During the last week of August 2015 Inc. magazine posted an article with a striking headline that pertains to a large segment of American enterprise. In “Why the B2B Market has Cooled Off,” columnist Diana ransom breaks down some of the latest economic numbers.
“In the wake of the last recession, one industry seemed to rebound faster than most: businesses that sell products and services to other businesses,” Ransom writes. “B2B companies saw their sales soar in 2011. But more recent stats show that while the industry is still healthy, it's slowing down.”
That being said, the relatively wide array of sub-sectors that Ransom calls “the B2B sector” is pretty comprehensive, consisting of a total of $15.8 billion in sales this year. This B2B sector that Inc. magazine resident analysts are talking about within the vast Inc. 5000 list includes a variety of “Business Products & Services” firms like market research climber Critical Mix plus ReVamp Electronics and analytics/consulting firm VISUAL BI. One could argue that the businesses within this sector are so diverse their behavior could be difficult to predict.
Inc.’s article does, however, hint to a relevant question small business owners may already be asking themselves: “How do you market to B2B customers?” The answer is subjective, of course, based on what your definition of “marketing” is.
But if you are an entrepreneur whose business helps other businesses build name recognition through specialty advertising products, high-quality marketing collateral or other means, the correct answer is by getting to know your market.
Talking about what you can offer other businesses is something that you should be doing all the time. But it’s not always about the pitch or customary sales techniques. Reaching the ideal B2B client may be more personal than you think. Here are a few tips:
Know (and Get to Know) your Potential Customer
It is critical to think about how, if you were a busy business owner or buyer for a firm, others might best approach you. An article by Business News Daily cites the opinion that sales don’t come from the classic “sales calls” anymore. In other words, when targeting customers, seeing them merely as dollar signs might be an antiquated approach.
In “5 Tips for Selling to B2B”, BND puts it bluntly. “There was a time when due to lack of information, cold calls served a purpose in B2B sales. Not anymore. One key, BND says, is to know your customer and their market first.
Before any encounter, BND says to take the time to do research and also “find out what challenges the industry faces” before making an introduction. Better yet, forget cold calls or drop-ins as a usual tactic. Instead, whether you approach your target through a mutual personal connection or at a trade show, remember you are ultimately working with “people, not companies” with the goal of having meaningful initial discussions.
Additional wisdom on the same topic by Smart Company, states that “size matters” and that bagging the ideal customer is not one-size-fits-all proposition.
“A sales and marketing strategy that is not adapted to the different needs of small and medium sized businesses and the big corporates will be unlikely to be successful with either,” writer Mike Preston says. “This is true for a range of reasons, not the least of which being that small and medium sized businesses hate being treated as second-class citizens.”
Do Business by Having a Real Relationship
According to Jasmine Sandler, a respected marketing/social branding expert and business columnist for LinkedIn, the idea of selling by product features and benefits is a little overrated. While having a quality product that speaks for itself is an advantage, there is more to business than a sales transaction.
Specifically, Sandler lays out some important bullet points, such as:
“DO NOT sell by service features and benefits.” Instead, get business by:
• Developing a real, authentic relationship
• Sharing success stories of what you have done for other industry-related B2B companies
• Honing in on a simple, quick statement of what your service can do to drive profits, revenues, cost-savings or all of the above
Sandler says if you are dealing with a company that is more than a one-person shop, to make sure that you are really talking to the right person within the company who is a decision maker or has access to that decision maker. Also, quickly identify and move on from contacts that are “not ready to buy” or are just “fishing around for free information”.
Develop Relationships with Eager Prospects
In Harvard Business Review a few years ago, author Steven Woods posed another interesting question with regard to time management and sales effort.
“Which is the better prospect,” Woods asked. “a) A potentially ideal customer that’s mildly interested in your offerings, or b) a less-than-perfect fit who expresses a lot of interest?”
While conceding that most entrepreneurs and assertive salespeople would probably pursue both, studies show that interested prospects — especially ones that might not fit the usual profile for your goods or services — are often easier to convert to longtime customers. Woods states that “Companies that showed some initial eagerness, even if they didn’t appear to be typical buyers, were more likely to buy than ideal customers that had expressed only mild interest.”
While this may be true for anyone in business, it may be most true for distributors of specialty advertising and promotional products. In past months — here in this blog — we’ve covered a variety of business sectors that might fall outside the usual top-of-mind prospects. For example, we have mentioned sectors such as healthcare, non-profits and consulting firms, in addition to typical targets like realtors and insurance agents.
Whatever your current or ideal customer might be, make sure you are developing real relationships via personal contact with actual prospects. And be sure you are open to helping customers outside your usual buyer profile. In doing so, you will not only maximize your efforts, but will also diversity and strengthen your business.