enables your sales teams to jump on the phone ready for an informed conversation at the right time.
The role of content marketing
A critical bridge between your sales and marketing team is content marketing. Its purpose is to draw in leads with ancillary benefits of providing sales collateral. In other words, content marketing should be the core of your sales strategy. You write content to draw in leads, but you also write content to nurture those leads.
Some advice on content marketing:
- Don’t get hung up on SEO “awareness” and keyword targeted content to draw in organic traffic.
- Write high quality and sincere content about your product or service. Search engines know good copy when they scan it. Yes, pay attention to SEO, but don’t get distracted.
- Write content you intend to use in your whole marketing approach, such as emails within nurture workflows. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time you focus on marketing content.
So, for content marketing to be effective, it needs to be on the cusp of your lead-qualifying process. The underlying purpose of qualifying leads is to collect customer information, which needs to be redeployed to help perfect your persona development and target more content.
Want some extra reading on aligning your sales and marketing and streamlining your content marketing? We’ve got you covered:
- Building Bridges with Sales and Marketing Alignment
- How to Align Your Sales and Marketing Teams
- How B2B Sales and Marketing Teams Should Work Together
- 6 B2B Content Marketing Tips for SaaS Companies That Convert
- What B2B Sales and Marketing Will Look Like Post-Pandemic
Step 4: Collect information and automate everything
You must have a way to qualify leads and contact people at the right time. This is the critical juncture where your marketing and sales process merge. Do it correctly and it will seamlessly add value to both sides of the operation.
Data collection is the key
Lead qualification should revolve around data collection and effectively applying that data. Some suggested methods:
- Use your content to collect information about prospects
- Use website tracking and cookies to collect information about leads and what they do on your website
- Create automated email nurture workflows using tailored content based on a number of triggers, like filling out gates to access eBooks or people landing on particular product pages.
Your triggers could be:
- Reading specific content and filling out particular gates to download industry-specific eBooks
- Users landing on particular product or pricing pages
- Marketing emails opened
What to do with all that data
Feed your data into a qualifying score card, and use a benchmark to determine when it’s right to pick up the phone. Make sure all of that information history is available to the sales rep when they call. Then follow up with more nurture workflows.
Martech tools like Hubspot can make the data collection and analytics very straightforward. The more the process can be automated, the more time your sales teams will have to focus on those phone calls and the more time your marketing teams will have to create value-added content. Use information captured during those sales calls to gather ideas for how to improve the process and new content to create.
Here are some resources on using your content marketing to collect data, nurture your leads and automate those processes:
- B2B Lead Generation Strategies
- B2B Lead Nurturing Strategies
- Essential Martech Tools for Every B2B Marketing Team
- 10 B2B Marketing Tactics You Should Be Using
Embrace digital-first — it was always going to be beneficial
The key to success in online sales is really to go all in. But this should really be an easy choice. Beyond the current necessity, there are additional benefits to a digital-first sales approach:
- It is scalable — you only pay for the services you use.
- It creates lasting value, reducing customer acquisition costs and results in a more hands-off sales process. (The lion’s share of digital marketing is self-service).
- It will help you draw in organic inbound leads. Once you have the processes up and running, your sales reps will be able to get more done in less time.
In order to reap those benefits, remember to make the right investments upfront. Define your personas, bridge the gap between your marketing and sales teams using content, and use automation to nurture those leads — and don’t forget about upgrading your website and making sure all of your assets are easy to find. Do everything you can now to set yourself up for your future success.