Why the human touch is essential in B2B marketing

Written by Keith Errington  |  18, October, 2018  |  0 Comments  Subscribe

Wouldn’t business be so much easier if you didn’t have to deal with people? Well, today, there’s a whole range of systems, content channels and marketing techniques that allow you to market a business with little or no direct human interaction with the potential customer. Major companies are heavily investing in complex algorithms – often erroneously sold as Artificial Intelligence – that can interact “intelligently” with the prospect and customer.

Chatbots, smart home assistants and more, all seem to be pointing to a future where the human touch is less and less required, where analytics, predictive marketing and automation are all combined in sophisticated systems that can deliver business efficiently and effectively without almost no intervention from a real person.

Of course, this is the future that the vendors of such systems would like you to believe in. And whilst it is true that many of these systems are incredibly useful – particularly in the large-scale B2C market, where simple interactions are often all that is needed – there is a growing body of evidence that suggests a more human approach is needed to prosper in a B2B world.

Even in the B2C world, recent research shows that 51% of customers say they prefer interacting with people rather than using chatbots. (DMA Customer Engagement 2018)

And of the people who have stopped using smart home assistants such as Amazon’s Echo, or Google’s Home, 38% did so because they don’t think they are useful.

B2C versus B2B Marketing

Part of the reason why the human touch is more important in B2B is the big differences between the B2C purchase and the B2B buying process. Generally, timescales are much longer, there are more people involved in the decision, and there are often considerably larger amounts of money involved in the transaction. Even if there is only one person involved in the buying decision – that decision usually affects many people – or possibly even the whole company.

In recent research by Showpad: The New B2B Buyer Experience, around a quarter of respondents said that more than five people were involved in their last B2B purchase with only 8% saying there was just a single decision maker. Generally, the higher the value of the purchase – the more people become involved.

It is perhaps not surprising then that the B2B buyer’s journey is longer and more complex than that of a B2C purchasing decision. The B2B journey is also no longer a linear process meaning the traditional sales funnel is not fit for purpose.

Rather than jumping in and purchasing a product or service, buyers take time to identify solutions and evaluate them. The research has shown that on average B2B buyers will spend up to 20 hours on research before contacting a salesperson. And that figure varies depending on the value of the purchase. The higher the purchase value - the more time will be spent on research. For purchases of over £75,000 research may extend to over 40 hours, whereas for a £5,000 purchase, five hours or less may be spent researching.

With the increasing use of peer to peer communication channels and review sites, it is perhaps not surprising that peer reviews are becoming more and more important in the research phase. Around 60% of buyers visit peer review sites and around 50% of buyers will have conversations with their peers. This has massive implications for how you deal with your prospects and customers, as any negative experiences will most likely be passed on to other prospects and potential customers.

The importance of Content and Video

The same research shows the importance of content – 64% of buyers conduct research on vendor’s websites. Interestingly as the cost of the purchase increases so does the preference for video content. Only 10% of respondents involved in deals less than £4,000 used videos to research, compared to 41% of those involved in deals more than £75,000.

Lack of information is the top reason slowing down a purchase. A third of respondents said they couldn’t find the information they needed, another third said that not enough information was relevant to their purchase and a final third said that the information they did find, didn’t help to prove a return on investment. Other issues delaying purchase were a lack of trust in the information found and finding the information confusing.

All this points to the importance of providing relevant, in-depth, clear content.

The Human Element

This where a good sales consultant can really make a difference in the buying process. The research found that only 30% of buyers wanted to gather all the information on their own – meaning that an overwhelming 70% of buyers would like help with their purchase.

Contact preferences vary, but more than half of buyers prefer to call or email before purchasing with 40% preferring onsite visits, and 34% onsite demos.

72% of buyers said that timeliness of response to their inquiry is very or extremely important.

When working with a sales consultant, the top five qualities buyer’s rate as important are:

  1. Helpful and informative
  2. Knowledgeable about industry
  3. Ability to prove cost savings
  4. Exceeds customer support expectations
  5. Professional

So buyers want to work with salespeople who can use their extensive knowledge in a consultative way to understand the buyer’s issues and offer solutions that are well thought through, relevant and that can be shown to be effective and economic.

Factors affecting buying decisions

There are a number of factors that slow down a buying decision, but the top two are both related to content:

  • Difficulty understanding content
  • Difficulty sharing content

In fact, 60% of C-level executives and 82% of VPs say not understanding sales content and not being able to easily share content slows down purchase decisions.

This emphasises how important it is to make sure any content you publish is easily understood and easy to share with others. Ultimately a good sales consultant can also help – pointing prospects to the right content and explaining any issues that might remain.

It is essential to point out that buyers want better content not more content. The study also found that 86% of buyers get overwhelmed anytime there are more than 10 pieces of content to read and 42% are overwhelmed when there are more than five pieces of content.

The top six types of content buyers find relevant are:

  1. Technical Specifications (54%)
  2. Case Studies (49%)
  3. Streaming video (38%)
  4. White Papers (34%)
  5. Infographics (31%)
  6. Slide deck presentations (15%)

The two most requested tools to help buyers make purchasing decisions were an ROI Calculator and a personalised content portal.

Bottom line

We can take five key conclusions from this latest research:

  1. Content is the most valuable weapon in the bid to win the buyer’s business. The buyer needs around five key pieces of content that should be easy to understand and personalised to the buyer’s particular needs. Case studies, technical specifications and video content are essential types of content to provide, but ROI calculators and a personalised portal can tip the balance.
  2. The buyer’s journey is getting longer and more complex, with more research being conducted over a longer period.
  3. Customer service during AND after the sales process is critically important as clients and potential clients communicate with one another more and more on peer networks – looking for recommendations. Whether you support the client well or let them down badly, the word will get out and your business will suffer accordingly.
  4. Salespeople are still vital to the sales process – whilst buyers are happy to research up to a point, they then appreciate a professional, non-pressured helping hand.
  5. Consultancy is the key. Salespeople need to take a more consultative role – understanding the client’s situation and the challenges they face. Then using their extensive knowledge of their own company’s product or services to offer solutions that will benefit the client in clearly demonstrable ways.

Whilst automation and algorithms have their place in modern B2B marketing, there is still a fundamental need for good, relevant content and helpful, consultative salespeople. So it seems for better or for worse, you will still have to deal face-to-face with your customers for the foreseeable future.

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Keith Errington

Written by Keith Errington

Keith has a unique mix of talents and experience in marketing and communications. He writes regularly for the Equinet blog on marketing, social media, and strategy.