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First impressions hinge on strong content and social media in the buying process, LinkedIn report states

With the buyer experience clearly evolving towards more and more online interaction throughout the buying process - from the first meeting to the final purchasing decision, it is more important than ever that B2B marketers rethink their strategies. 

While the buyer process does rely on first impressions at the outset, these are unlikely to be face to face meetings as impressions now hinge on strong content marketing and social media, sales and marketing alignment and nurturing as the new route to a prospective customer. More than ever, B2B marketers need to strive to reach the entire buying team, and deliver the knowledge and information a  prospect wants. Also, marketers should focus on delivering a full range of content from product demos to case studies to thought leadership while leveraging social media throughout the entire buying process.

A recent report by LinkedIn surveyed 6,375 B2B buyers, marketers and salespeople at mid-size to enterprise companies around the globe and indicates that personal relationships remain very important.  Those buyers surveyed agree that their relationships with vendors remain either very good (28 per cent) or good (56 per cent) with an additional 52 per cent agreeing that trust was the reason their relationships with their vendors were strong. 

The report found that what the buyers respect most is when a vendor understands the company business model (26 per cent), and if the vendor is an expert or thought leader on the subject matter (25 per cent), while 25 per cent feel valuable consultation, education or tools are a factor (25 per cent) and knowing the companies products/services (25 per cent).

Interestingly, the report notes that from the buyer’s perspective, if the vendor is not known company wide, it is a huge drawback. Additionally, the report notes that the buying process is a collaborative one. Along with consulting peers on social media, B2B buyers work with colleagues inside their companies when making purchasing decisions. Research has shown that the number of additional groups inside a company, like IT (32 per cent, finance (31 per cent) and business development (26 per cent) also weigh in.

The message is clear for marketers and salespeople, in that they must reach the broader buying group, which means targeting their message at scale to every part of a company that can wield influence on the final buying decision. For example, when it comes to the influential departments making the buying decisions on technology, 56 per cent of the decisions come from the IT department, yet 25 per cent come from business development, engineering (26 per cent) and finance department (28 per cent).

In financial services, 52 per cent of the decisions come from finance, while 30 per cent go to business development, 23 per cent to administration and 21 per cent to IT.

If content marketing is the new three martini lunch, it appears that while marketers and ad agencies have long disparaged "speeds and feeds" advertising that touts features over benefits, the report suggests that buyers do want detailed product information as they conduct their own online research. They seek technical details about products and how they work. The report found that 35 per cent of buyers prefer product information, features and functions followed by 31 per cent who prefer 'demos.' When it comes to knowledge and content information, marketers may need to align themselves more with sales departments as only 24 per cent of marketers surveyed thought that product information made for effective sales content, while sales people where more aligned with their buyers in preferring product information, features and functions (31 per cent).

The report reveals that B2B marketers are firmly behind the case study as the most effective tool in reaching a prospective customer (27 per cent) while sales and buyers hover more at 19 to 24 per cent. Salespeople are more inclined towards peer testimonials (23 per cent) with buyers at a mere 16 per cent.

The research also revealed that social media and information sharing across the buyer's organization is key at the awareness stage of the buying process (67 per cent) but less so during the final stages of selecting and implementing (32 per cent). This indicates that buyers are looking to social channels for information and guidance from their peers and broader networks.  However, there is a missed opportunity for salespeople and marketers to encourage more use of social media during the implementation phase.

Further, the report indicates that relationships with vendors are growing stronger this year as more buyers imbibe in social media with 48 per cent of those surveyed saying that their relationships with vendors was growing stronger. Additionally 55 per cent of buyers who continue to use social in business say that the relationships increased since last year and 34 per cent who did not use social say their relationships did not change.

Finally, marketing and sales are becoming increasingly aligned according to the report. Prior to the advent of the Internet, marketers traditionally generated the leads and sales people nurtured them - where the mystique of the three-martini lunch was born. The idea behind the martini was to engage, entertain, educate and attempt to sell prospects.

Today, 74 per cent of those in sales believe building relationships over time is key, while 67 per cent of marketers feel the same way. Additionally, 62 per cent of marketers believe delivering prospects relevant information to move them through the purchase process makes for good lead nurturing yet only 55 per cent of sales people feel this way. Further, 45 per cent of marketers believe synchronizing messaging and content across channels is effective, while 28 per cent of sales people feel this is strength.  The research found that marketers have a broader definition of lead nurturing, with 37 per cent of marketers agreeing that it includes email, telephone, display and social advertising. 

With only 25 per cent of salespeople in agreement, it is a missed opportunity for improving that alignment. Embracing the broader definition of lead nurturing and implement process to help marketing nurture prospects more effectively is easier when salespeople embrace multi-channel nurturing, the report notes. In the past year, 77 per cent of those surveyed agreed that being knowledgeable about sales process technology has helped them to align marketing with sales, while 71 per cent said that this knowledge enabled them to align sales with marketing and 64 per cent agreed they could align buyers with vendors because of their knowledge of the sales process technology.

Featured by The Drum