One More Look at Buying Processes

We can’t move off the subject of the buying process without taking a look at the world of business-to-business (B2B) purchasing, where consumer-marketing guidelines don’t always apply.

Now, we know that lots of business purchasing happens at office retailers, restaurant-supply houses, and local printing shops, and for all those sorts of purchases, you can reasonably apply a consumer-marketoriented buying model.

But what about those large purchases of raw materials, industrial machinery, or enterprise-wide technology installations? Surely the buying and selling processes are different from those familiar to consumers, and surely your marketing requirements will be very different, too. How do you sell sophisticated satellite systems to the government, or to a broadcaster? Is there a role for Web marketing here?

The answer is a resounding “Yes,” and the process for understanding how to best utilize (and measure) your online activity is exactly the same… it’s just that the purchase process is different enough to require some focused attention from marketers shifting in a B2B direction.

Again, we start by looking at the purchase process. Is it a committee decision, where various functional groups represent a range of viewpoints that are incorporated in the ultimate decision? Or is there a formal selection procedure, where prospective buyers test a short list of contenders against predetermined criteria, leading to a negotiation on price and terms before a choice is made?

In these cases, understanding the whole purchase process is critical to determining which of the various decision influencers plays which role in the final choice. Rarely does one individual control the whole buy in these large and complex corporate sales, so different marketing jobs are needed to address the information needs of the various parties to the purchase.

Perhaps a business unit pinpoints the need for a solution; a technical group is called in to establish success criteria and determine a short list of contenders; a testing department runs the contenders through their paces (based on scripting from end users and tech); and then purchasing jumps in to negotiate terms among the acceptable finishers. In this example, what is the role for online marketing? And what metrics make sense to track?

A strong online program can do lots of different jobs, and interactive marketing can superbly address many points along the buying continuum. To know how well your Web marketing is working, you’ll want to track different metrics against a range of audience subsets. Watch for the diverse information needs likely to arise at the distinct steps along the buying process, and you’ll learn to analyze Web data to better track all the steps to the sale.

This is more complex than dissecting a more simple purchase, but the knowledge gained is potentially even more valuable… Fine-tuning or shortening the purchase process in these sorts of decisions can result in more sales with shorter sales processes — a goal of every marketer.

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