By Jennifer Nagy
Small businesses, especially those in the startup phase, spend a lot of time focusing on how they can boost sales. They have sales pitches drafted, teams hired to do the legwork and incentive structures established to incentivize their sales staff to do their best. But one important factor that has a huge impact on the success or failure of a sales pitch is often overlooked: brand awareness.
Before I explain why brand awareness is one of – if not the most – important factors affecting the sales cycle, let’s go back to the theory.
The 5 Stages of the Customer Buying Cycle
Customers, no matter whether they are purchasing a B2B or B2C product/service, go through a five-step process when purchasing. Each customer moves through the five stages in order, but each person may take a different length of time to move from one stage to the next. Let’s look at each stage in greater detail.
Stage 1 – Need Recognition
As the name implies, Stage 1 is when the consumer identifies the need/problem that is causing them to make the decision to purchase. It is very important that brands consider what the need that their potential customer would be trying to fill. Only by figuring out a customer’s needs, can you ensure that your marketing materials either explain how your product/service solves their need, or makes them aware of it in the first place and then subsequently explains how it can be solved (using your product/service).
Stage 2 – Information Search
Again, this section is pretty self-explanatory. In this stage, the potential customer does research into products/services that could help them solve their problem or address the need that they identified. This is where brand awareness becomes so important. I’ll explain why in a moment.
Stage 3 – Alternative Evaluation
In this stage, all of the options are evaluated in order to make a final decision on which product or service to purchase.
Stage 4 – Purchase Decision
Again, this one is self-explanatory. The decision – and the purchase – is made.
Stage 5 – Post-Purchase Behavior
This is the stage in which the consumer evaluates the product/service and purchase.
The Key Benefits of Brand Awareness
Before beginning the initial research (in Stage 2), consumers will wrack their brains to see if they are already aware of a company offering the solution that they need. Before doing a Google search to cast a wide net for potential suppliers, they will research the companies that they already know of, and will often use these companies’ offerings as a baseline to compare all other products to during this stage. If potential customers are aware of your company, product or service, you are more likely to be one of the final vendors that they evaluate (to determine if they want to purchase from you) in Stage 3 of the customer buying cycle.
Brand awareness greatly reduces the time that it takes to complete the sales cycle as well. Imagine that you are a B2B technology provider, offering a revenue management solution to hotels. Your company has been writing expert articles for your company’s blog and various industry publications for years, so your company is well-known in the industry, at least by name. Even though customers may not know exactly what you do, they do know that you are an expert in revenue management because of the helpful tips that you’ve shared in your past articles.
Because they already trust that you are expert, they are more likely to respond positively to a sales pitch, even one that results from a cold call. It will take less convincing to get them to move from Stage 3 (Alternative Evaluation) to 4 (Purchase Decision), making it faster and easier to convert a potential customer who is already aware of, and who already finds your company credible.
How B2B Companies Can Create Brand Awareness
The two most effective ways that B2B companies can create brand awareness is using content marketing and public relations (PR). A combination of the two will be more effective and will always cost less than traditional advertising, especially for a start-up or those with small marketing budgets.
PR is a marketing tactic in which a company pitches stories to journalists about their company, product or service, with the goal of stimulating editorial coverage. Editorial coverage is the same as an endorsement from a journalist, who are known to be required to adhere to strict ethical standards in terms of accurate, fact-based reporting. This type of endorsement (especially if your company has secured many placements in a variety of trade industry publications) will ensure that your company is at the top of the shopping list when hotels start searching for a new supplier.
Content marketing is a marketing tactic in which a company creates and distributes informative and engaging content with the intention of driving action (in this case, either enquiring about or purchasing a product or service). For B2B suppliers to the hotel industry, content marketing is a hugely valuable marketing tactic because many hotel trade publications (especially the online publications) are willing to publish articles written by guest authors on topics related to their area of expertise. It is important to note that these must be educational articles that provide hoteliers specific tips on how to improve their operations, increase occupancy/revenue, etc.; focus your articles on educating hoteliers about whatever problem or need your product or service solves for hoteliers, but keep in mind that it cannot be a sales piece and cannot mention your product or company by name (except in the byline and blurb about your company at the end of the article).
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