Reaching Purchase Influencers
If you are marketing your B-to-B product to just one title, you may be selling yourself short
By Susan Fantle
How easy folks have it in consumer marketing! At least that's how it appears to us in the B-to-B arena. You see, in most consumer marketing efforts, the decision-maker, budget manager and product end-user are one in the samenot so in much of B-to-B marketing.
Depending on the size of the businesses you target and the complexity of what you sell, multiple individuals can be involved in reviewing, recommending, choosing, purchasing or preventing the purchase of your product.
Here are examples of the leading players you have to reach:
Decision-makers can be CEOs, CFOs, Executive VPs, department heads, purchasing managers and others. These decision-makers may not actually use the product or service being considered, but have a strong interest in the bottom-line benefit(s) it promises to deliver.
Influencers are the individuals at many levels of the company who have a problem your product can solve. They have an active influence on the purchasing decision.
Stakeholders have little or no say in the purchase decision but are acutely affected by it. For example, the decision to contract for a toll-free number and put it on all marketing materials may not involve the telemarketing manager, but it's this manager's staff who has to answer the phones.
Preventers have the authority to say "no" to a purchase, but may not actively be involved in any other part of the buying process. For instance, if the VP of sales wants a specific CRM solution, the CIO could squash the request because the software is incompatible with the company's current enterprise system.
So you see, if you're marketing your B-to-B product or service to just one title, you may be selling yourself short. Many business products and services affect so many aspects of company operations that marketing to the decision-maker alone rarely results in a sale.
Focus Your Message
You can increase the success of your B-to-B programs by targeting your message to more of the people in the organizational chart who influence the purchase.
For example, suppose you are selling an enterprise-wide software system designed to replace paper timesheets and to record and track employee labor hours. The ultimate decision to purchase this product likely will be made by the CFO, who wants to accurately track the cost and profitability of projects. However, the CFO rarely would make this decision without input from the managers and teams touched by the productand every one of them has a specific "pain" to solve:
* Employees need a system that allows them to input the data faster and easier than the current process, otherwise they will be reluctant to use it.
* HR wants a system that requires little training.
* Project managers want the ability to monitor labor hours by job number and task performed to keep the project on time and on budget.
* Executive management wants instant, easy access to real-time labor hour status to stay on top of company productivity and to ensure that projects remain profitable.
* Top management wants to know how your solution supports company growth, enhances market position and adds profit to the bottom line.
* IT management wants to minimize the effort of software installation, maintenance and user support issues, as well as ensure that the product is compatible with current systems.
* Accounts payable wants accuracy to minimize billing and payroll errors.
* Legal and operations want to avoid trouble stemming from charges of over-billing or employee complaints of improperly tracked overtime or vacation time.
Your job is to determine the particular "need" of every stakeholder, influencer and decision-maker, and then communicate how your product or service alleviates his or her pain and/or satisfies his or her needs. Here are some of the ways B-to-B marketers successfully accomplish this goal.
Expand the Impact of Your Direct Mail
You simply cannot be successful sending the same message to multiple titles. But you easily can version a com-mon package that addresses the specific interests of different influencers.
Envelope package: A classic #10 package containing a letter and reply device is a low-cost and business-like tool for sending targeted messages. Here's an example of a successful campaign composed only of a non-promotional outside envelope, letter and reply device. It was designed to generate leads for a consulting firm offering assistance to managed care organizations that need to maintain a government-required accreditation. It targeted three important players in each prospect company.
1. Opening of letter to the CEO (decision-maker):
"Are you dreading the time, money and lost productivity it will cost to renew your NCQA accreditation in 2003?"
2. Opening of letter to the chief medical officer (influencer): "Are you concerned about your company's ability to maintain NCQA accreditation in 2003 or losing your level of accreditation?"
3. Opening of letter to the quality improvement director (stakeholder): "Are you concerned about your company's NCQA accreditation in 2003? Would you like additional support for this complex task? Could you use extra hands to help with parts of the preparation process?"
Each letter then explains how this consulting firm can relieve the specific pains of the targeted individual. The reply device repeats the targeted benefit in the call-to-action.
Postcards and self-mailers: Some large company mail rooms do not deliver promotional mailings, so you should test this option. But it has been effective in some B-to-B campaigns when used as part of a series. By creating and printing a shell design and then using black plate changes or digital printing, you can version these formats easily and cost-effectively.
Use informational offers to further target your message: Whether you mail dimensional packages to top executives, mail targeted versions of a classic letter package, or choose other tactics is dependent on your product, market and acceptable cost-per-inquiry. But, no matter what package you use, offering free, relevant information that addresses the "pain" of the targeted title is consistently one of the most effective devices for generating leads and influence.
Providing free information of interest and value to your market generates leads and positions your firm as one with an interest in helping prospects improve their skills and knowledge. This information can be printed and mailed, delivered online, or presented in person at workshops and seminars. Just like your marketing message, the information you offer should be targeted to the needs of each specific title. Make sure, however, that the information you provide is focused on the reader, not your product. Prospects will not be interested in your product or service until they are convinced you can help them solve their problems.
Informational offers can be how-tos, case studies, tips and techniques, success metrics, or other approaches targeted to each influencing title.
You also can reach many titles with a single offer by producing a "kit" that contains multiple components (white papers, calculators, checklists, reports, etc.). This can be successful as long as it includes at least one item that appeals to each title group.
Another single offer that is effective for multiple titles is a seminar or workshop. This approach makes it possible to address a variety of needs at breakout and Q-and-A sessions within the presentation.
Provide Tools to Help Influencers "Sell" to Decision-Makers
You can reach influencers and interest them in your solution, but you can't rely on them to take the time or make the effort to apply that influence where it counts. One way to overcome this barrier is to provide influencers with a sales sheet that tells the story for them, which they can then hand off to the decision-maker. A simple sales sheet can be included in targeted mailings and posted on your Web site. Depending on your product or market, this sheet can include a cost or savings formula, ROI calculator or other interactive device to make it even more appealing and productive.
Support Your Targeted Messaging On Your Web Site
The beauty of direct marketing is its ability to focus a message directly to an individual. Unfortunately, many B-to-B direct marketers target their mail message very nicely, but then direct prospects to an untargeted Web site.
Just because the Internet is a prospect/customer-driven medium doesn't mean you can't use the same effective targeting techniques you implement in your direct mail campaigns. All that is required is the addition of a simple sidebar on your home page. The links on this sidebar can be as basic as listing the individual titles:
How ABC Software benefits your department:
When visitors click on their department, the link will open a page specifically highlighting the features and benefits your product delivers to that department.
Another approach is to use actual benefits as your links. This not only attracts prospects to a targeted message, but presents your product benefits up front:
How ABC Software delivers benefits to every department:
Boosts Billing and Payroll Accuracy
Monitors Project Labor Hours
Tracks Cost and Profitability
Supports Bottom-Line Growth
Delivers Enterprise Compatibility
In this case, visitors can self-select the benefit that best fits their needs, leading them to a page that highlights the applicable features and accompanying benefits. Once your site directly communicates your targeted messages, you can use other direct marketing media to send prospects to your Web site with confidence.
Reaching influencers is no different than reaching decision-makers. The key is to understand and communicate the benefits your product or service brings to these individuals, and then provide them with the tools necessary to assert their influence on the purchasing decision. It's a proven and effective way to boost B-to-B lead generation and sales.
Susan Fantle is a 24-year veteran direct response copywriter and consultant specializing in B-to-B direct marketing. Her firm, The Copy Works, serves clients nationwide from offices in Denver, Colo. She can be reached at (303) 750-3113 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.