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Better prospect intelligence: What B2B Marketers Can Learn from Blind Men

Better prospect intelligence: What B2B Marketers Can Learn from Blind Men

In My Face

A colleague recently asked, “With all the data available to us now, what role, if any, does qualitative research play in b2b prospect intelligence? Isn’t that ‘old thinking’?”

Somewhat in my face, and a tad confrontational, but a good question. To answer the question, I had to take a step back. While stepping, I tripped over a memory of the poem “The Blind Men and the Elephant” by John Godfrey Saxe.

Elephants and Prospecting

In this poem, 6 blind men go off to find out what an elephant really “looks like”. Each blind man is given an opportunity to touch this strange beast, each from a different angle. Each, per their limited experience, develops their own mental image of an elephant – perhaps a tree, a spear, a fan – and then they talk.

So oft in theologic wars, the disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant not one of them has seen!

The argument stops just shy of physical violence. No agreement is ever reached. The point is that data analysis leads to just one view of our prospect.

The Elephant in the Room

The prospect is the elephant in the room, and no one perspective, no one point of view yields a true and complete portrait. There is no monopoly on insight, grasshopper.

A three dimensional view of our prospects can only be achieved by a three-sided equation:

  1. Data analysis adds an important dimension in recognizing what prospects are doing now. It’s immediate and improves targeting and enables greater efficiency. However, it doesn’t provide depth to the “who” and the “why” of the behavior, which leads us to include Sales’ internal intelligence.
  2. Internal intelligence – Sales talks to the elephants all day long, every day. They experience how prospects interact with their company. Let’s tap into their real-world knowledge, both of the individuals and the specific accounts. How do prospects articulate their issues.

To complete prospect intelligence Marketing needs more depth on the real people who we are calling prospects.

  1. Persona research. Creation of a prospect person, or personas, based upon new qualitative research, yields the human insights into the individuals who comprise the buying center, their own values, perspectives, and agendas. It takes the learning from behavioral data analysis and inside intelligence and matches it with motivation.

Full Circle

All of which is to say that one point of view can be true, but not account for the totality of situation. Putting data analysis together with internal intelligence and persona research, we start to get a glimpse of that strange and wonderful beast.

Or, as the great marketer Groucho Marx once said, yesterday I shot an elephant in my pajamas. What he was doing in my pajamas I’ll never know.

Listen – Here are 6 Ways to Gain a B2B Prospecting Edge

Listen – Here are 6 Ways to Gain a B2B Prospecting Edge

While conducting Net Promoter Score (NPS) research for a b2b technology client we asked the president of an operating division of a large multinational the following, “you gave our client the highest NPS score, what is the greatest benefit you get from them?” The answer, “our salesman”.

Listen to This.

Why? “Because he listens and is proactive in helping us solve our issues, whether it’s high level and strategic, or tracking a delivery. He’s proven his loyalty to our company, and to yours, and he is an irreplaceable asset.”

Let’s take those first three words and roll them around for a bit. “Because he listens.” Where, in our marketing process, do we listen? Anyone?

Our Prospects Built the Wall, and We Paid for It

In general, marketing does a crappy job of listening. We’re great at talking. In fact, we have marketing automation which throws broadcast mode into overdrive, enabling the relentless efficiency of generating outbound communications. Our prospects (and prospecting is the bulk of any marketing budget) have responded by conducting an ever-increasing percentage of the consideration process without direct engagement. They built a wall around themselves to protect them from the predatory barrage of unfocused and irrelevant marketing messages.

Unless we break this cycle, it’s constant escalation. Things aren’t working so we fire out more stuff and the wall gets higher. The only way to change the game is to stop, take a breath, and listen. Only then can you see the world through your prospects eyes.

6 Ways for Corporate Marketing to Open Its Ears

Experience says there are 6 ways that corporate marketing can increase the effectiveness of b2b prospecting by opening our ears to what prospects have to say. In our experience, these comprise a compelling competitive advantage:

