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.

man with bouquet flowers
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.

Buy Cycle Customer Relationships Demand Generation Industrial Marketing and Sales Marketing Strategy

Beyond Email Marketing: 3 More Ways to Use Email

Email remains a popular and proven marketing tool for connecting with your target audience. Seventy-four percent of industrial marketers are using email marketing to internal lists as a marketing tactic in 2013, making it the most widely-used marketing tactic, as reported in the 2013 Trends in Industrial Marketing survey.

These emails primarily take the form of a regular e-newsletter or a concentrated email campaign to push products or promote content (white papers, webinars, etc.). That’s a good use of this channel as industrial professionals respond to email. But did you know there are other ways, beyond traditional marketing, that your company can use email to help distribute your message, build your brand, and strengthen customer relationships?

As a marketer, you should work with each of these groups to help achieve overall company goals and objectives:

1. Emails from the sales team
You should already have in place a process for transitioning sales-ready leads from the marketing department to sales. But just because a lead belongs to sales now, it doesn’t mean that marketing ends. Every email that a salesperson sends to a customer or prospect is an opportunity to nurture a lead, polish your brand image, and put your company in a strong position to win business.

Make sure your sales team has easy access to marketing content they might want to offer to customers and prospects in their one-on-one emails. A good strategy is to distribute to the sales team a list of links to marketing content, categorized by type and purpose of content, as well as copy that can be used to describe the benefits of viewing or downloading the content. Your salesperson can simply copy this text and the link into an email. With the sales people using the same or similar messaging as the marketing team, you can help reinforce your branding.

Another opportunity is to work with sales people to develop an email signature line that includes links to relevant content or highlights the latest important news. This signature line—with content and links following the salesperson’s contact information—can be updated on a regular basis and distributed to your sales team. Also, don’t forget to include links to your social pages in signatures lines, or a link to your online catalog.

2. Emails from customer service/tech support
Your support teams have regular contact with customers, which provides another excellent opportunity for marketing to get involved. Your customer service teams should have access to the same messaging and links to content that the sales team has at its disposal, and you can also help with signature lines as well.

Customer service emails are also a great way to ask customers questions about your products and services. You can include a poll question right in the email, or invite your customers to take a survey to measure satisfaction or generate product “wish-lists.” Be sure to offer some type of modest incentive for completing the survey, anything from a coffee card to a discount on their next purchase.

3. Automated emails as follow-ups
Whether you use a third-party email marketing service or have an internal email marketing solution, you should have the capability to send automated emails to customers and prospects when they perform an action, such as submitting a form on your website. Signing up for your newsletter, downloading a white paper or other content, registering for a webinar—all of these are opportunities to send something more effective than a generic thank you email.

You can tailor your response depending on the context of the submitted form. Give new e-newsletter subscribers links to past newsletters or articles about your company. Provide links to popular pages. Put contact information in these emails in case a prospect wants to speak with someone right away. If a customer downloads a white paper on a specific topic, offer them descriptions and links to other related content. If they sign up for a webinar, show them the way to past webinars they can view on demand.

The point is to not waste any of your email communications. Every touch point is an opportunity to improve relationships and do better than your competitors. Customers will remember what company is most helpful to them—make sure it’s your company.

How are you using email beyond the marketing department? What tips and ideas about using email would you pass along to your peers in industrial marketing? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Customer Relationships E-Mail Marketing

How to Win with Customers

D. Keith Pigues, dean of the Business School at North Carolina Central University and co-author of the business book, Winning with Customers, has a challenging and pointed question to ask of B-to-B companies: Are customers at the center of your business?

How to put customers at the center of your business, and how that can lead to greater profits for both you and your customers, was the subject of Pigues’ presentation at the recent Industrial Marketing Digital Summit.

The ‘Customer Winning Checkup’
To measure how close customers are to the center of your business, Pigues offered a four-point checkup and stated that while many companies will agree with statement number one, fewer and fewer can honestly agree with the subsequent statements:

  1. We know specifically how we help customers make more money.
  2. We understand how we will make our customers more money in the future.
  3. We measure and track how much money over time customers make doing business with us.
  4. We measure and track how much more money our customers make money doing business with us relative to our competitors.

Notice how each statement is centered around making customers money—rather than making money for your own company. Pigues states that a focus on your customers’ profitability is the key to your company’s growth and profitability, and that the true measure of winning is understanding how your customers make more money doing business with you versus what they can make doing business with your competitors.

Changing the conversation
Pigues argues that that all too often companies spend too much time talking about capabilities, products, features, reliability and quality, and not enough time talking about the reasons why customers buy a certain product or from a particular company. Customers aren’t interested in products and services per se; they are interested in reducing time to market, cutting production costs, increasing shareholder value, driving revenue, accelerating growth and improving other business metrics. And the reason they spend is to get a return in one or more of these areas. Our products and services are simply a vehicle for them to get a return.

This is what Pigues calls the value exchange, which he says is always at work in any transaction. And to the extent that we can help our customers earn a return on their spending, we can also do it for our own companies. But to begin talking about this value exchange, we have to change the conversation.

We tend to think about how much profit we make with our customers, and we all have that coveted list of our top customers. But that top customer list only provides one view of the relationship: how much we make from these customers. The other point of view is our customers’ profitability from doing business with us. If it’s not much, we might not keep their business for long.

Our task is to understand the value exchange by quantifying the value to your customers of doing business with you.

Introducing the Differential Value Proposition
The Differential Value Proposition (DVP) is the net result, expressed in percentage, of how your value propositions result in more profit for your customers. Pigues uses the term ‘differential’ because you should only consider those value propositions that are different from what others can offer. If you’re offering the same thing as other vendors, then in your customers’ point of view, you’re offering a commodity, and you will not be able to charge differential pricing. But each company should have those two or three things that they do that are truly differential and that you can turn into money for your customers.

The way to understand your DVP is to create a hypothesis about your differential propositions and their value, then share your findings with your customer. What you may think is a differential (customer service, for example) may mean little to your customer, who finds much greater value elsewhere (safety, for example). By working with your customers, you can better understand what are the top things you do that can help them make more money. You can also discover areas to grow your DVP by asking customers where they would want you to invest to make them more successful.

The end result is winning with your customers: you both win by both making more money. To learn more about Pigues’ concepts, including his formula for calculating DVP, view his presentation from the Industrial Marketing Digital Summit.

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Do you know how much money your customers make by using your products or services? Is this a better way to view a customer relationship? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Customer Relationships