I recently presented a webinar on Putting the Buyer Back in Your B2B Marketing Strategy. As I spoke about how B2B buyers have changed and the importance of truly understanding them to build sustainable engagement and pipeline, I asked the audience if they have enough buyer intelligence to do this well. Not a single attendee typed an affirmative answer into the chat.
Peter Drucker first talked about customer-centricity in 1954 when he said, “It is the customer who determines what a business is, what it produces, and whether it will prosper.“
Customer-centricity didn’t take hold until the 1990s… Essentially, we’ve been doing this for 30 years, but we haven’t gotten it right yet.
Capgemini research found that while 75% of organizations think they’re customer-centric, only 30% of customers agree.
Ask yourself which of the following definitions is closest to how your organization views its customer-centricity efforts:
- We study customers to extract as much revenue and profit as possible.
- We understand customers so we can deliver what they want and need, improve their lives, and encourage strong and lasting bonds.
Hopefully, you all chose #2.
Understanding Buyers is the Key to Buyer-Driven Experiences
If marketers don’t have the foundation of buyer intelligence to inform a strategic approach with go-to-market strategies, how do they think they’ll achieve their priorities to generate demand and contribute to revenue growth?
Or maybe they don’t.
A recent report, Roadblocks to Delivering a Competitive Buying Experience, found only 33% of all respondents (both marketing and sales) believed they were effective at delivering a competitive buying experience that exceeds buyers’ expectations.
Yet… wait for it > delivering a competitive buying experience ranks as #7 out of eight priorities by marketers in the same research.
Marketers indicated their top priority was knowing which content resonates with buyers, followed by a consistent brand message and value proposition.
It sounds like marketers are waiting until after creation and publishing to find out if their content resonates. That’s wasteful. It’s also probably more bad news than good news.
Buyer research is the cornerstone that drives messaging, positioning, and content. Based on buyer sentiment, we need to be doing a lot more of it than we are.
Here’s a glimpse into what B2B buyers want:
- Content tailored to their buying stage (source)
- Content focused on the problem they’re looking to solve (source)
- Content that educates them to overcome their challenges (source)
- Demonstrated understanding of their goals (source)
- Self-serve digital experiences (source)
Most B2B organizations aren’t giving buyers what they want. Even though most buyers consider content high quality, 77% say it’s irrelevant to them. And only 3% of buyers are willing to go to your sales reps for education.
The way I see it, B2B marketers have a huge opportunity to provide an assist to buyers across the entirety of the buying process — even before buyers become buyers. They’re going to learn what they need to know from someone. If it’s not you, then they’re not likely to become your customer.
By doing the work to get to know them, their point of view about the challenges and problems they’re addressing, and the simplest way to gain the confidence to solve them.
This means you need to talk to them. Not make assumptions based on what you think. You are not your buyer. Even if you sell to marketers, you’re not your buyer. You already know the answer. You’re biased by the “curse of knowledge.”
Talk to your customers, to understand their perspectives, to learn where they go, what they read, view, and share, and who in their organization they must work with to make change possible and prepare to manage that transition.
What outcomes are table stakes and which goals left unmet are deal breakers?
Are you using their words to describe the situation, the obstacles, and the opportunities? Resonance is about how easy it is to relate to your content. This doesn’t mean your content shouldn’t challenge them — it should. But it also must “speak” to them. You want them to feel like you know and “get” them. That’s what using buyer intelligence to inform your content programs can influence.
Acting on buyer intelligence means you also need to understand first-party data. And you need to understand what your systems can’t track that’s impactful. What’s called “dark social.” Let’s not forget third-party data, also sometimes referred to as intent data.
The most important thing to remember regarding data is that it tells you what someone did, not why they did it or if their experience was relevant and meaningful. That’s why data-driven efforts need a human assist. Data is critical for ensuring connection and progression, but as a standalone source of intelligence, it lacks the context you need to improve overall marketing performance.
You also need to continuously help buyers connect the dots from one experience to another. Our job as marketers is to educate, not push products. And the truth is that the better we can educate, the more confidence buyers gain, and the more they choose to advance toward buying from you.
But you must know buyers, where they’re at in the process, what they’re struggling with, to help them. Otherwise, it’s like tossing a life preserver to someone sitting comfortably on a cruise ship sipping a frosty margarita — intrusive and irrelevant.
Building Buyer-Driven Experiences
So, you’ve done the work to understand your B2B buyers — really gotten to know them.
