This week marks the first stop in our new B2B Marketing University series -- a program we're taking on the road to help educate marketers about a rapidly-changing B2B environment. We have great content and great partners for Palo Alto (and also for our upcoming events in Boston, Atlanta and Seattle) that will cover a number of new strategies and tactics for addressing these dynamics. (Hope you'll join us.)
Success with these new strategies and tactics requires embracing the context surrounding the 'brave new world' of B2B marketing that we face today. In particular -- and at the core of this brave new world -- is a changing B2B buyer. I've covered this in two recent blog posts -- one post looking at the data that supports a changing buyer on my Propelling Brands blog and a second post here on the Demand Generation blog that captured some of the implications. "[I]t's impossible to talk about a changing environment for marketing technology without talking about how the nature of the B2B buyer also is rapidly changing," I noted in my Propelling Brands post. "The two are inextricably intertwined in a new reality that is both a cause and effect of the digital age we live in."
Recognizing, understanding and responding to this change at a buyer level substantially helps focus our marketing programs. It reminds us that being 'buyer-centric' is critical and that effective B2B marketing -- given a permanent shift in buyer power -- must mold around this process and respond to buyer pull, rather than attempting interruptive and disingenuous 'push' tactics.
"In the future [marketing] is all about conversations," commented Richard Bush of Base One at an EMEA B2B conference for Silverpop I hosted this past week in London. (BTW -- If you are interested in checking out our B2B dialogue in London last week, do a Twitter search under hash tag 'SVPcc09.')
This is the context I've covered in my past posts. But how can B2B marketers better respond to this evolving environment?
Given this question, what I wanted to do with the rest of today's post is to take this to the next logical step and explore ways that we as marketers we can put the buyer in the center of our programs.
What are some of the core principles for building more buyer-centric marketing programs?
I've been collecting insights over the past few weeks -- both from reports and texts I've read, as well as from direct interactions with B2B marketers as I've been on the road. What appears below are an emerging set of seven principles I think are a good start toward making sure your B2B marketing programs are as buyer-centric as possible.
1 > Make sure you have a complete picture of your buyer's information-seeking behavior -- both upstream and downstream: This may seem like an obvious place to start, but this perspective too often gets lost in the mix. If we're talking about being buyer-centric, then buyer insights must drive our B2B marketing. We should be designing dynamic campaigns that are anticipatory, that take advantage of gaps in the buyer-education process and that are constructed more as dialogue than as a battle-like 'campaign.'
I often refer to this as 'critical path analysis.' It can be complex to put together, but it helps to clarify the mediums, messages and voices appropriate to engaging with a buyer at all stages of dialogue.
Some questions I would ask: Where do buyers start their search for information? Where do they move from there? And after that? What channels do they leverage for advice, to shape their idea of what they need and to identify which vendors are ideal candidates to meet this need? Which communication channels are accessed at different stages of the buying process? What is the nature of the 'dialogue' at each stage.
Modern B2B marketing is so much more than mere 'lead generation.' Successful marketers are shifting to managing the upstream buyer dialogue ... but you have to know who you're talking to and how to effectively engage with them, based on where the buyer wants to take the dialogue.
2 > Rationalize your strategy for marketing communication (and for sales team engagement) against your buyer's critical path: Once you have a real sense of your buyer's behavior throughout the pre-sales information-seeking process, you're ready to make choices. And you should. It's a waste to spend budget on any communication medium that does not align with this process.
Identifying these correlations can take some work. It's important to go back and look at past marketing activities and then run correlation analysis and regressions against those activities that were most predictive of buyer conversion. I'll say, too, that this can be difficult to get a complete picture of, but it is one benefit of a robust marketing automation platform -- the ability to track activities, to map them back to purchases and then to be able to run cross-tabulation against this activity.
If you're doing this analysis prior to deploying a marketing automation platform, then this may require correlating multiple, disparate data sources -- ranging from sophisticated databases and transaction registers to random spreadsheets. For instance, you may have to go back and compare registration lists from Webinars to who became a customer. Your analysis should also look at the timing and pacing of buyers' campaign interactions.
This analysis can be a lot of work, but it is worth it. It also can prove to be a good excuse for engaging the sales team in the dialogue -- getting their perspectives on tactics and campaigns (such as a white paper or a specific event) that had really good results.
3 > Use personas to get leverage in your buyer-centric marketing program design: The reality is that you probably aren't going to be able to analyze and identify every single critical path for every single situation, which means you can't develop an infinite number of campaigns to cover every eventuality. So then the question becomes one of how you can better scale this strategy and program design. I believe a critical tool is the concept of persona -- a concept Patricia Seybold has long been an advocate of and that has even more relevance than ever today.
