B2B marketers struggle to reach decision makers and measure marketing results

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?

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2 Responses to “B2B marketers struggle to reach decision makers and measure marketing results”

  1. Rob Leavitt says:

    Great post, Barbara. Customer insight has probably never been as important for B2B marketers as it is today, given intensifying competition, buyers increasingly in control, and accelerating innovation — but the effort required, as you say, is far too often cut short.

    One relatively easy place to start, I’ve found, is with your key accounts. Of course you want to deepen insight across your customer base, but we all know exactly who our most important accounts are, and the payoff from investing yet further time in understanding their specific challenges can be larger and faster than with more generalized efforts. Even starting with one or two accounts can be valuable in terms of identifying new opportunities, inspiring new solutions development, and building stronger relationships that have dividends across the organization. It’s by no means the only way to go in deepening customer insight, but for folks trying to figure out how to get going, it can be a great place to begin.

  2. Hi Rob,

    Thanks for your note and for starting the conversation on your blog. You make a good point here.

    I, too, believe that the best place to start is with your most loyal customers. They know you best and probably have the deepest insights about where and how you can better meet their needs. Moreover, it’s a way to show that you care.

    Many companies believe that they already understand what their best customers want. After all, these are the accounts with whom they have the greatest contact.

    Nevertheless, most of the conversations that company representatives have with these customers are in the context of a particular product or situation, rather than a deep dive into what the customer’s overall priorities are. As I alluded to in a related post about determining the highest value your company’s solutons deliver, what you ask often determines what you learn.

    I’ve seen broader conversations, of the type Rob recommends, reveal unmet customer needs that the inquiring company was already addressing. The needs went unmet because the company wasn’t aware that the customer had the need–and the customer wasn’t aware that his department already owned the solution he was seeking.

    Another fruitful area of inquiry is asking about wins and losses. It’s one of the few chances you get fresh information on how your solution compares to that of the competition–from people who were actually qualified to buy. Despite this fact, less than 20% of companies perform this type of analysis, and those who do generally just debrief a few prospects on what worked and what didn’t.

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