The Early Stage Buy Cycle is When the Relationship Starts

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.

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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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Seven Strategies for Measuring Marketing ROI

The pressure has never been greater on marketers in the industrial sector to demonstrate results from their marketing programs. Yet many marketers aren’t able to measure ROI or don’t know how to begin. These seven strategies will help you. Not all of them may apply to your organization or situation, so pick the ones that make the most sense and use them. Soon you’ll gain a solid approach to measuring marketing ROI.

1. Shift the marketing conversation
Whether you are the executive making financial and budget decisions, or reporting to one who is, you need to reframe the marketing conversation. For example, rather than focusing measurement on marketing “activity,” focus on marketing “results.” Rather than presenting in terms of “defending” your marketing budget and having executives look at marketing as a “cost center,” advocate to alter perceptions so that marketing is considered an “investment in revenue and profitability.” This strategy may represent only an attitude or culture change, but it should definitely help in your efforts.

2. Design measurable programs
You’ve heard the cliché that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. It’s only a cliché because it expresses a universal truth. By committing only to measurable programs, you are laying the foundation for determining ROI. Fortunately, the best-performing programs today are digital media. And digital media by its nature is measurable. You can track impressions, clicks, inquiries, conversions, time on page, length of view, and more.

3. Choose measurements that matter
Focus on those measurements that can give you valuable insight leading to decisions that will improve your marketing program. Here are some measurements that matter:

  • The three V’s: Volume, Value, and Velocity. Volume is the count of leads or deals delivered by a marketing program. Value is how much that lead is worth; a program might not deliver a high volume of leads, but can still be a strong program because those leads produce a higher amount of sales. Velocity considers how fast a lead converts to a sale.
  • Cost per inquiry. Measure, but beware of deceptive results. For example, a program may have a high cost per inquiry but deliver highly qualified prospects and more sales. On the other hand, a program that delivers a low cost per inquiry might look good but not result in sales.
  • Brand awareness. Brand awareness is the fuel that powers other marketing programs and can help prospects accelerate through their buy cycle because they are familiar (and presumably comfortable) with your company and its reputation. Good measurements of brand awareness include how much of your target audience you get in front of, the frequency of being in front of them, and cost per branding tactic.

4. Meet the needs of financially-focused executives
Many of the metrics that marketers track—impressions, clicks, video views, engagement opportunities, and so on—may not interest financially-focused C-level executives. Their interest is in revenue, growth, and net contribution. If you need to demonstrate ROI to an executive team, you should think in terms of financial outcomes, which are the most challenging to measure in marketing.

If a sale occurs quickly after initial contact, or if you are using only a limited number of marketing channels, it may be apparent what program generated the engagement opportunity that led to the sale, making financial ROI easier to measure. But it’s not always this easy. The industrial buy cycle can be long and complex, involve multiple decision makers, and include many marketing touch points. So when the sale finally occurs, which marketing program(s) get the credit? Most likely, all of the touch points contributed to the sale.

Some financial-based measurement strategies include assigning all credit for a sale to the first, or last, touch point. This approach is an easy one to take, but also serious flaws. It can make otherwise effective marketing programs that helped contribute to the sale look bad, or weak marketing programs that may have been the first or last touch look better than they are. Another approach is to track all touch points for a customer and assign them a weight, then calculate a percentage contribution to each touch point.

5. Demonstrate ROI for early stages of buy cycle
Although many customers don’t initiate contact with a vendor until later in their buy cycle, you can still demonstrate ROI of marketing programs that supports customers in the earlier buy cycle stages.

For example, web page views, clicks, content downloads, video views, webinar attendance, and mentions or shares on social media can all be tracked and tied to your marketing efforts. These important metrics measure customer awareness, interest, and engagement with your brand, products, and services. If you perform well in these measurements and show improvement over time, then you can reasonably assume your marketing is helping customers through their early stage buy cycle, and you are increasing opportunities to be on their list in later consideration and purchase stages.

6. Assign responsibility to ensure success
A person or a team should be assigned responsibility for measuring ROI. This includes tracking contacts and inquiries through the marketing and sales funnel, knowing the status of any contact or inquiry at any given time, and tracking all marketing touch points for any given customer or prospect. This is critical information as it is the only way you accurately measure the quality of your engagement opportunities, effectiveness of marketing programs, and the return you achieve.

7. Make decisions to drive improvements
Don’t just measure something because you can. Measure only what you can act upon to improve the performance of your marketing program. Each measurement should help you expand your understanding of how to make the program better and align it with your company’s strategic objectives. With every measurement, always ask: Why am I tracking this? What decisions will I be able to make? How will this help our program improve?

This post on measuring ROI was partially excerpted from “Taking a Strategic Approach to Digital Media.” This complimentary white paper also details ways to develop an effective digital media strategy and create a budget for digital marketing, as well as how to solve the challenge of measuring marketing ROI in this digital era. Download your copy today.

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How do you measure ROI? What strategies for effectively measuring ROI would you pass along to your peers in industrial marketing? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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