On average in business-to-business (B2B) selling there are more than 5 people within the customer organization involved in the buying decision (CSO Insights research) . Business-to-consumer (B2C) selling differs in that there are less people making the buying decision; the basis of decision is simpler and the decision time is shorter. Often the transaction is a one-off or very infrequent sale without an ongoing relationship to manage.
We live in an age of empowered consumers and their buying journey starts online rather than in a showroom. They seek the informed by the opinions of others online who have gone before them. Savvy consumers are skeptical of spin and the hyperbole of marketing messages and sales people. They look to their network, in the physical world and online to gather opinion and wisdom before engaging with the seller.
The illustration below shows the buyer’s journey in retail or consumer context. This is what B2C sellers need to align with as they seek to sell and market strategically. There is a huge role for quality content marketing to attract buyers. To illustrate this, let me share a true story from my own experience when buying recently.
Like all other consumers who decide to buy something, I experienced a trigger event. My son secured his probationary driver’s license and with it came the standard restrictions concerning high powered sports cars. Do we buy a third car or replace mine with something more practical. My wife and I decided that we did not need a third car yet so I sold my sports car through carsales.com and started researching something we could all drive that was both very safe and I would not worry about minor damage. My first car many years ago was a Mini and the brand holds positive nostalgic value for me. My daughter is next in line to get her drivers license and she loves them. If my family and I had gone to a Mini showroom, it would have been like shooting fish in a barrel for the sales person. But rather than visiting a dealer I was instead doing research online, and not on the Mini website.
After having experienced a trigger event (son gets drivers license and cannot drive my over-powered car) and considering change (sensible wife says we’re not buying a third car) I was researching online and in social concerning the car I thought I wanted. It didn't take long before I had experienced the shock and awe of unhappy owners on social platforms… the Mini was clearly a nightmare. Catastrophic transmission problems were a risk with replacement transmissions costing a fortune. I considered a manual but discovered it’s more than a 10 hour job to replace a clutch… ouch; and they are also known to fail. Then there was the timing chain problem (‘Mini diesel death rattle’ caused by the auto-tensioner failing and the timing chain slapping the housing). YouTube videos were most enlightening for all these issues. I also read about excessive engine oil consumption exacerbated by a small sump reservoir and tortuous dipstick path that wipes to oil away making it difficult to see what the engine oil levels really are.
I decided to take one for a test drive but not from a dealer. I hired one on my next interstate business trip and the Mini provided had 35,000klms on the clock. In my opinion it however drove like a car with a 100,000klms and was very noisy and uncomfortable. I didn’t like the driving position or where switches were located. BMW are doing a fine job improving Mini quality since acquiring the car maker but the best Mini sales person in the world could not have sold me their product and nor did they ever have the chance. This is because the buyer’s journey usually starts for online where they research within the networks and forums that don't seek to sell.
Then I searched for ‘Japanese Mini’ and the Suzuki Swift came up. After 6 hours searching for anything negative of the next few weeks, the only thing I could find was that when the rear seats were folded forward there was no single flat surface in the rear boot. Nothing mechanical seemed to ever go wrong. I then spent hours on carsales.com to establish price points. I talked to my friends in the car industry about the best time to buy. When I walked into my local dealer who had a new manual Swift Sport in stock, I was there to negotiate. I bought it at the price I wanted to pay with a 5 year warranty and low fixed price service costs.
When I looked in the boot I discovered that Suzuki had listened to their customers online and already fitted a false floor in the boot to create a secondary storage area and seamless flat surface when the seats are down! On top of all this, the customer experience the Suzuki dealer delivered to me when I serviced the car is better than some luxury brands I’ve owned. Here is the main point; the Suzuki salesman added almost no value, I had already bought and he couldn't negotiate – I had to do that with his boss.
In the next 9 months we’ll buy a third car, my sports car I hope, and I’m already doing all by research online, especially in social. When a dealer meets me it will only be to negotiate, not sell. Most companies focus their online marketing efforts around website Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) using keywords and Google AdWords which is all very well for when buyers know they want what you’re selling and are seeking to select and negotiate. But the savvy online sales and marketing professionals create content to attract buyers much earlier in their journey… when they’re considering change and doing research. Content publishing is hugely powerful and the essential ingredient for online success.
For both B2B and B2C companies, here is the important question you must ask yourself: “What do my buyers look for online before they look for me?”
Here is another personal purchasing example. I'm a wakeboarder and when I wanted to buy a new vehicle to tow our new boat, there wasn't a lot to choose from that was rated to pull the weight of our rig at over 3,000kgs. Our Mitsubishi Pajero was only rated for 2,500kg towing capacity so I began my search online for the replacement. I didn’t search for particular brands but instead entered ‘4WD 3500kg towing’. I found review sites with lots of useful information and to my surprise, Jeep was rated highly by consumers on value for money and towing. I quickly gravitated to the Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited but I had two concerns from my research: product quality and handling in an emergency.
As I continued to click I found an empowered Aussie consumer who created a way to get his money back on a Jeep with 20 defects and 4 years of consumer hell. He created a Facebook page and got busy raising money and awareness of big gaps in consumer rights under Australian legislation. He highlighted that consumers now have a powerful voice on social platforms. Mainstream media picked-up the story and the result was global coverage and worldwide brand damage that has cost Jeep millions of dollars in lost sales. But all manufacturers produce some lemons and this particular consumer experience was an exception, not the norm, for Jeep owners.
There are thousands of examples out there of how consumers can create massive negative impact on a brand without spending a cent. Just do a Google search on 'Uber' and you'll see the disruptive player in the Taxi industry has some real brand issues.
Next I found the Jeep Moose Avoidance Test video on YouTube showing potential roll-over danger. But I knew that American cars are typically made with softer suspension and the recommended tire pressures are designed for a comfortable 'floating' ride for a trip around the block at the dealership. Running higher tire pressures would deal with the problem combined with my philosophy on never swerving to miss a kangaroo. There was plenty of positivity about the vehicle in social and online, and the Fiat diesel that powers it received brilliant reviews. I loved the look, features and compelling value. A friend already owned one and I borrowed it for a test drive and I was sold.
By the time I contacted a Jeep salesperson it was by phone to negotiate and I only walked into a dealership to sign the paperwork. Bought it, loved it.
Here is second big question that B2B and B2C companies must ask: “Both on and off my website, what do buyers see online when they find me?”
Do they see transparency and genuine commitment to integrity and service or do they see a facade, easy to penetrate. In research by Corporate Visions, 74% of buyers choose to buy from the seller who first provides value and insight. This is why every sales person on the planet should build a LinkedIn profile that serves as their personal brand website. It is critically important to avoid having a profile that reads like an online CV seeking to attract the next employer. Instead it needs to show the value they provide customers and the values by which they operate.
When buyers research sellers they look for social proof that the person is worthy of their time and trust. They seek proof that the person has integrity, insight and is well connected and respected within their industry. Employers themselves are now facing this same problem with websites such as Glassdoor that enables past and present employees to anonymously rate the company.
Everyone today can peel back the façade of websites and social media pages to discover the real state of an individual’s credentials, product reputation and corporate brand. Content publishing is essential for both B2B and B2C sellers, so be the one online that provides insight and value. Manage any brand negativity online with empathy through social listening and demonstrate that you're listening and improving.
If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.
Main image photo by Flickr: David Geller Steve and Bill at All Things DB2B vs B2C Selling – Why Content Publishing Reigns Supreme