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In our previous blog, we discussed how to increase the revenue for each product. Here we tackle a bigger problem – generating new customer demand.

Historically, manufacturers and distributors have relied on salespeople to “crack” new accounts. An account rep (usually the newest person on the team) would be assigned a territory consisting primarily of new customers, or ones that hadn’t been called in a long time, while more seasoned reps worked on increasing share of wallet within existing accounts. Events and tradeshows often supplemented leads, as did the occasional marathon cold calling session under the watchful eye of the sales manager. (Steak knives, anyone?)

This scenario no longer works the same as it has in the past. The B2B buying experience has shifted to one that is more hybrid in nature, where buyers want the option of self-service and researchers are on the internet constantly searching for the best solution. In fact, statistics show that most B2B customers today find their products and solutions on their own without the help of sales . One recent B2B marketing study reported that in over 80% of new customer deals, the buyer found the seller. Other research has reported that buyers return less than 4% of phone calls and emails from reps with whom they have no prior relationship.

Generational shifts in buying habits, growing demands for eCommerce capabilities (especially for distributors) and other factors have changed the way people research and buy goods and services. Unfortunately, manufacturers and distributors are often not as skilled as they should be when it comes to implementing effective strategies and tactics for demand generation and its important subset, lead generation.

This is where a strong eCommerce solution with sophisticated B2B capabilities can help. The idea is to help new buyers find you, accelerate traffic to your eCommerce site and significantly increase inbound interest and higher quality leads for your sales team. Here are some proven strategies to help you achieve your new customer goals in a changing marketing landscape:

1. Creating different site instances for new customers and specific industry segments. Last week we discussed creating new bundles out of product sets as a way to promote a unique product that stands out from the competition. In that same way, a strong B2B commerce solution will make it easy to create not just new SKU’s, but entirely new sites that offer specific products and services geared to new customer segments. This can include pricing that is offered outside of a sign-on, guest checkout and promotions specifically tailored to an industry, or even an individual customer.

The ability to capture attention (and search traffic) from providing only the information that is relevant to that set of buyers will help get your brand noticed, particularly in a cluttered field.

2. Focusing on a strong content marketing engine. In a Content Marketing Institute report last year, only 18% of manufacturers and distributors reported success with their existing content marketing strategies.  In a lot of cases, this is because content is created based on “great ideas” not on data. Content needs to have a specific plan and measurable objectives. Even more importantly, it needs to be mapped to the specific buyers’ journey.

Commerce solutions have to be able to provide data that summarizes the B2B buying journey, both online and offline. Armed with that information, content can be created that is specifically designed to move researchers, buyers and everyone involved in a complex B2B transaction further along toward the actual purchase. Remember, good content also needs to be available based on unique buyer behavior as well and placed in relevant, easy-to-access locations both within the site and throughout every messaging channel.

3. Understand Typical and Unique Conversions. Content can accelerate the customer journey, but it’s only a vehicle for the true target – conversions.  In a traditional B2B environment, sales is focused on the end goal – the purchase. Customer experiences in the new hybrid world of B2B commerce involve many small steps that may occur online, including during a mobile experience, or offline with a salesperson or CSR. In B2C commerce, conversions happen pretty fast. In B2B, however, they are complex, involving anything from downloading a PDF report, opening an email, interaction with social media, or checking prices outside of the sign-on.

Although the term “conversion” is derived from digital marketing, within B2B it should also include offline occurrences. Examples might include   a sales rep responding to a researcher question, or a new customer opting out of an online guest checkout transaction to ask a question of a CSR. The B2B commerce solution has to capture all of these conversions. In this way, it can help develop a strong picture of how sales are actually occurring with new customers. Once that picture is clear, measurements can be set to help gauge performance every step of the way.

4. Driving Lead Generation with Catalog Management. At Insite we’re seeing some pretty dramatic increases in the number of leads generated from strong catalog strategies.  Most B2B researchers begin looking for what they need by using a search engine. Taking our idea of a unique site one step further, a catalog website can deliver optimized, in-depth content that delivers strong search results. Using an SEO approach to building the catalog, with strong keywords, images and phrases tailored to the customers’ behavior, will help new customers find a product quickly and introduce them to your brand.

There is need for caution with this approach, however. Many commerce solutions merely provide a decent-looking front end experience to what is ultimately ERP, CRM or other backend system information. This information is not valuable to an outside customer, as it often contains unique identifiers and other terms that are not recognizable to a buyer, let alone a search engine. The ability to provide searchable, custom catalogs for both existing and new customers must be part of a solution that is built for the specific job of B2B commerce. Not one that has been adapted merely as an entry point to another type of system.

5. Make Supporting the Channel Partner a Priority. Some Insite customers focus ONLY on supporting the needs of their channel partners. Providing promotions, incentives, branded website instances, and content that addresses the unique needs of channel partners can increase the flow of new customers through that particular avenue. A strong B2B commerce solution will build digital trust with channel partners, who may not always be particularly knowledgeable on your entire product suite. Site solutions that provide channel partner “locators” as well as actual branded pages (or subsites) can showcase particular product lines and make it easy for researchers to find you.

Assisting channel partners with strong SEO capabilities and implementing strategies that support their buyers’ journey can also be extremely powerful.  Building efficiency and reducing cost of sales is just as important for channel partners as it is for new customers. Focusing on ways to make the experience more productive can bolster long lasting relationships much more effectively than price cutting.

Midsized manufacturers and distributors often can’t afford large marketing teams. The good news is that the right B2B commerce solution as part of a marketing automation strategy can provide a large portion of the demand and lead generation needed to find new customers.

From sending emails, to posting on social media, all of these strategies need to work together to be effective. There won’t be one “silver bullet” that turns into hundreds of new leads. A commerce solution that supports a hybrid experience combined with tactics that accelerate the buyers’ journey every step of the way will help grow – and keep – new customers in a sustainable, measurable fashion.


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