Match Energy Marketing to Needs Across the Buying Journey
This is the final article in a special three-part series on marketing to today’s energy industry.
Expectations for marketing in today’s energy industry have been raised. It’s no longer enough to create awareness and generate leads for sales follow-up. Marketing is now expected to contribute to top-line revenue growth, providing clear evidence of ROI. But to increase the impact on overall business success, the role of marketing must expand to support each customer’s total buying journey and overall experience with the brand.
Energy industry buying processes for capital equipment, critical operating supplies, oil field services and other strategic purchases can extend for months or even more than a year. Those decisions are often influenced and validated by multifunctional internal committees, as well as by third-party consultants, contractors or others with a stake in the final decision. In larger organizations, formal procurement standards must be met. Risk is high, as the consequences of major decisions can be felt for months and years. Business profit and careers can depend on successful outcomes.
To meet the challenge, your marketing must effectively influence and improve the ways your brand engages with prospects and customers at each stage of the energy-buying process. This journey progresses from awareness to consideration to deliberation and purchase, culminating in vendor management after the sale.
The process isn’t always clearly sequential, and buyers can follow unique paths back and forth as decision-making progresses. But by recognizing that the information needs of prospects vary depending on where they are in their personal journey, you can improve the way your business identifies, develops and converts prospects into customers—and cultivates follow-up sales—driving higher revenue and profitability and earning stronger customer loyalty.
Stage 1—Engage Prospects Before They Start Looking for You
The buying process often starts before prospects even know they want to buy, because many are comfortable with the status quo and unaware that a problem or opportunity exists. If they haven’t set goals and defined criteria for potential solutions, they are unlikely to think of you or seek your assistance. If you wait to hear from them, the call may never come. In today’s online world, buyers can complete nearly 60% of the buying cycle before engaging your salesperson,1 a trend many refer to as the “hidden buying cycle.” Timely engagement is essential, because if you aren’t on their radar early, you risk being left out of the conversation entirely.
In part two of our series, we described the importance of disruptive educational marketing in launching new-to-the-world solutions. A proactive, educational approach is also important to support sales of mature products. Your knowledge and expertise can help frame prospects’ purchasing criteria, create brand differentiation and preference, and mean the difference between capturing the value of your solution versus competing on price.
Take control of the hidden buying process by delivering the ideas, insight and other information prospective customers need to address unmet business challenges. Help them become aware of new technology and best practices and enable them to learn from the experiences of others. Frequent, broad audience exposure is required to capture prospects’ attention and help ensure hidden influencers are exposed to your messages.
Support of, and participation in, activities and events sponsored by industry groups—such as SPE—can provide immediate credibility. LinkedIn groups, publications and websites serving participants in the energy industry can also help you deliver educational content where prospects prefer to receive it. The same channels can also help you learn more about your targets and their needs and begin a collaborative dialogue before they are ready to buy.
Remember, prospects want to investigate independently before inviting your sales pitch. Support their preferences by focusing first on their informational needs and not your commercial messaging. Earn their engagement in the early stage of their journey and you can gradually cultivate interest in your solution, bringing hidden sales opportunities into the light of day.
Stage 2—Earn Their Consideration
Even before you begin the quest for awareness in Stage 1, you’ll need to build a platform to nurture prospects’ consideration of your solution. Start with a robust website with content that supports independent research preferences and fulfills interest created by your early-stage marketing.
Because it is likely to be the first point of contact, your website must perform the developmental selling role once played by your salespeople—educating, answering questions, offering success stories and endorsements, and telling your complete brand story. If you are new to the market, it’s an opportunity to build confidence in your capabilities, competence, experience and staying power. For established brands, it’s a chance to showcase innovation, reinforce relevance and extend a welcoming image to new customers.
Search engines play a key role in earning consideration for your brand and leveraging your targets’ interest in specific subjects and/or their awareness of your solution to deliver prospects to your site. Understanding their needs is critical. To earn the highest rankings in the most relevant searches, your content should anticipate and answer the most important questions your prospects have.
