Marketing psychology can make all the difference when selling to businesses. Our family-run website was trundling along happily. We had a few hundred people on our mailing list, around 50 visitors a day and, through the sale of advertising, we made a couple of hundred bucks a month.
Not a bad little hobby.
But what if we could turn it into a business? A real business that produced enough profits to pay a salary and grow our audience?
We came up with a plan to sell advertising to the businesses that served our niche. And, on paper, it was a perfectly sound business model.
But there were problems…
- Our traffic was minimal.
- Our website was basic.
- We had virtually no budget to spend on advertising.
And my biggest concern was that we had no sales or marketing experience. If we were going to sell advertising, we were literally going to have to call these businesses on the phone and convince them to invest in us.
Was there anything we could do or say that would capture their interest (and their cash)?
What happened next changed my perspective on business-to-business (B2B) marketing forever.
Business People are People Too
One of the major things I discovered on this project is that business owners, and employees who work at a level where they can make purchasing decisions, are generally savvier about marketing and sales techniques than consumers.
But the difference is less than you might imagine.
As I discovered, their susceptibility to the effects of marketing psychology is just as pronounced as any other industry I’ve worked in.
In PART ONE of this article series we considered that selling to businesses is easier and more profitable. And this is only amplified by the fact that marketing psychology appears to work just as well in the business-to-business (B2B) sector as the consumer sector.
Because, for the most part, business people…
…are just people.
Ordinary, hard-working people with a job to do. If you can demonstrate that you can help make their job easier and more fruitful, you’re 90% of the way there.
The rest of it is just sound marketing principles.
1. Scarcity (time-limited or number-limited offers)
When I first started working on our family website, I had no understanding of marketing and I had to get up to speed quickly. I took an online course with a well-known UK trainer and I signed up for newsletters with as many Internet Marketing-related websites as I could find.
One of the things I learned is that people like special offers. And they’re more likely to buy them if there are a limited number available, or a limited time in which to purchase them.
So, I constructed something along those lines. I decided that our website wouldn’t sell advertising, it would sell Sponsorship Packages.
And instead of being a single advertising slot, it would offer a whole range of different perks, for an entire year, for a single payment. It included things like premium listings in our directory, banner advertising in our newsletter, a commitment to publish any of their press releases and case studies…
Basically, a whole list of goodies. Whatever we could think of, we added it to the package.
And, critically, we made it clear that we would only ever sell a maximum of 24 packages.
Our thinking was that the marketing people we contacted would jump at the opportunity to be able to get a whole year’s worth of advertising for a single fee. And since there were literally thousands of businesses serving the niche, we figured competition for the limited set of sponsorship opportunities would help them come to a swift decision.
Then we started making phone calls, beginning with the companies who were already paying us a few bucks a year for an upgraded directory listing.
2. Social Proof (what is the competition doing?)
The hardest part was convincing people to purchase a sponsorship package, not based on our current, rather pathetic, traffic numbers, but what we were convinced we could grow this number to over the next 12 months.
Some people laughed us off, for sure, but one or two (to our amazement) agreed to purchase a package.
I’ll never forget speaking to the owner of one business on the first day we hit the phones. He asked me how many packages we’d sold so far. Trying not to sound embarrassed, I told him we’d sold one. He replied:
“Well, now you’ve sold two.”
Along with the basic package, we were offering an upsell that allowed for sponsorship of specific sections of our website. He took our most expensive slot, the homepage. That was when I started to believe we might actually pull it off.
Once we had a couple of businesses on board, things became easier. One company made an instant decision to purchase one of our packages when they learned that their biggest competitor was already on board.
We often talk about social proof as being a peer or an authority recommending a product. But sometimes social proof can be about fear of being left behind.
3. Liking (meeting face-to-face)
Our hope was that, as long as we made the first year memorable, most of our sponsors would renew the following year. To help things along, we sent regular updates to our sponsors outlining what we were doing to expand our website and our audience, and where we were having success. Our visitor numbers, for instance, quickly went from dozens a day to hundreds a day.
But that wasn’t enough. In the B2B world, no amount of emails and phone calls can beat meeting face-to-face and shaking hands. To that end, we attended a number of exhibitions during the year and made sure to visit our sponsors. We made much of the fact that we were a small family business, and I’m sure that contributed considerably to people’s desire to continue supporting us with their business.
4. Consistency (renewable sales opportunities)
There’s nothing wrong with one-off sales, but it makes life so much easier if your product or service includes a renewable element. Despite hiking our prices for the second year, most of our sponsors renewed.
We contacted them a couple of months before the year ended and set a deadline for their renewal decision, explaining that we needed time to find a replacement if they decided not to renew.
One or two dropped out, but most renewed. And, in many cases, with little or no discussion required. In most instances, the cost of our sponsorship package was only a fraction of their marketing budget, and we were continuing to offer a whole year of advertising and other perks for a reasonable, one-time fee.
Business people, like everybody else, like consistency. If something works, and you can just check a box to say that you want to carry on for another year, it’s an easy decision. In years to come, we would have businesses delay the renewal decision because they wanted to discuss it or look more closely at the offer, but often the deadline came up before they found time and so they just renewed rather than miss out.
And here’s the kicker…
Business people will often stick with something they know doesn’t work, simply because it’s easier. I know of one business owner who used a particular supplier for years, despite their shoddy work and bill-padding, simply because he knew them and didn’t want to take the risk of turning to another provider and having a worse experience. He literally used the phrase, “Better the devil you know…”
Eventually he ditched them, so I wouldn’t recommend delivering a bad service and relying on people’s reluctance to change. But this illustrates that if you provide a good service AND a nice consistent plan for people to buy into, you stand an excellent chance of keeping your clients on board.
Along with the strategy of “liking,” comes the strategy of “reciprocation.” We often tried to over-deliver for our sponsors – for example, we took a camcorder to events and interviewed our sponsors, creating short promo videos that they could use. This was in the early days of YouTube and online video, and helped them feel that we were giving them something new and fresh.
The more you can give your clients more than you promise, the harder it is for them to refuse your business.
But reciprocation works in lots of other ways as well. In fact, it was reciprocation that gave us almost unfettered access to all of the major players in the industry, as well as marketing opportunities, without having to spend a cent.
In PART THREE of this article series, I’ll outline the strategy that can be used to get inside access to almost any industry.