  1. Manage your database as if it is the single most important lever to marketing success – because it is. If you do not have your prospects’ and customers’ correct contact information, well, you can’t contact them. Marketing Sherpas estimates that b2b data decays at about 2% per month, which jibes with our hands-on experience. That’s 24% per year. Maintaining the accuracy of the database must become a corporate priority.
  1. When someone opts in to your blog or newsletter they’re not acting out of idle curiosity. Treat this as if opportunity has just knocked on your door, because it may have. Introduce yourself. Thank them for stopping by and opting in. Ask them a simple question to help you provide more value, such as are you interested more in the financial aspects or technical, and then deliver on it. Send them off with something of value and remind them how to reach you with questions or comments. Most times when I opt-in I get nothing. Zip.
  1. Ask a question as part of every interaction with every prospect. The question may be as basic as let me please verify your email address, or as complex as how do you articulate the problem you are trying to solve. It’s got to be appropriate to the prospect’s stage in the consideration process and to the level of trust that has been built. It’s got to be part of a consistent program of listening and learning more. (Hint: you can’t establish trust without listening. Doesn’t happen.)
  1. Rep for a day. If your company has a call or response center, key marketing personnel should spend a day a month on the phone. Marketers are responsible for starting the conversation, but they rarely speak directly with prospects.
  1. In the same vein, key marketing personnel should spend a day a month riding along on sales calls, not as a silent observer, but with a list of questions and a report to write.
  1. Regularly conduct new and external prospect persona qualitative research. Engage prospects in directed conversation designed to help you understand how you can provide competitively differentiating value. Don’t view the persona as an end product – it’s an archetype, a vessel so that the data you put into your marketing machine is substantially better. Figure that your marketplace is changing at least as fast as your database is decaying.

No One Cares About You

Remember that not one of your b2b prospects cares one whit about your product or service, the colors it comes in or how wonderful you think it is. They only care about one thing, themselves. Listen and learn, or snooze and lose.

Marketing as Smog

Marketing as Smog

Many b2b prospects have expressed that unfocused marketing communications are noxious – clogging the air and littering the landscape, substituting quantity for quality, volume and weight for insight. Surely, if our message is everywhere, and if we speak loudly, our prospects will flock to our door. Sure – ask the people of Mexico City or Beijing, how’s that breathing thing coming along. Ask them about the view.

I think marketing is doing way too much talking.

We’re Not Listening

A great deal of marketing is rooted in what automation can do. It seems to be on the step just above enablement. The automation is so incredible and so efficient at getting out the message that it must be effective. It’s marketing success in a box and it’s easy to focus on technology as the righteous road. If we use the technology well, we will succeed. I think this easily brushes aside the reality that it’s a lot messier and murkier out there.

Companies articulate, and struggle to solve the problem at-hand through the fog of culture and an ever-changing array of requirements and contributors to the process. Their consideration journey is serpentine and idiosyncratic. B2b is, and always was, about people. We can’t really learn more about the people if we are talking.

Your Product or Service Is Completely Beside the Point

I may not have all the answers, but I know that many buy decisions are not based on attributes, the features and benefits of your product or service. Those appear to be table-stakes. Preference and commitment are the drivers, and they are based on taking ownership of the problem and helping the prospect to solve it, in their way. Borrow their glasses to see. Walk in their shoes to understand. Put their hat on your head. Listen to what they say and how they say it.

If marketing is coming up short on its potential, and I believe it is, it’s because automation has us stuck in broadcast mode.

A Cool Breeze Blows Away the Smog

Companies have learned some of the most amazing things when they begin the process of structured conversations and active listening.

  • One company learned through prospect persona research that the words and phrases they were using were communicating the absolute wrong (and opposite) message.
  • Executive decision makers told another company that the product wasn’t a fit as promoted, but it would fit in a different application (not anticipated, or even previously known).

Structured and active listening must become a process and not an event. It’s about not conducting research every fifth year – unless profits are high or money is tight. It’s about doing it every day.

Clearing the Air

I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve seen enough to know that this is the righteous path. Consider this:

  • The decision making process is getting longer, more complex and more of it takes place prior to engagement. I think a contributing factor is that marketing is not delivering sufficient value.
  • Does the number 3,874 ring a bell? It’s ChiefMarTec’s tally of the number of marketing technology vendors, which feels like we’re tipping into hyperbole. Perhaps we should give each qualified prospect a seat and suggest they design the communication stream that fits them best. It’s a reasonable guess that we’ve got all the automation we need right now, and that improvement will only come with upgrading the garbage that goes in.
  • In a research interview on behalf of a technology client, I asked a CEO the most important benefit he got from my client. He said, “my salesman”. I’m certain that you can’t achieve that without listening.

The absolute answer is a moving target. There is no silver bullet, no one size fits all.

The marketplace is in a constant state of flux and moving forward requires agility. Success lurks in our commitment to listening and learning and adapting to our prospect. There are brave marketers out there who continue to test this agility and push the envelope. Let’s begin a dialog and share experiences.

The b2b process is personal, and marketing success is about listening to those persons. We can’t lose sight.