In a nutshell, personas allow you to identify and define common critical paths that exist -- assigning a persona that estimates this average path for a given segment of buyers. Defining personas also will tell you a lot about the segmentation of your customer base. So it serves a dual purpose -- focusing both strategy and tactics. It's also important to note that good persona definition covers all of the bases -- demographics, implicit/behavioral characteristics and core BANT (budget, authority, needs and timing) insights.
"We live in a time when customers are under unceasing pressure to do things more quickly, to cram more into each day," comments Seybold in a May 2001 Harvard Business Review article. "By thinking broadly about the challenges your customers face, rather than narrowly about what you can sell them, you can almost always find ways to make their lives easier."
Persona definition ideally should include significant sales team input. Persona definition also can be coupled with lead score model development. There is a critical link between identifying the characteristics of a persona and of mapping that back to an effective lead score model -- a critical element of improving your overall lead management strategy.
4 > Pay attention to content; keep it fresh and grounded in specific personas and their critical paths: In B2B marketing we often are guilty of developing marketing communication materials that attempt to speak to anyone and everyone; moreover, we often engage with materials that are out of sequence from how a B2B buyer prefers to operate. (Take a look at an average B2B company's website!) This is a missed opportunity to improve your buyer-centricity. Content development is one of the top issues B2B marketers face, but it's often because they develop content in a vacuum.
Understanding your buyer and developing personas to scale your buyer interactions not only helps you rationalize the mediums and tactics you deploy, it also helps you rationalize the text at various stages. For example, whether an e-mail should come from a marketer, a sales person or a product/service representative depends on the message being delivered and how far along in the process a buyer is. The voice of sales is absolutely appropriate the further along a prospect gets in his/her process, but it can be totally inappropriate earlier in the process.
Keys to managing content include: 1.) rationalizing against personas, 2.) speaking to the proper buying stage, 3.) choosing the right voice and (perhaps most importantly) 4.) keeping the content fresh and relevant to the current buying environment. Content must be current to the themes and issues marketers are facing right now, not a week or month or year ago. Being in the moment is critical.
5 > Start (but don't stop) with e-mail: There is no question e-mail is one of the best mediums for managing buyer-centric marketing programs. Hands-down, no question. E-mail is dynamic, trigger-able and personalize-able. E-mail is also very cost-effective and has great ROI. Finally -- and most importantly -- e-mail is unquestionably a common-denominator when it comes to your arsenal of communications tactics. Every B2B buyer communicates via e-mail these days.
E-mail also is an important external and internal 'bridge' in B2B marketing communications. Externally, e-mail is a critical medium for communicating in the middle 1/3 to 2/3 of the buying process. In fact, this is why e-mail nurturing programs are so effective. It's a low-risk way to communicate between a buyer doing initial research upstream and wanting to have a sales dialogue downstream. Internally, e-mail can serve as a great starting place for developing true dynamic campaigns and for building sophisticated marketing automation.
Yet e-mail does not exist in a vacuum. It's a great place to start, but it's important to consider what role e-mail plays in your buyer's process versus other channels. It's also important to engage the buyer via these other channels and to sync e-mail activities so that they're part of integrated marketing communication.
6 > Leverage a strategic lead management approach to help keep it running smoothly: Operationalizing buyer-centricity means thinking about the repetitive activities, steps, gates and hand-offs that define the development of a lead from the rawest stage to being ready to purchase. As marketers we are going to shape this lead by managing buyer-focused dialogue upstream, but we need a way to manage this process and to measure our in-process results.
Lead management is the right strategy for this -- helping to codify and put quantitative characteristics against leads, their stages and their appropriate routing. Key aspects of lead management include: information capture, scoring, routing, nurturing and monitoring. (These are fully explained in a lead management strategy workbook developed by my colleagues at Silverpop. Click here to download this if you're interested.)
By helping to manage and measure the progression of a lead, lead management is a critical link for managing buyer-centric marketing campaigns and to making sure that buyer dialogue is most appropriate to where a buyer really is in his/her process.
7 > Embrace processes and systems to enable you to scale your buyer-centric marketing programs and to achieve efficient lead management: I'll say it. It's impossible to manage mass one-to-one dialogue and execute near-100% buyer-pull campaigns without the right platform. You just can't. Particularly if you want to get to any type of granularity around personas or want to dynamically score and route leads. And especially if you're dealing in a highly-multi-channel context.
There is so much potential to refine the results of your marketing -- once you've got a buyer-centered strategy -- but there is no way to realize that potential without the right processes and systems.
This is the key role a marketing automation platform plays in effective B2B marketing in the current environment.
What are your own experiences with building buyer-centric marketing programs? What do you believe are best practices to embrace? Please share your thoughts.