Walk A Mile In Your Buyer’s Shoes With B2B Buyer Ethnography


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I love these new shoes.

I love these new shoes. (Photo credit: fuzzcat)

It began, as history can best record, as a proverb of the Native American Cherokee tribe.   Which said, “do not judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.”  This proverb had been rephrased, reshaped, and reworded many times as a way to communicate.  What matters though, is the truth of this proverb.  To truly know someone, you must walk a mile in his or her shoes.

Increasingly today, B2B buying decisions are heavily weighted towards perceptions about a brand’s promise and experience.  Oftentimes, gaining clues about buyer perceptions and experiences with a brand is not an easy road.  What many B2B companies are learning, albeit at a much slower pace than their B2C cousins, is conventional research means are not working.  Focus groups are basically out of focus.  Win/Loss interviewing is plagued with validity problems.  Surveys barely scratch the surface.  Elongated quantitative market research results in too many pie charts.  And, big data can be – well too big.

Technology Driving Changes In B2B Buying Behaviors

To truly get to know your buyers today, walking a mile in their shoes can be a window into their world.  This is a world impossible to know when using conventional research.  Or, when relying on more traditional sales or product management as the source of feedback, it comes up short.   The idea of walking a mile in your buyer’s shoes, for B2B, is becoming a matter of survival.  Why?  For this reason:

Technology is drastically changing every facet of B2B business operations.  Causing a ripple effect on operational and buying behaviors.  Altering how businesses are operating today as well as drastically changing individual goals and values.

It appears many of today’s CEOs agree.  In a recent PWC survey, 86% of U.S. CEOs say changes in technology are driving the most changes in business operations.

The Power Of Observation

With technology changing every facet of B2B business operations, it makes it hard for buyers to articulate clearly how and for sellers to understand the changing dynamics in buying behaviors.  To gain insight today, B2B organizations will need to tap into the power of observation.  Using the research discipline of ethnography to understand the situations confronting buyers today.

The power of observation allows us to use several ethnographic research techniques combined, such as interviewing, field observations, and contextual research, to observe the real world situations of buyers.  Providing us a window into the challenging situations buyers’ experience.  These methods help us observe and learn how buyers are affected as well as how they are impacted emotionally.  Things you cannot learn in a survey or through win/loss phone calls.

Decoding Buyer Experience

What is becoming more evident today is buyer experience is becoming more in line with a holistic human experience.  Social media and digital technologies are also creating a cultural phenomenon in businesses today we have not witnessed before.   The way people work and interact is vastly different than just five years ago.  The power of B2B buyer ethnography is to help us understand not only how behavior has changed, but to understanding the important meanings associated with changed behaviors.

For CMOs and CSOs today, to make informed strategic decisions requires knowledge of how buyers work and why they make decisions within new situations.  Needing the insights, which B2B buyer ethnography can provide, on decoding the actual real world experiences of buyers.  Taking the guessing out of planning.

The Fit With Buyer Insights Research And Buyer Personas

Since the origins of buyer personas, I have advocated the need for and the power of using the discipline of ethnography for understanding buyers.  The use of this discipline has been and always will be a core building block of the house buyer personas are built upon.  The core of buyer insights research or rather the ability to gain the deepest buyer insights rests with how an organization chooses to use the power of B2B buyer ethnography.  In cases where buyer ethnography was used in my work with organizations, the buyer insights and buyer personas were richer and more robust.  And, in some cases, game changing.

While understanding the needs of buyers today in long established terminologies related to their priorities or criteria’s is important, this approach alone does not help.  Profound buyer insights come from understanding the underlying nuances related to goals, values, emotions, feelings, attitudes, perceptions, and situations.  The very nuances needed to decode the human side of business today.  And, buyer personas are designed to communicate these insights and convey the human side of the buyer’s experiences.

New Framework For Understanding Buyers

Sorely needed is a new framework for understanding buyers today.  CMOs and CSOs, to make sound informed decisions, require new perspectives on buyer goals and the human side of business.  Gaining an important understanding of context.  Context on not only how businesses are impacted by changing technologies, but also getting new contextual understanding of how the individual buyer and human experience is changing.

B2B buyer ethnography provides such a framework.  B2B organizations will not be able to survive without tapping into this power at some point.  And, it means tapping into the required research expertise needed to get true unfiltered insights into the emotions and human side of changing buying behaviors.

To truly know buyers today, you must walk a mile in their shoes.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Tony Zambito
Tony is the founder and leading authority in buyer insights for B2B Marketing and Sales. In 2001, Tony founded the concept of "buyer persona" and established the first buyer persona development methodology. This innovation has helped leading companies gain a deeper understanding of their buyers resulting in revenue performance. Tony has empowered Fortune 100 organizations with operationalizing buyer personas to communicate deep buyer insights that tell the story of their buyer. He holds a B.S. in Business and an M.B.A. in Marketing Management.


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