July 7, 2022 / Marjoram
In a highly competitive marketplace, companies providing industrial and ingredient B2B solutions must focus on delivering value your competitors can’t. Brands that adopt a more consultative approach — establishing themselves as expert providers of solutions, rather than just makers of products — stand a better chance of creating more meaningful, lasting and profitable customer relationships.
But many brands believe they have to shout the loudest to be heard above the din of the marketplace, pursuing aggressive sales tactics to achieve market share and relevance in the industry. That’s why so many B2B corporate website experiences lead with self-congratulatory superlatives, promises of technical prowess and sales-oriented calls to action.
Today’s competitive landscape has shifted. Trying to beat your peer brands on cost often results in a race to the bottom. To succeed, you need to be able to separate yourself from the crowd.
You must create opportunities to build rapport with your audience. You need to talk to your customers before trying to sell to them. And that conversation should start well before your prospects even reach your website.
Acknowledging the Prospect Journey
Imagine the impression a typical, me-first B2B company homepage might make on a hypothetical prospect. What reaction would a visitor have when confronted by those back-slapping superlatives, clunky navigation (based on organizational structure instead of user needs) and “helpful” chat bots just dying to connect you with a sales rep?
We imagine it would feel like standing in front of a fast food order counter, facing an overwhelmingly large and unfamiliar menu.
Purely sales-oriented B2B websites make your prospects feel like fast food customers. Which is fine, if you believe in that systematized, lowest-cost, commoditized approach to your product marketing. But if you know your solutions are worthy of a Michelin star or James Beard recognition, you would be better served by presenting more of a fine dining experience. That experience doesn’t start with the menu. It doesn’t even start at the restaurant (you first have to make a reservation).
The majority of your prospects don’t come to your website ready to buy. They go through a journey before arriving at the purchasing point in their buying process. Your marketing efforts and corporate website need to account for the multiple steps in that journey.
The Consultative Approach to B2B Marketing
Your prospects’ journey starts with a need, a problem to solve. Understanding and addressing those needs and pain points is key to effective B2B marketing. Successful industrial and ingredient brands know to leverage their website as part of larger, more sophisticated marketing programs aimed at addressing their prospects’ informational needs.
Experienced B2B marketers utilize outbound marketing campaigns (email, paid search, educational content, thought leadership, etc.) to capture prospective customers at the research stages of the problem-solving process. They know how to speak to the pain without being a pain. Reaching your target audience early, when they are seeking information, allows you to demonstrate expertise and earn trust.
The website should then be used to validate the initial impression of your brand. This means you must fight the impulse to load your homepage and landing pages with sales-oriented “ORDER NOW” and “Let’s talk!” CTAs. The aim is to strengthen the connection with your prospects and move them to the consideration stage (closer to their “buy” point).
Think of the homepage as the maitre d’ of your website — a dignified entry point to your establishment that helps to set expectations for the rest of the experience. The maitre d’ takes your reservation, brings you to your table and introduces you to your waiter. But they’re not the ones handing you the menu and taking your order.
Your B2B Website As a 5-Star Culinary Experience
If you’re courting an important client, you don’t take them to McDonald’s for a meal. You take them to the best steakhouse (or cuisine of choice) in town. You want your prospective customer to associate the attentive service and the enjoyment of the experience with the relationship you are striving to build. Your website should evoke the same 5-star feeling when your prospects land on its pages.
This means the design and content of your website should be tailored to the needs of your users (and not the corporate web team in charge of its operations). Outbound marketing efforts will initiate your engagement with your prospects. Your corporate website must be ready to seamlessly continue that prospect experience.
Your homepage experience design therefore should align with the middle stage of the typical buying cycle. During this consideration stage, your prospects want to learn more about you and your solutions. Accordingly, the top levels of your site should reinforce the brand your prospects were introduced to in your email, digital or other content marketing campaigns, then help direct users to more information about specific solutions they’re seeking. If the homepage is the maitre d’, your product landing pages are the attentive waiter — there to provide all the information (ingredients, preparation, pairings) about the items on the menu.
Instead of placing your audience in that fast food order line — alone and under pressure to make an ill-informed decision — be there to assist them as they make an educated choice with dignity (and style). In the end, a restaurant visit is about crafting a complete customer journey. In allowing patrons to make decisions at their own pace and offering support when they need it, that journey results in a great customer experience that promotes and encourages loyalty.
Talk First, Earn Trust, Sell Later
The old-school, sales-oriented approach to B2B product marketing is losing efficacy and relevance. Traditional industrial sectors have to embrace new marketing methods and channels and new ways of reaching and interacting with prospective customers. To be more effective, B2B marketers have to recognize and respond to unique prospect needs. This means structuring your marketing programs more purposefully to help guide prospects through the different stages of the buyer journey.
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