When you’re thinking about your marketing strategy, you need to consider who you’re selling to, and what you’re going to offer. But the third ‘leg’ of the tripod is equally important: how you’re going to sell it. That’s your ‘go to market’ strategy, and means choosing your sales channels, and how you’re going to use them.
A quick recap
‘Go to market’ strategies usually involve more than one channel, whether your market is end-users (B2C) or other businesses (B2B). Deciding on your strategy means solving or balancing a number of business problems and issues, including customer satisfaction, productivity, expenses, revenue and profits. It also means that you need to work out what point your market is at on the maturity curve, from introduction, through growth, maturity, and saturation to possible development (renewed growth, contraction, or death of product).
The primary reason for choosing a particular channel is that the people that you want to target are there and will be influenced by it. It is a waste of energy using direct mail, even email, if your target audience never reads emails. The channel choice will therefore differ by where you are in the sales process, and who you want to target.
Let’s unpick the sales process somewhat. As a thought leader, you know that sometimes you’re in ‘selling’ mode, and sometimes you’re not. When you’re in ‘non-selling’ mode, you’re probably sharing information about technical aspects, or the wider market, or other issues of importance to your customers. You’re exploring and discussing their problems. And the people you’re targeting may not even be the buyers themselves, but those who recommend to or influence the buyers.
When you move into ‘selling’ mode, you’re interested in the decision-makers and purchase approvers. Far from the technical aspects, you really need to focus on the business benefits to them, and the fit between your business or product and theirs. You are selling the idea of partnership. You are probably talking to or communicating with busy people, so you need to be sure that you have the right person, the right place, and the right channel. You can’t afford to waste their time.
Going back to basics, you really have two main channel options: direct or indirect. Direct channels are where you communicate directly with the buyers and the people in your customer company. They include both traditional channels such as advertising, direct mail and visits by sales reps, and also newer approaches including websites and social media.
Indirect channels are where you pay someone else to do your selling for you. These include partnership models, where you ‘piggyback’ on another company’s sales, perhaps by packaging your product or service with theirs. Other options include resellers, franchises and licensing arrangements. These are useful where you don’t have the geographic reach, but you do lose control of the selling and to some extent, the margins.
How do you decide what to use?
An old-fashioned SWOT analysis can provide helpful insights that should support your decision-making. By looking at internal strengths and weaknesses, and external opportunities and threats, you can get a feel for what you do well and badly, and play to your strengths. You can also plan for opportunities or problems that might arise in future, and work out where your competition may have the edge now or later. You also have to bear in mind that your channel implementation does not start and end with you. It starts with your supplier, or even their supplier, and ends with your end-customer. For B2B companies, that could be quite a long chain.
The place of social media
As we’ve commented before, social media has a part to play in B2B, and we think it’s at multiple stages in the sales process. Ideally, you will be able to engage your customers in conversation and interact via social media, directing them towards your blogs and website content. Of course it’s a double-edged sword, and you may not like what they say, either in response, or about you. But it’s a very good way of interacting and making sure that you know what’s going on. Social media is also a vital tool for gathering intelligence.
In other words, as long as your customers are on social media, that’s where you need to be too. Without that contact and interaction, you’re unlikely to close the sales deal, however many sales reps you have doing visits. It’s vital for building relationships, and without relationships, B2B sales probably won’t happen.