The early stage buy cycle for engineers and technical professionals is the equivalent of the top of the sales funnel for the manufacturer’s and supplier’s sales teams. It’s the beginning, when a buyer becomes aware of a problem or need and then begins to conceive of and search for a solution. If your company is already known to them, or becomes visible and sparks interest during a search, that’s when your relationship starts with a potential customer.
Begin your relationship with prospects early as generating initial awareness is critically important to the success of your sales and marketing efforts.
Because of the vast amount of content available from digital sources, it’s easier than ever for early-stage technical buyers to discover and research information about products, services and suppliers, and to narrow down their options before getting a vendor involved.
In this early stage, you might not yet have any personal contact with your prospect, you may not even have captured their name, but this is when they enter the top of your funnel.
Generating this early-stage awareness is critically important to the success of your sales and marketing efforts. You must connect with potential customers early in order to be a contender later when they are ready to make a purchase decision. Beginning the relationship early, even an anonymous one, offers key benefits to your organization:
- You make a positive first impression on potential customers. If your company name comes up when they begin their search, it’s only natural that they gravitate toward you. Your widespread visibility in itself instills a sense of expertise and fosters trust. For example, the engineer searching for new diode laser technologies will be interested if they keep coming across your name (especially if it’s linked to quality, useful content … but more on that in a bit).
- You stay top of mind. If you put consistent effort into branding and visibility tactics that raise awareness and help to widen and populate the top of the funnel, prospects will be exposed to you more often and will keep your company and products in their mind when they have a need.
- Perhaps most importantly, marketing for the early-stage of the buy cycle can help to shorten the sales cycle for your sales team. Your prospects will already be aware of your company and what you offer. They’ve been accessing valuable content that’s helping to educate them. This means your sales people are speaking to an informed prospect and don’t have to start from the very beginning every time.
The keys to early-stage success
The first thing to realize is that if a potential buyer does not know about you or find out about you in their early stage, they will not be contacting you in a later stage. They will be contacting one of your competitors. To be the brand that matters to your target audience, you should:
- Build and maintain a strong online presence on those digital resources your customers use most in the early buy cycle stages. Research shows that general search engines, supplier websites, online catalogs and industry-specific search engines and information resources such as Engineering360.com are the most popular digital channels for engineers and technical buyers early in the buy cycle. Diversify your presence across these channels.
- Produce and publish a steady stream of content on digital channels for your prospects and customers. Your audience is eagerly searching for content as they engage in their buy cycle. They are looking for white papers and technical reports, watching webinars and product demos and reading articles, newsletters, blog posts and more. At this stage, your content should be educating prospects on a high level by, for instance, comparing approaches to solving problems, explaining how something works or commenting on trends. Your goal is to get in the game by demonstrating knowledge and expertise. It’s too early to be selling and trying to close the deals.
- Recognize and respond when prospects move to later buy cycle stages, such as consideration and comparison. At some point, either the buyer has dropped out or you will have generated an engagement opportunity, with your prospect registering for a webinar, subscribing to your blog, or initiating contact with your company. You should have in place a plan to manage your engagement opportunities, either through ongoing lead nurturing programs or escalating a prospect to your sales team if they are giving off indications they are ready to buy. Don’t waste those early stage efforts—make sure you know how to move prospects through the funnel.
Industrial marketers can sometimes overlook the importance of their customers’ early buy cycle. By focusing resources on building brand and raising visibility, you’ll attract more prospects at the top of your funnel, helping to ensure you have a pool of potential customers when it’s time for them to make a purchasing decision.
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How are you expanding the top of your sales funnel? What advice or tips would you give your peers in industrial marketing? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.