Which people, and which organisations, are most influential in shaping your prospect's thinking? Who do they turn to for advice when they recognise they may have a problem? Who do they trust to guide them? And how do they go about searching for solutions?
Today's B2B prospects are influenced by a wide variety of sources, far beyond the traditional analyst and press community. They look for recommendations from a community of trusted advisors, who can include formal and informal networks, business connections, existing vendors and many other sources - collectively referred to as their BuyerSphere.
Pathways of Influence
Prospects are building these connections, following these pathways of influence and forming opinions long before they decide to take action on an issue, with significant consequences for the sales process. By the time they make direct sales contact with a potential new vendor, the balance of information power has already shifted in favour of the prospect.
Even the timing of first contact is increasingly in the hands of the prospect. In a growing number of cases involving major business purchases, it is the prospect that initiates first contact with the vendor, rather than the other way around - and only after they have completed their initial research.
Penetrating the BuyerSphere
Faced with today's realities, how can enlightened vendors penetrate the BuyerSphere that surrounds their most promising prospects? One thing is for sure - old-style product-centric pitches are just going to bounce off the BuyerSphere’s perimeter. If they are to penetrate the BuyerSphere, vendors have to lead with issues, insights and shared experiences - not acronyms, specifications and self-promotion.
But it’s not just the message; the medium is equally important. Attempts to push messages harder through conventional marketing tactics are proving to be increasingly ineffective, as evidenced by plummeting email open rates, declining exhibition attendance, and low direct marketing response rates. Rather than finding your prospects, you need to help them find you - and want to learn more from you.
Clusters of Influence
Fortunately, whilst each individual will have their trusted advisors, every market has clusters of influence that have a disproportionate impact on the community as a whole. These networks of experts, thought leaders and authoritative sources are where your prospects turn when they need to educate themselves on what is happening in their markets, and on the options open to them.
It’s becoming increasingly important that vendors identify and connect with the BuyerSphere that surrounds their most valuable potential customers. But where to start? Asking and observing your existing customers and prospects can help to develop the picture. Conducting well-structured voice of the customer interviews can help get the process going.
An Evolving Picture
Of course, the BuyerSphere isn’t static - it evolves continuously. But once you’ve established your first footholds in the BuyerSphere, a continuing sense of curiosity can ensure that you’re able to identify and explore its changing shapes and forms. Once you’ve kick-started the process and educated your organisation about the power of the BuyerSphere, I’d strongly recommend that you engage every customer-facing member of staff, as well as your customers and prospects, in tracking how the BuyerSphere is evolving.
Here are 3 simple suggestions to create and sustain momentum:
- Whenever you conduct a win-loss analysis (and you should be doing these for “no decisions” as well), be sure to explore the influences that shaped your prospects thinking at each significant phase in their search for a solution. What were the significant “moments of truth” - and who supplied them?
- Identify the trigger events that caused them to start searching for a solution in the first place. How would they have described what they were looking for? Where were the obvious places to look? And how did they stumble across less-obvious but valuable resources?
- Encourage every member of your customer-facing organisation to identify, explore and share the networks of influence that surround their customers and prospects. Who do they trust? And can they help you engage with them?
Doing a better job of exploring the BuyerSphere is just one of 5 Ways in which B2B Vendors can Revitalise Their Revenue Growth in 2011. You can download our latest white paper on the subject here.