Do not file this information away and check the box as done.
Unfortunately, this is what many marketers do. They go through the exercise as a one-off and then revert to the way they’ve always done things. This is how you ensure that marketing stays a stepchild in the revenue organization.
Instead, put this information to work.
Start by Defining the Story Your Buyers Will See Themselves In
- How do they see the problem?
- Why do they want to solve it?
- What happens if they don’t solve it?
- What do they need to do to make way for change?
- What’s in the way?
- What do they know?
- What don’t they know and need to learn?
- What goals must they achieve?
Use the intelligence you’ve gathered to outline the story with your buyer as the hero. Work from 1 through 8. If the problem is complex, you may need to bite off chunks of the problem and work through solving each part of it. Think digestible chunks or chapters of the story.
If your buyer has multiple outcomes on their list, give them a story for how they get each one. Make sure the stories work together, but also stand alone. It’s likely that there are people on the buying committee with investments in those different stories, but not the overall story your main buyer must navigate.
How can you simplify what they need to do to advance? Remember buyers have a day job that has nothing to do with you. Relevance, context, simplicity, and choice determine the effectiveness of buyer-driven experiences.
Context is critical for engagement and advancement. As you build the buyer experience, consider what they learn during an interaction. Stories are progressive. Momentum builds from past chapters. Context shifts as your buyers learn. Continue to build the story. It’s okay to refresh memories, but make sure you do so concisely and move on to new information. The key to engagement is continuous shifts that help them use the knowledge gained and advance toward the outcome they want.
Remember to connect the dots. While 16% of B2B buyers are frustrated when not presented with the next piece of the story, only 5% of marketers think this is important. Simplify the effort it takes to continue engaging.
Consider that buyers also move backward and forward during the story. Gartner finds that almost three-quarters of buyers circle back to validate past learnings when they ingest new information to make sure what they thought then still holds true, or whether they need to shift perspective due to the new information.
This is one benefit of content hubs. Think pathways throughout your website, as well.
Sales Plays a Crucial Role in the Buyer’s Story
Consider the story your sales team is sharing with buyers. Does it line up with the one you’re telling? Is there a continuous flow of progression? Or does your story turn into a dead-end when sales reps get involved?
It may be surprising that more than half of B2B buyers — 53% — received different information from the website and from sales reps, per Gartner.
That needs to change. This disconnect introduces confusion, frustrates buyers, and breaks flow. All that confidence you’ve helped buyers build to date is now wavering on uncertainty that can cause a stall in advancement.
Given how far back buyers have pushed sales in their quest for a self-serve process, coordination of the story is a crucial component of a buyer-driven experience as it crosses functions internally. Your buyers shouldn’t notice a blip from where they left off with the story you’re sharing to where sales picks it up.
The catch is that sales reps often don’t know the story marketing is telling before they contact a buyer. Over the years, the best way I’ve found to educate them is to provide them with a summary of the buyer’s experience with the organization’s content, social media, and events, along with the next pieces of the story to share.
Using this next information (chapter) of the story as a bridge to conversation can present a compelling reason for buyers to continue engaging. The connection helps buyers maintain a feeling of control and confidence they’ve made the right choice to move forward.
But it’s not as easy as lobbing content at your sales team. It helps if you provide them with the context, the content, and conversational points to use with the content. A Cliff’s Note version if you will. I wrote about this process in my book, Digital Relevance.
Here’s what that might look like:
The point of this coordination between marketing and sales is to provide cohesion and relevance to buyers, strengthen their confidence, and continue to guide them in “driving” their experience.
Intelligence and Coordination Strengthen Buyer-Driven Experiences
Building buyer-driven experiences that transport buyers from investigating a problem, how to solve it, and embracing change depend on the strength of your buyer intelligence. Guessing isn’t going to get you there. Assumptions… well, you know what happens there.
Commitment to change must be your buyer’s choice. To get there, the experiences they have with your brand must be relevant, address their context as it shifts over time, be simple to engage with, and allow them to choose what to do next — with your guidance.
B2B marketing must step up to the need to educate and guide our buyers. While they want control and self-service, they don’t know what they don’t know. Yes, we can influence net new revenue with our programs, but the winning outcome for us is to build buyer-driven experiences so effective that your customers have no regrets and look forward to remaining your customer because they gain value that grows over time.
The better your buyer intelligence, matched with your ability to enable your sales team to continue the story, the more value attributed to marketing across the organization based on the resulting growth achieved.