You might have very little contact with customers during the early needs analysis/research stages of their buy cycle, yet the early buy cycle is critically important to your marketing and business success.

Research has shown that only 41% of technical professionals contact a vendor in the early stage of their buy cycle. The conclusion is that the majority of buyers are relying on digital resources to discover and research information about products, services, and suppliers, and to narrow down their options before getting a vendor involved. In order to win business, you must be found in the early stages of the buy cycle, provide exceptional content, and advance your relationship with these buyers. Here’s how to master these three imperatives.

Get Found Early
To be discovered by customers early, you must build and maintain a strong online presence on those digital resources your customers use most often in the early buy cycle stages. 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.

If you diversify your presence across these channels, you will be able to build brand awareness and visibility as well as accommodate personal preferences among technical professionals for different digital resources. Also consider advertising in industry e-newsletters or posting banner ads across a network of industrial websites. Such diversification can help you make a positive first impression on potential customers. If your company name comes up when engineers 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.

Provide Exceptional Content
In the early stages of the buy cycle, your audience is actively searching for content that will help them advance along their buying journey. They want to compare different approaches to solving their problem, discover new products and technologies, understand how a technical process works, and identify vendors who meet their criteria. At this stage, it’s all about being useful and relevant to potential customers. They’re not ready for pricing quotes and hard selling. Your goal is to get on their short list by demonstrating knowledge and expertise. Do this by keeping content educational in nature.

It’s important to have a content strategy so you can keep up a steady stream of white papers, webinars, videos, web pages, articles, blog posts, newsletters, and more that will help satisfy your prospects’ hunger for content. Creating buyer personas, which are overarching profiles of your customers, can help you create content targeted for different customer types.

Advance Your Relationship
Picture your target customer in the early stages of his buy cycle: an engineer or other technical professional conducting searches, reading articles, watching videos, and visiting websites. And your company is highly visible through a strong online presence and highly relevant to them due to the exceptional content you provide. Now you must nudge your prospect to the next stage, and you do this by converting them.

Conversion is the act of capturing enough contact information that you can begin a relationship. It could be as little as an email address for your prospect. Remember that they are still in the early stages of their buy cycle and are unlikely to be willing to fill out long forms. But that doesn’t mean you can’t put a number of “premium” pieces of content behind a gate that’s relatively easy for your audience to open. For example, analyst reports, primary research or eBooks might be considered premium content, and if you promote their benefits, a prospect should be willing to give you their email address or other information in order to access the content.

Therefore, you should always give prospects an opportunity to convert and your team an opportunity to begin a nurturing relationship that could lead to a sale. One of the best and least disruptive ways to do this is to offer freely accessible content on a web page, but also offer something beyond—that extra value that’s worth a prospect filling out a brief form to access. You’re still working with a prospect that’s in the early stages of their buy cycle, but also one who is moving along the path and is keeping your company on its short list of potential vendors.

Even though most technical professionals won’t contact you until later in their buy cycle, a lot of your business can be won in the early stages by building a digital presence, offering relevant content, and giving prospects a chance to engage. If you don’t have a strong early cycle marketing effort, you’ll never know how many potential customers you might have missed.

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