Interview: Mark Herten on the development of the B2B Buyer Journey
What every consumer feels in themselves is also becoming increasingly apparent in the business environment: the B2B customer journey is increasingly shifting to digital. According to the latest MC Kinsey studies, around 70% of the B2B buyer journey is now digital. What does this mean for B2B companies? How do they have to react or have they already acted? These are the questions we explored in this interview with Mark Herten, CEO of Publitek Deutschland.
Mr Herten, what does this shift of the B2B buyer journey into the digital space mean for German industrial companies?
Well, first I want to note that German B2B companies often lag massively behind in terms of the digital buyer journey. If you look at the global market, the companies there are usually 10-15 years ahead in this area. The topic has been increasingly discussed in Germany since the Corona pandemic.
Previously, marketing and sales managers mainly relied on B2B trade fairs and events, which then fell away. Now, many of those responsible have been pleased about how much money they saved last year. But even though the results last year were not bad at all, this is too short-sighted. Many forget the buying cycles: that is, the leads that companies did not generate last year and this year will only show up in the results in the years to come. So there was no reason to be happy that money had been saved. Instead, one should have taken this money directly into one’s hand and invested it – the full amount. Unfortunately, that rarely happened. Only very, very few approach the digitalisation of their marketing and sales consistently enough – individual measures do, but not in the final consequence.
What does that mean? In your opinion, what measures are currently crucial to reach B2B buyers and then also to convince them of their value?
Here I would like to go into 4 essential points:
- B2B companies need to create visibility. Because if I’m not (or less) at trade fairs and events, I’m only visible to my existing customers, but not to new customers. For me, visibility includes PR, websites, social media, blogs, influencer relations and also offline activities such as involvement in associations, specialist communities or universities. Through all these activities, I have to manage to keep my brand present in the market.
- The second is interaction opportunities. Since physical events are no longer available, I have to develop alternatives: these can be digital or hybrid events, webinars, surveys, customer visits, roadshows or product demonstrations via virtual reality – which, by the way, are usually much cheaper than the big events.
- Thirdly, I have to create digital information and purchase offers, because this is the only way to build up a digital customer experience. An own shop, a user community or an extranet with exclusive content, instructions, technical documentation, training videos, etc. for customers are possible here, for example.
- Point four is, of course, digital lead generation activities or content marketing: white papers, webinars, infographics, guides, checklists, etc. are still a good way to generate leads, even if trade fairs are no longer held.
A quick question: You mentioned the company website in terms of visibility. How important is it? What defines an optimal website for you?
For me, the corporate website is super important, it’s the first sales agent. Why? Because 70% of the B2B buyer journey is now digital. More than 80% of B2B buyers start every product search on the internet. In addition, more and more decision-makers are willing to spend larger budgets directly online – in Asia they go even further. There, the latest results show that B2B buyers even spend up to 50,000 euros per mouse click. In other words, I think German B2B companies underestimate the importance of a company website – as a business card, as a sales representative, as the first contact to the customer. Many still think they don’t need the user experience learned from B2C. But that is simply wrong. Digitalisation does not stop, it continues to advance. Accordingly, the corporate website must be professionally set up and used – sales must also be directly linked to it. The website must transport and present exactly what the sales department does: meet the customer’s needs, solve the customer’s problem challenges or serve the search intent, inform the customer professionally, make it possible to experience one’s own brand and product world, pick up the customer emotionally, pay attention to the user experience, build trust and focus on the added value of a cooperation. If you manage to show this on the website, it fulfils the tasks of a good sales representative and opens up possible business relationships.
And how often should you put your own website to the test, update or revise it?
In my view, there is no fixed time – every 2, 3 or 5 years – for a website relaunch. On the opposite: I would say that you should set up your website in such a future-proof and modular way that you can update and adapt parts of it at any time. This way, a website relaunch is no longer necessary, because I can add new content, exchange content or even adapt the layout. But what I have to keep an eye on is SEO. This means that if, based on SEO analyses, I notice that my website is no longer being received, then I have to adapt it accordingly. It is important here: The focus should not be on your own brand, brand world and the right layout, but on the user experience. Unfortunately, many B2B companies get too carried away with their own brand world and forget what the customer wants.
What do you mean they forget the customer?
Well, in website design, the customer should be in the foreground. Technically, that means individualising your website, recognising your customer as quickly as possible and then offering them an individualised user face, for example. Or if I know what my customer wants – industry information, language, a specific product – then I lead him directly there and not to the general website.
Let’s go back to the buyer journey. Once attention has been generated by a marketing activity, what happens next? In the past, personal contact was crucial – sometimes a meeting at an event, a beer at the after-event party or a phone call afterwards. Since this “first contact” is shifting to digital, how can customer contact now be maintained?
Of course, this is still the task of sales. But it has to be said that the B2B customer is better informed than ever before. This means that the task of sales is no longer primarily to inform the customer about their products and solutions, but to provide personal advice, a personal relationship and to build trust. It’s worth making a comparison here: when you go to the doctor today, you usually research what you might have in advance. It is similar in B2B: The customer already informs himself about the product, the company, competitors, etc. before the first contact. As a salesperson, this now means that they have to build a relationship with webinars, live chats, phone calls, exclusive content and, of course, continue to nurture customers after the deal is closed.
That means, however, that personal contact is still crucial?
Absolutely. And I am convinced that this will remain the case for the next few years. We are still talking about complicated products that require a lot of consultation – that can only be done through personal contact. The situation is different when it comes to commodities, spare parts or the like, then you can offer an online shop without any problems. Just take a look at Jungheinrich’s online shop: There you can choose from over 100,000 articles related to stacking and lifting. That’s fine, but products that require special explanation are still sold in personal contact.
So personal contact is one thing, the advance of digitalisation and the associated view of technologies is another. With regard to B2B marketing, I have one final question: Which technical possibilities in B2B marketing will be essential for you in the future in order to do justice to the B2B buyer journey?
In view of the countless touchpoints, the immense data, tools and analysis tools, marketing automation software with advanced analytics, a good CRM connection and a content management system will be crucial for me. Because only there can everything be bundled, we can keep an overview and control processes. Furthermore, I think machine learning will play an increasingly important role when it comes to finding out what customers want.
Mr Herten, thank you for this interesting exchange about the developments in the B2B buyer journey and the necessary to-dos for B2B companies!
Mark Herten is CEO of Publitek Germany and an expert in technology PR and content marketing for the industry. As head of the German organisation of the B2B full-service agency Publitek, he helps technology companies to inspire technical target groups with relevant content. He also hosts the B2B marketing podcast #markfragtnach.