As SME owners or start-ups when we are talking about how we are going to grow the business we often use the terms “customer acquisition” and “sales” interchangeably.
However, while both are needed for your business, the two are in fact very different. To succeed in B2B, your focus needs to be on customer acquisition.
Customer acquisition is “The Long Game”
When you focus on customer acquisition, it is about identifying the right kinds of business customers for your SME that will create the greatest value for your company over time.
The ability for your company to grow and scale requires that you are able to identify the right customers that you are able to promote, sell and deliver to repeatedly in a systematic manner.
Sales are without a doubt vital for the existence of a business. The revenues generated from sales keep the business in operation. However, strong sales figures do not necessarily reflect neither the health nor the future viability and sustainability of the business.
Sales can be generated and pushed through by:
- heavy discounting,
- selling products that are not best suited to the client or customer
- using various marketing hacks and tactics
Need help determining the right strategy for your business?
B2B Customer Acquisition in the “new norm” and what SMEs need to understand.
To acquire business clients, you must meet their needs, expectations, priorities and buying behaviours. All of these have changed significantly over the past couple of years. For instance, 70 % of business buyers conduct their own research before wanting to speak with any representatives from your company.
As business buyers have been doing more independent, they have been inundated with lots of information (aka content), from product and service providers. This has resulted in business buyers feeling a high degree of confusion and overwhelm.
According to recent Gartner studies:
- 55% of Business buyers feel they are being bombarded with seemingly trustworthy information.
- 44% struggle with trustworthy but seemingly contradictory information. Hence, they are having difficulty making sense of all this information and navigating through it all
Business buyers now expect more than features and technology from the products and solutions your company provides. They now expect that your company will help them to satisfy a much broader set of needs including:
- Identifying future opportunities
- Providing new insights and perspectives which challenge and/or change their way of thinking
- Providing solutions to problems
- Enabling them access to interact with peers, industry experts
Therefore, to acquire business clients (which you will hopefully retain for the long term) requires that the focus is on working with your prospects to co-create value based on their defined needs, priorities and expectations.
Hence the nature of the B2B customer relationship is based upon partnership and collaboration as opposed to being transactional.
How to acquire business clients and customers?
To acquire business customers, you must fulfil 3 key needs of the “new” B2B buyer
A. Make buying easy
The purchase process for today’s B2B buyer has become more complex now than ever before. A typical buying decision group will involve 6 to 10 stakeholders each armed with, on average, 4 to 5 pieces of information they have obtained through their own research (not to mention all of the information that is thrust upon them by product and service providers in the name of content!).
As a result, the purchase decision process often becomes extremely slow as decision-makers try to work through all of the information and arrive at a consensus on a course of action.
The B2B buying process has deteriorated so much that 77% of business buyers find the buying process complex and difficult. (source: Gartner report: Win More B2B Sales Deals, 2018)
Therefore, your number 1 job as a product or service provider is not to sell but to make it easy for buyers to buy!
This is referred to as buyer enablement and is achieved by providing buyers with:
- Prescriptive advice: Often in the form of “do this” or “don’t do this” recommendations to assist business customers as they undertake the various activities (e.g. solution exploration, requirement building) associated with purchase decisions
- Practical support: Tools that help business buyers progress towards making a decision
Examples of buyer enablement resources include case studies, articles, white papers, assessments and diagnostic tools.
For more on buyer enablement, watch my interview with Felix Kruger.
B. “Discovery”: Uncover what’s possible
In addition to providing recommendations and tools to assist with the buying decision, B2B buyers are also seeking help with their broader strategic needs. Now more than ever, business decision makers are also seeking help in terms of how to take their businesses forward.
Therefore, to acquire new clients, you must help them to “DISCOVER” ways of doing so. This is achieved by providing content and working with your prospects to:
- Identifying new opportunities
- Exploring solutions to problems
- Providing new ideas and perspectives
C. “Map-making”: Provide the pathway forward
As mentioned previously, B2B buyers are inundated with information. While most of it is regarded as trustworthy, much of it is also contradictory. Hence leaving B2B buyers confused and unable to make decisions and take action. Therefore, one of your key roles is to help buyers:
- to navigate and make sense of all of the information they are receive
- ask questions
- determine what information is relevant and important to them
- Identify appropriate action plan and next steps
Acting as a “navigator” and “information connector” not only makes it easier for business customers to make a purchase but also increases the likelihood, by 90%, of them making larger, complex purchases with low regret. (Source: Gartner Win More B2B Sales Deals)
Developing your B2B Customer Acquisition strategy
Your company’s strategy must be based on:
- Who your buyers are (i.e All participants in the buying decision)
- What are their needs and priorities?
- How they buy
Provide the right kinds of tools and information and make these visible where your buyers look for information!
The resources and channels you may use to reach and enable buyers include:
|Articles||Industry/ Professional associations|
|White papers||Industry publications|
|Customer references||Social media platforms/ groups|
Also, be sure to consider how you will work with and support your prospects in terms of undertaking their “discovery” and “map-making”
And remember how to proceed is determined by listening to the market and customers/ buyers you seek…
About Michael Haynes
B2B Customer Acquisition & Growth Strategy Consultant
For over 20 years, Michael has worked with micro-businesses to large corporates alike across Australia and Canada, developing and implementing business growth strategies and programs.