Making B2B Buyer Shortlists: Is Your Firm Even in the Game?
For most B2B companies, there's no way to predict when a prospect will purchase their product or engage their services. Sales cycle management is particularly challenging for professional services firms, where top-of-mind awareness (getting people to remember you) is a critical part of business development.
Unless it's an exclusive assignment, and a prospect seeks no other alternative providers, for most professional services firms -- legal, accounting, investment advisory, technology, management consulting, recruiting or marketing -- the road to new business means earning a position on the "shortlist" of firms to be called in as a candidate for selection.
Regardless of industry, shortlist selection is often driven by 5 key factors:
CRM CAPABILITY -- Effective database management is essential for firms that are serious about driving top-of-mind awareness with clients, prospects and referral sources. Overlooking or taking shortcuts in what admittedly is a tedious task will submarine any effort to improve the firm's "first call capability" (getting called in first.) Senior management must make CRM discipline a priority.
PROCESS CONSISTENCY-- B2B firms often start out with the best intentions to communicate regularly with known target audiences, but lose momentum for two reasons: they've not assigned adequate resources, or they are not truly committed to the marketing program. To succeed, firms must communicate with target audiences at least on a quarterly basis, and that contact should not be postponed, skipped or stopped. Consistency is essential.
RELEVANT CONTENT -- Some firms do a great job on CRM and contact consistency, and then hurt their brand by pushing out content that's overly self-serving, or of little interest to their targets. Canned newsletters, boring white papers or news items announcing the firm's new senior partner or service offering do not drive interest or top-of-mind awareness. Content based on intellectual capital, showcasing insight, experience and opinion, and providing helpful ideas or guidance, will be read and remembered.
ONLINE VISIBILITY -- The era in which word-of-mouth referrals drove business decisions is quickly coming to an end. Increasingly, B2B decision-makers use online information to locate and evaluate potential resources to engage. Research shows that buyers conduct nearly 60% (or more) of their discovery process using online research, prior to reaching out to any potential suppliers. So here's the new B2B marketing reality: if your firm does not have strong online visibility, it simply will not be in the game. Prospective clients that do not already know you will never find you, and your firm will be precluded from those buyers' shortlists.
PATIENCE -- In golf, the best putters envision the path of the ball to the hole, and commit to that line. They believe their putt will drop. Firms that succeed in making the shortlist believe that consistent, intelligent contact with target audiences, combined with relevant online visibility will yield results. Like the best putters, they are confident in their course of action, follow through on their plan, and have the patience to wait for what sometimes can be a very long putt to drop.
Top-of-mind awareness, driven by these five disciplines, serves as a safety net -- a defensive tactic that decreases the chances of losing out on having a shot at a client or project which your firm is qualified to win.
Conversely, the discipline also serves as an effective butterfly net, allowing you to nurture relationships and spark client interest in a new project or initiative on a proactive basis; thereby reducing or eliminating shortlist competition.
Whether top-of-mind awareness is applied as a reactive or proactive marketing strategy, making the shortlist needs to be an ongoing priority at your firm, to fuel client growth and revenue.