In a recent post, Laura Ramos observed that business-to-business marketers have long struggled to reach decision makers and measure marketing results. She observed that they may encounter difficulties because they don't spend enough time understanding who their best customers are and what distinguishes them-noting that understanding buyer behavior is much more than conducting customer satisfaction surveys or publishing success stories.
I found her post timely. I've been struggling with articulating the very concepts that she relayed so fluently as I revise own website.
Shorter sales cycles depend on deep customer insights
Like Laura, it's been my observation that B2B marketers often fail to clearly define who their most promising prospects are-and what matters most to them. Yet, until they gain deep insights into who decision makers involve in the buying process, what each stakeholder needs to recommend a solution, and how they need to get it-for it to be useful-sales cycles will continue to stretch out.
I have several theories about why many B2B marketers, especially those in high tech marketing and professional services marketing, don't delve deep into understanding prospects' buying processes. I think one reason is that many have come up the ranks. Having started in other roles, such as engineering, marketing, or administration, many have never had formal training in segmenting markets or profiling prospects or the customer research it takes to understand buying criteria and preferences.
Another reason is that, until recently, B2B marketers haven't had access to a lot of behavioral data from which they could draw inferences. This is changing some with the advent of web analytics which provide some insights into buyer behavior. Nevertheless, there's still a need, not just for market research, but also prospect and customer research.
Web analytics help, but direct conversations with customers and prospects are still essential
Web analytics can tell you who came to your site and what they did once they got there. It's less useful for figuring out whether you're reaching your best prospects or helping you determine the factors that trigger a need for your solutions or create a sense of urgency about acting. It's hard to get that information without direct conversations with customers, prospective customers, and those who have decided not to buy from you.
Prospect and customer research takes time
That said, in many businesses, no one has the time to get the deep insights it takes to drive sales. The product managers often report up through Engineering and are under pressure to get products to market. Although they are usually responsible for identifying customer requirements, their schedules typically don't permit them to perform a lot of customer and prospect research outside of what they learn while doing sales support or attending user groups.
The product marketing managers, who are often charged with understanding customer needs, are also responsible for product-related communications and sales support. Under pressure to support Sales with marketing collateral, training, and lead generation campaigns, they too tend to sacrifice strategic activities to produce the more tangible deliverables others expect them to deliver.
Often, everyone assumes that the company knows enough to move forward-and they end up missing the mark. Other times, however, product managers and product marketers recognize they need to understand more about those who will buy and use the company's products- they just don't have time to do it all.
Fresh perspectives and marketing systems can add focus and speed the process
At BB Marketing Plus, we work with companies to fill the gap. Sometimes it's just a matter of offering a fresh perspective about what it takes to attract better business and increase revenues.
More often, we help companies organize what they know, figure out what they still need to find out, help them get the necessary information, and use that knowledge to help them make the most of their opportunities. Once we've established a framework-and helped them put marketing systems and marketing processes in place-it's much easier for them to gather relevant data and and make effective use of it, on an ongoing basis.
How does your business get the deep customers insights it takes to drive sales? Do you know how to use it make the most of your opportunities? How do you track success?
Written by: Barbara Bix