By Maria Geokezas, Director of Client Services at Heinz Marketing

As expected this year’s B2B Forum (#MPB2B) was a boon to B2B Marketers.  Chock full of new ideas and fresh perspectives from industry leaders and practitioners, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.  I’m heading home with a mammoth list of things to share with my team and clients.  The common thread through it all is a renewed focus on the customer.  With the customer at the center of what we do as marketers and sellers, companies are more profitable, faster at getting new products to market and experience higher customer satisfaction.

Another way to think about the funnel

The marketing/sales funnel is not customer focused.  Avinash Kaushik, Digital Marketing Evangelist at Google and one of the event’s keynote speakers, insisted that the concept of the sales funnel essentially “jams people” through to a goal that we’ve designed for them.  He’s got a point.  The funnel is a very effective model in which to think of the mission of B2B Marketing and Sales.  However, it makes us complacent.  In fact, I say we’ve gotten lazy about understanding the customer and it’s reflected in how we work with the sales funnel.  Avinash implored us to look beyond firmographics and demographics – like company size, title, role.  Instead, he proposed a slightly different model where marketers think about intent – where first people see, think, do and care.

  • See – build awareness with the largest addressable intent-qualified audience
  • Think – engage those with a weak commercial intent (like those who might download a white paper)
  • Do – embrace those with a strong commercial intent (like those who have been to your site’s pricing page)
  • Care – retain current customers with 2 or more commercial intents

And he gave a great example of what not to do.  Think about your own intent when searching for something on a mobile phone.  Chances are, you are looking for information, need it for something specific you are doing.  Many companies don’t understand this dynamic.  Instead of presenting information to help further your “see” or “think” intent, they skip to “do” and present a form at first click.  Avinash picked on Salesforce who presents a free trial form from a search query “CRM software”.

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No matter what you click from the search results, you get a form for a free trial.  They want you to essentially hop into bed with them on the first date, before you’d gotten a chance to know each other.  They are jamming you down their sales funnel.

It’s a classic example of what Carlos Hidalgo, founder of Annuitas, warned us against:  “Never mistake a sales funnel for the buyers journey”.

Are you the drunk guy at the party?

In the last 5 years, content output has increased by 78% while content engagement has decreased 60%.  It’s a symptom of not knowing your customer or the process by which they learn about your product and make purchase decisions.  That’s where persona’s come into play.  Katie Martell, co-founder and CMO of Cintell, endorses the notion of operationalizing personas so they can be used to drive decisions throughout the organization.  And she offered a glimpse into what this might look like.

  • Use throughout marketing initiatives – from editorial development and program design to conversion forms
  • Segment your database by persona
  • Expand into sales enablement and service to build better understanding of the buying committee and users
  • Incorporate persona questions within your customer satisfaction surveys to keep them updated and identify new trends
  • Develop persona-focused communities

73% of organizations have personas but don’t actually use them.  For many companies, persona development is done once and then filed away on a PDF.  They are not updated to reflect changes in the customers’ business ecosystem or shifts in the purchase process.  And that’s how you end up sounding like the drunk guy at the party.

Emotions play a role in B2B

Business to business marketers shouldn’t take the emotion out because we are still talking to humans.  Buildings, brands don’t make purchase decisions, people, humans make purchase decisions.  Even though they may be making business decisions, there’s a human-ness to what brought them to seek out your brand/product.  And there’s a human-ness to how they will evaluate the relevance of your brand/product.

Whatever you put in front of the buyer should start with the buyer.  Understand who that person is and what their process for seeking and evaluating solutions looks like.

Too much “we” in B2B marketing

Boring content happens because the product is at the center of your persona.  When planning your B2B marketing, the process is typically:

  1. What we need to accomplish
  2. How we are going to accomplish the what
  3. Who we are going to target
  4. Why we will target them

To be successful, we need to design back from the action we want people to take.  The process needs to be reversed:

  1. Why we exist to the customer
  2. Who this customer is
  3. How they want to be communicated with
  4. What we will do to help them

The more overlap you have, the more relevant your story is to your customers’ and the healthier your brand.  Less overlap means you have less relevancy and a weaker brand.

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But at the same time, make sure you don’t have too much overlap.  When your content universe and the people who consume it have too much overlap, the audience size gets smaller and smaller.  Too little overall and no one is paying attention.  The trick is to balance the depth and breadth of your content with the largest possible intent-qualified audience.

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Campaigns vs Programs

Ardath Albee spoke about the evolution of marketing — from random acts, to campaigns to the continuum of communication.  We need to think of the messaging and content we deliver to our customer along a lead generation continuum.  The buying process can take longer than a campaign.  Campaigns have a start and stop.  If you think of your efforts in the form of programs, it’s quite natural to tell a story that covers the continuum of the buying process.  And the only way to do that successfully is to have customer personas that match content to context. She thinks of personas as “decoder rings” – as the customer moves through their buying process, the context for which they are evaluating your solution changes.  Your content has to match the context, their stage in the decision making process.