Content Marketing, Inbound Marketing

The End of Solution Sales: What This Means for Marketing

I came across an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review that discussed the end of solution sales – The End of Solution Sales – Harvard Business Review – which upon initial review had me more than a little concerned. As you well know one of the most important tasks of a B2B marketer is to communicate to customers the benefit of the firm’s offering (the suite of products from various divisions that provide customers with a solution that addresses their needs economically).  Yet, here we have an article from a reputable source saying that way of marketing is on its way out. So I read further to get to their central idea:

“The hardest thing about B2B selling today is that customers don’t need you the way they used to. In recent decades sales reps have become adept at discovering customers’ needs and selling them “solutions”—generally, complex combinations of products and services. This worked because customers didn’t know how to solve their own problems, even though they often had a good understanding of what their problems were. But now, owing to increasingly sophisticated procurement teams and purchasing consultants armed with troves of data, companies can readily define solutions for themselves.”

That sounds familiar; especially considering how much information is now readily available online, the increase in the number of decision makers that play a role in the purchasing process and the increase in the importance of clearly understanding the economic impact of purchases. So what is a solutions marketer to do? Do we go to ground and retreat back into the features-and-benefits marketing model? The simple answer is — no. This means that we have to do these three things really well:

    1. Get out in front an use thought leadership to educate customers about the problems they are aiming to solve
    2. Engage customers earlier in their decision making process so we are in their minds early in the information gathering process
    3. Provide them with timely content in the places that they frequent to learn about products that will ultimately make up solution they need

Long story short, think of it as the heroes journey narrative — the hero has a problem, they go on a quest at the end of which there will be a great battle, along the way they meet people and collect tools that will help them in the final battle, and it all culminates in the final conflict where the hero emerging victorious. Wait, what?! Think of it this way:

1) We use thought leadership to highlight the challenges they face and the perils they will have to overcome to be successful (the story is told from their perspective)

2) We insert ourselves early into their discovery journey by participating on the channels that they frequent during their decision making process (the heroes journey)

3) We syndicate our content to inform them of the tools we provide that will help them in the final battle (the tools they collect on their way)

The final battle of course is when they put out bids to vendors for ‘solutions’ and ultimately the negotiation table. If we use these methods the customer will believe they have arrived at the decision on their own through their own research but the reality will be that we were with them all the time. So yes, while the idea of a solution sell at the RFP stage is probably going away, the solution sell is not — it just starts earlier.

How Inbound Marketing Can Keep Solutions Selling Alive [INFOGRAPHIC]

Content Marketing, Inbound Marketing

Inbound Marketing: Does It Apply In Healthcare?

Anyone who follows the healthcare market has read about the impact of healthcare reform and the associated focus on reducing healthcare delivery costs. You’ve also seen the ripple effects of this new focus; as healthcare providers focus on costs they now demand proof that new technologies or “solutions” offered by medical equipment manufacturers provide a measurable improvement in the service they are trying to deliver to the healthcare consumer. Long gone are the days when providers were willing to pay for new products that weren’t clearly differentiated from existing offerings.

Healthcare Providers Are Becoming Savvy Researchers

Healthcare providers are also becoming savvier. They have a better understanding of their purchasing needs. This is due to the proliferation of peer-to-peer forums, group purchasing organizations and information from medical equipment manufacturers. And then there is the internet. Now providers – like consumers in many other industries – have a wide array of online resources at their disposal to research the landscape of products available from a wide array of manufacturers.

In my recent blog post entitled The End of Solution Sales: What This Means for Marketing I discussed the impact of B2B customers becoming savvier in gathering information. The title of the post was somewhat disingenuous – the solution sale isn’t dead. Assuming that B2B customers come to the bargaining table with little information? That’s dead.

Inbound Marketing in Healthcare

Today’s B2B customer (including healthcare providers) does their research before engaging with vendors. This puts pressure on medical equipment manufacturers to deliver proof points about their products and services in the venues that purchasers use the research offerings.

If this all sound very familiar it’s because this is the basic tenet of inbound marketing which relies some key steps:

    1. Creating information (content) that answers your prospect’s questions
    2. Syndicating that content such that when prospects search for answers during their consideration process your content gets found.
    3. Continuously creating engaging content that reinforces how your product/solution addresses their needs.
    4. Driving prospects to a solution (yours) or location (your sales rep or website) where they can continue the evaluation process or purchase.

The key, of course, is understanding the questions healthcare providers will have about these products. These questions usually revolve around clinical and economic evidence. Therefore, content will usually take the form of clinical studies, procedural videos, key opinion leader papers, clinical webinars and product specific collateral. Once the right content is ready the next step is ensuring your content is available where your prospects are looking for answers.

For consumers this search typically begins with Google, YouTube, blogs or socially-powered product review sites. Healthcare providers, being consumers as well, initiate their searches in similar locations but also turn to industry specific resources as well. This is where it becomes important that content strategy, search engine optimization, social media and customer marketing teams are closely aligned.

Breaking Down Marketing Silos

In her blog post Why Only Adaptive Marketers Will Survive Rebecca Lieb of the Altimeter Group writes about the impact of different marketing functions acting fiefdoms:

“Real-time insights, optimization, and shared learnings that inform other initiatives (not to mention that inform their own work) are an impossibility in vertically organized, hierarchical organizations. Enterprises must be able to move as quickly as their customers do. This requires bold realignment as well as informed empowerment.”

Her example focuses on combining centers of excellence in strategy, content creation, search engine optimization, syndication, social media and analytics into a combined demand generation function. The benefit of this COE approach is improved execution speed and effectiveness while reducing duplication.

This is not an easy task – nothing worthwhile is – but the benefits are clear. When inbound marketing is done right and executed in sync with a solid content strategy, customers will seek out your solutions because through their research it has risen to the top of the list; often, before they’ve even engaged with you.

Inbound Marketing, Thought Leadership

Peer To Peer Marketing – Applicable to Healthcare? (More on MOFU)

What is MOFU you ask? It’s a term I borrowed from HubSpot’s CEO Brian Halligan and it stands for Middle Of Funnel (where the funnel is defined as: Awareness > Consideration > Trial > Purchase > Loyalty). MOFU activities are all about driving prospects to trial and ultimately purchase.

Consider how you make purchase decisions in your day-to-day life; you typically research your options (usually online), narrow them down to a core set of products/services and then you research customer reviews on that product. The web makes this process fast and 24/7. We certainly see this trend accelerating in healthcare from a patient perspective (selecting a doctor or treatment) but what of this can be applied to the decision making process of HCPs (health care providers) and economic buyers?

I would argue that this is already happening. The Harvard Business Review article entitled Customer Reference Programs at The Tipping Point” the author posts these key questions to consider, the answers to which should help identify the state of peer-to-peer marketing programs:

  • Which of our customers would key buyers most like to learn from? How many are references and advocates for us? Do we have enough to make the launch a success?
  • Have we engaged our references and advocates in long-term relationships? Or do we just contact them when we need something — like a sales reference, blog post, testimonial, or media interview?
  • How long does it take our social media, PR or marketing people to find our customer advocates when they’re needed to rebut a critique or attack, or talk to a media interviewer?
  • How long does it take our sales people to find customer references when they’re needed to close deals? How often do they fail to find a suitable reference at all?
  • Are we taking advantage of new advocacy technologies that can do things like automate organization and packaging of customer testimonials and other customer content?

Read the full article here: Customer Reference Programs at The Tipping Point (MOFU)