I was working for MCI back in 1994 when they rolled out a product bundle called “networkMCI.” The idea was that home consumers or businesses would pay a single monthly fee for a bundle of telecom services. This is from a news article at the time:
The slick Windows package integrates on one menu e-mail, paging, faxing, conferencing, in-office shopping and access to news, search and other online services including the Internet, the globe-girdling computer network linking government and educational institutions, businesses and homes.
Internet access wasn’t available at first, but it was part of the promise of MCI to “render time and distance obsolete.” That’s an actual quote. The tagline I remember most was something about all the information in the universe would be available to anyone at any time. I can’t find that exact quote, but this one is very close and represents the same idea. “Every piece of knowledge in the universe. Right here.”
Due to corporate takeovers and some corruption and what-not, MCI no longer exists as a company but the ad campaign proved prophetic. Today, we as consumers truly have “every piece of information” available to us at any time. This has had the effect of shifting power in a purchase transaction from the seller to the buyer. And it goes for individual consumers as well as businesses.
It wasn’t that long ago that when a business wanted to purchase a solution to an ongoing problem, they would have to engage with salespeople in what was often a one-way discussion. The salesperson would tell the company all about how great they are and the amazing and fantastic things their product could do. The salesman or woman held all the cards and controlled the process.
Today, thanks to the internet and the tremendous amount of information available, companies now have the power to research before ever engaging a salesperson. Forbes ran an article recently citing a study that claimed that B2B buyers are nearly 2/3rds of the way through the buying process before ever engaging salespeople. Much of the process they used to go through has actually disappeared.
What are buyers doing if they’re not talking to sales? They are surfing corporate websites to identify and qualify vendors, instead of the sales force qualifying them. They are engaging peers in social media to learn more about their needs, potential solutions and providers. And they are reading, listening to and watching free digital content that is available to them at the click of a mouse. No longer is the sales force the sole source or gatekeeper of information.
Truly, the power in purchasing has shifted from the seller to the buyer. There is no way around that, and there is no going back. So what is a savvy B2B marketer to do? Adapt or die.
The field of demand generation and social media marketing is a fairly new and burgeoning one, but at its roots, content marketing has been around since Eve was first sold a bill of goods in the Garden of Eden. There, Satan came as a snake and presented to her a case study, if you will, on how great things will be if she just eats the apple. So she does. Then she sells Adam on the idea.
It is more important than ever to develop a strategy to deal with the now-permanent shift in purchasing power. As marketers, we must have a well thought out strategic plan describing who our customers/buyers/users are, what they are interested in knowing at the various stages in the purchasing cycle, and in what format they most want to consume that content.
Then deliver it.