Solving a B2B Puzzle: Marketing to the Unmarketable

Because technical buyers have no patience for sales pitches, successful web sites draw them in with practical experiences based on a deep knowledge of who they are and what they want, say experts at Earley Information Science roundtable

“Skip the sales pitches and just give me what I need,” engineers, procurement managers and other technical buyers plead. They’re not like B2C shoppers. They are all business—typically facing complicated projects and inflexible deadlines—and often arrive with extremely long lists of required parts and equipment and very short fuses.  

But giving them what they need is not easy, and the stakes can be very high, said Dino Eliopulos, Managing Director of Earley Information Science (EIS). “Recommend the wrong component to an engineer and you could end up with a collapsed building, exploding rocket or poisoned hamburger. And yet these customers say, ‘Do not market to me.’ ”

Given the suspicions that tech buyers harbor for anything that looks like merchandising and advertising, including product recommendations, getting the right products in their hands is a challenge that many marketers don’t know how to solve, and some don’t fully recognize.

The answer is to deliver a customized, albeit bare-bones, online experience that is efficient, practical and trustworthy, according to a panel of marketing and knowledge management experts at an Executive Roundtable discussion hosted on July 26 by EIS, a leading consulting firm focused on organizing information for business impact.

What is required, the experts said, is a sophisticated soft-sell formula that depends heavily on understanding the different segments in the tech demographic and how customer journeys vary; the approaches that will engage these buyers before, during and after making purchases; and the role that analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning can play in fueling the effort. 

The roundtable discussion, “The Secret to Successfully Marketing to the Technical B2B Buyer,” was led by Eliopulos and included Yvonne Brown, Partner and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of Chief Outsiders, a marketing strategy firm focused on startup to mid-sized companies; Hayne Shumate, Senior Vice President of Internet Business, Mouser Electronics, which sells components to engineers designing circuit boards for new projects; and Michelle Fields, Senior Director of Marketing and eCommerce at Brock White, a distributor of construction materials.   

“While we are pleased to serve anyone who comes to our website, our target customers are design engineers or procurement professionals who have been given a list of products from an engineer,” said Mouser’s Shumate. “Engineers are not interested in sharing their ideas with us. So, we have to understand what they need and focus on getting them to their products as quickly as possible, while staying out of their way when they do their shopping.”  

But tech buyers come in all shapes and sizes. Brock White works with buyers involved with huge projects, Michelle Fields said, but also sells to one-person businesses and to consumers who want to work with a contractor to add stone to their home. “Kind of the whole gamut,” she noted, and the wide range in roles and products affects the buyer’s involvement in the purchasing decision.

“There may be differences in the time scales and in the linearity and non-linearity of the shopping process,” Eliopulos added.

How do you engage these various buyers? In other words, how do you use the site’s content and functionality?

Again, the type of buyer is key. A procurement specialist wants to see a list of things to order, Fields said, while an engineer is after pieces of technical information and an architect is looking for inspiration. “It depends on the persona that comes to the web site.”

One common denominator, though, is the desire for transparency and accuracy.

A paramount concern for many buyers, according to Yvonne Brown, is the ability “to get information they need to a very detailed level and have confidence that the information is 100% accurate.” They want to see an image, zoom into it and examine it from different perspectives. And then there is “ease of consumption,” she said. “Not using a video when it could be simpler to use text, or using a video for demonstration purposes when it adds a lot of value.” After all, “the technical buyer in general is very pressed for time these days,” and anything that saves time is highly appreciated.

Another area of confidence building is having accurate inventory online, she said, given the critical timelines often at play. “They not only need the right product, they also need it on time.”

As for product reviews, those have little value, she noted, “because there isn’t confidence that the person who is reviewing the product is using it in the right way or understands it properly.” Instead, tech customers tend to prefer opinions from peers they know.   

The panelists also discussed the critical supporting role that big data and machine learning can play in the tech buyer’s shopping experience.

Brock White is “working through data to help build segmentation,” said Michelle Fields, a process that allows companies to “find out who your core spots or core customers are” and to better understand the differences in customer journeys. That kind of understanding, Yvonne Brown added, gives you the opportunity to “provide buyers with the right information” as they try to apply product research to the project or design they are working on. That said, Hayne Shumate noted privacy concerns that restrict the collection of certain data in a number of markets around the world.    

The roundtable featured a real-time survey of the webinar attendees:  

  • Nearly half, or 47%, said their business as a whole depends on B2B technical buyers, and an additional 35% said such buyers are important to a portion of the business
  • In identifying the most important factors in engaging the tech buyer, the respondents chose product selection and price (35%), rich meaningful content and product information (30%) and product findability (25%)
  • As for using advanced analytics and AI to engage customers, 26% said they are already doing that to great effect and 16% said they had plans to do so within the next year. But more than half, or 58%, said they are still evaluating the approach to take   

Please use these links to access the roundtable and a related article.

The Earley Executive Roundtable is an educational webinar series focusing on topics of interest in the areas of digital transformation and information science. Each month, EIS leads a lively discussion with a panel of industry experts. The next roundtable is scheduled for Aug. XX. To sign up, contact Sharon Foley at Sharon.Foley@earley.com.

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