In the old days of business-to-business (B2B) selling and public relations, life was simple. You found out who your key decision-maker was, you pitched a story to the publication they read, you created some brand awareness, and you made (or didn’t make) your sale. No fuss, no muss, easy cleanup.
All of that has changed. Today, almost every sale is a complex sale because of channels like search, social, and mobile. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a complex sale is any sale with multiple decision-makers, multiple layers of approval, multi-step sales processes, and longer sales cycles. Traditionally just an enterprise B2B selling phenomenon, the complex sale has spread to virtually all forms of B2B selling in some way.
Don’t believe it? Take a look at this Google/CEB Marketing Leadership Council study of how B2B sales have changed:
The study asked 1,500 contacts at 22 B2B organizations how much of their due diligence and research of a potential purchase was completed prior to even issuing an RFP or asking for information from a vendor’s sales staff. The answer was that, on average, more than half of the decision was already made before anyone called the sales team. Think about the implications of that figure for your business and for your B2B sales and PR approaches. 57% of the decision is made before someone picks up the phone. Where did that occur? You know where: online, through search engines, through reviews, through social networks, through colleagues and contacts at other companies.
That means that 57% of the decision, of the sale, is reliant on what your prospects can find out about you without asking you. By definition, that’s earned media. That’s public relations: getting other people to talk about how awesome you are. A million-dollar sale can be derailed by an intern Googling your company name, finding something unpleasant, and showing it off in an internal meeting on their smartphone. A million-dollar sale could be made simply by having a positive media placement show up in search when that same intern Googles for a list of vendors in their vertical.
Your public relations and earned media approaches must adapt to this new environment if you want PR to continue being a powerful selling tool. Instead of just aiming a pitching effort at the corner office and the media publications they read, you now need to think about influencing the entire organization, or at least the members of that organization that are involved in your sales efforts.
For example, let’s say you’re selling to the CFO. They read BusinessWeek, so the logical old-school approach might be to get some mentions, some hits in BusinessWeek to create awareness of your product or service. However, in the digitally connected workplace, the staff might not just read BW. They might read USA Today or Time Magazine or watch Oprah, and thus, if your business can be found and heard of in the channels that the rest of the staff watches, the chances of your company’s name being mentioned or recognized at vendor selection time is higher than just narrow-target pitching to one person.
Here’s an exercise to try before you talk to your PR agency or team. Take your ideal sales contact at an organization and make a list of the media you think they read, watch, or listen to. Then, when you next make a sales pitch in person, ask for a tour if possible and as you walk around, look at what the other staff have on their desks or screens. What websites are they visiting? What publications are on the coffee table in the lobby or at employees’ desks? Do they match the list you’ve been targeting for media exposure?
The role of PR in the B2B sales process has gone from just having a couple of news clippings in your deck to being an essential part of influencing the purchase decision before you’ve even been contacted. Are you findable? Is your PR helping you to be there before the sale? If not, your PR team or agency has a new mission: to help you be there when 57% of the decision is being made before anyone picks up the phone to call you.
Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Strategy