To accelerate sales engagement, take advantage of opportunities to offer valuable content in exchange for customer information. Serious prospects will reveal their identities willingly and open the door to sales engagement in exchange for knowledge and expertise that can help them make a better purchase decision. Offer in-depth white papers, case studies, how-to guides and other thought capital to entice them to visit your site and engage more deeply with you.
Prospects that choose to remain independent often look to trusted third-party channels to identify options. Listings in quality industry directories, participation in media coverage of your product category, tradeshow exhibits and promotions, online advertising, traditional advertising and paid search are among the vehicles you can use to ensure your brand is visible where prospects are actively looking.
Stage 3—Support Their Deliberation
If you have gained their awareness and cultivated their interest in Stages 1 and 2, it’s now time for marketing and sales to work closely together to respond to prospects’ requests and help them make the right choice. When the sales force takes the lead, marketing support is essential to ensure your messages are presented consistently and effectively to support the brand image you carefully built in the first two stages. Continue to combine education and selling in the presentations and other sales tools your sellers will use in the field. Arm them as subject matter experts with white papers, case studies, collateral and other materials that add value to each sales call and set your brand apart from competitors.
Provide interactive tools that make it easy for prospects to profile their needs, identify key decision points, test variables and assumptions, and otherwise navigate the decision process. Use the tool to encourage prospects to share information that enables you to tailor a solution. By engaging their in-depth attention, you’ll also open the door for your experts to provide valuable direct consultation.
The deliberation stage itself can take months and may involve field trials, laboratory tests and other lengthy validation. Support your developmental sales effort with narrowcast, personalized marketing that helps prospects make fully informed decisions that mitigate any fear of risk that could be holding them back. Deliver enewsletters that share news of the latest customer successes, describe best practices for implementing your technology and reinforce your overall value proposition.
Personalized email can be used to provide special offers or to channel attention to new content on your website. Invite prospects to attend educational webinars hosted by your resident experts. Host special events at tradeshows and online for your best prospects and plan physical or video demonstrations or other dynamic presentations that make their attendance highly worthwhile.
While reinforcing the value proposition for your product or service, don’t forget to also emphasize your quality, reliability, service and support capabilities. All of your messaging should help build confidence in both your solution and your brand.
Stage 4—Elevate the Customer Experience
When the sale is closed, the customer’s experience with your brand is just getting started. Nowhere is this more true than with purchases involving major capital equipment, extended service engagements and other after-the-sale supporting relationships that can last for years. By investing to create a positive brand experience, you’ll increase customer loyalty, opening the door to follow-up sales and their positive endorsements and referrals—low-hanging sales opportunities you’ll harvest more quickly and at less cost than cultivating new sales prospects from scratch.
Your close relationships with customers can also drive future innovation and profit, creating opportunities to collaborate on high-value, tailored solutions or next-generation products or services with broad market appeal.
Contribute to a richer customer experience with communications that increase the closeness of your relationship. Showcase your latest thought capital and company news with customers before you share it with broader audiences of prospects—it will demonstrate how highly you value them. It can also ensure that sensitive information is not delivered with a negative spin by competitors. Exclusive customer-only newsletters, email updates and announcements, special offers, webinars, hospitality events at trade shows and conferences are just a few of the ways you can add value as part of their daily routine.
Regular customer surveys can help you identify unmet needs and areas for improvement before competitors seize the opportunity to get involved. If your relationship involves frequent transactions or the need to share information on a timely basis, create a secure online portal for each customer to make it easier to manage your business together and increase engagement with your team. For maximum convenience, make the portal a one-stop source for all of your thought capital, FAQs and key contact information. Offer immediate online access for urgent support requests.
Shape Your Marketing to Their Journey
The buying journey for prospects in the energy industry can be lengthy, complex and hidden from your view. By recognizing that buyer information needs and preferences change as their personal journeys progress, you can improve the way your business cultivates new and follow-up sales—driving higher revenue, customer loyalty and profitability.
At Blue Flame Thinking, we apply deep energy industry experience to help you successfully engage and sell innovative technology to oil and gas decision makers. See how similar optimizations led to a 34% increase in web traffic for another client now: http://bit.ly/1XhceUK.
 “The Digital Evolution in B2B Marketing,” The Corporate Executive Board Company, Marketing Leadership Council® in partnership with Google, 2012, page 2.