 

*Originally posted on the MENG blog


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International author, lecturer and consultant, Scott has worked with clients in all phases of marketing strategy, research and implementation. Read More

Part 3: Commitment – Boost Results 10% to 20% Now by Making Your B2B Website Smarter

Part 3: Commitment – Boost Results 10% to 20% Now by Making Your B2B Website Smarter

This is the third in a 3 part series on how you can make your website a lot smarter, and work a lot harder.

Three Critical Success Factors

I can’t give you the dissertation on smarter websites, but I can share these the three critical components of smart websites:

  1. The Prospect to Product Connection
  2. Metrics that Matter
  3. Insurance

We’ve covered CSF 1 last week, here are 2 and 3.

CSF 2: Metrics that Matter 

There are primary metrics, secondary metrics and tertiary metrics. The primary metrics are the ones that leverage increased interest, engagement and conversion. They are:

01fbf6a9-071f-4178-8aab-67b441356b65

Unique visitors, and we can narrow this down even finer, unique visitors from targeted accounts.

Action. The clearest way of measuring engagement is when the visitor takes action, or responds to one of our offers – get information, ask a question, download a white paper. We’re not looking for just any action here, but the ones that correspond to key junctures in the consideration journey.

Conversion. Are we converting visitors to leads, and leads into sales.

CSF 3: Agility

Let’s talk about the difference between goals and strategies. The goal of the smarter website is to increase attraction, engagement and conversion, and that doesn’t change. Strategy, however, has to change. It has to get smarter as we get smarter through experience. Which leads to agility, or the ability to listen, understand and respond.

I know it sounds like work, but think of this as an insurance policy and not a gym membership.

Agility requires us to:

  • Give up the “campaign” or project orientation. We’re not done learning just yet. I know the tendency is to say, thank goodness the website update is done – I don’t have to worry about it for the next 2 years. However, agility, if it truly is a competitive advantage, takes what we’ve learned and puts it into immediate practice.
  • Refresh key prospect insights regularly. Opportunities are regular win / loss analyses, and yearly net promoter score (NPS) surveys (with a qualitative component).
  • Pay attention to the right things – the metrics that matter. Industry benchmarks are interesting, but your own baselines are what really matters. Movement in the primary metrics is evidenced in the secondary and tertiary metrics. Therein lie the clues to improving performance.
  • Take action. If you learn something, do something.

As an added bonus, a recently published study by eMarketer (7/19/16) finds that companies that commit to agile marketing, embracing significantly shorter development and execution cycles, see workflows and outcomes improve. Marketing management also cites agility as critical for responding to disruptions in the marketplace.

What’s In It For Me?

In our experience, companies that have re-oriented their website have seen a 10% – 20% improvement in the website’s contribution to bottom line results – engagement, leads, and sales – within the first 6 months. Improvement from there is all in your hands, and in your commitment to agility.

This is a lot more than bright colors and a mobile-friendly orientation. This is about solid returns on your investment. It is a journey that starts with a line in the sand and a change for the smarter.

The Next Step 

Actually, there are two next steps:

  1. Get a better grip on the prospect-centricity of your website by taking our website self-assessment. Looking with Your Prospect’s Eyes
  2. Give us a call and let’s kick this around.

*I’d like to acknowledge the help and assistance of Wayne Cerullo, Phil Shelp and Andrew Schulkind in developing this post.

This series is adapted from a post originally appearing on the MENG blog.

Part 2: The Unrealized Potential – Boost Results 10% to 20% Now by Making Your B2B Website Smarter

Part 2: The Unrealized Potential – Boost Results 10% to 20% Now by Making Your B2B Website Smarter

This is the second in a 3 part series on how you can make your website a lot smarter, and work a lot harder.  

In our experience, companies that implement these ideas have seen a 10% – 20% improvement in results – engagement, leads, and sales – within the first 6 months.

Consider this:

dreamstimeextrasmall_26813612Your website does not stand alone, but must be part of a larger marketing effort, from email marketing to social media and integrated with your CRM or marketing automation platform to personalize each prospect’s experience based on their interests and past interactions, moving them along the consideration journey. 

Your website should address the needs of each audience segment separately. Once you’ve identified which executives contribute to the purchase decision, populate areas of your site with information that most directly addresses their considerations. 

Your website must provide strong competitive differentiation based on who your prospects identify as your competitors and stressing the differentiators they find most compelling.

Three Critical Success Factors

 I can’t give you the dissertation on smarter websites, but I can share these the three critical components of smart websites:

  1. The Prospect to Product Connection
  2. Metrics that Matter
  3. Insurance

We’ll cover CSF 1 today, and 2 and 3 next week.

CSF 1: The Prospect to Product Connection

Let’s get very serious about what connects your products to your prospects. What is the insight on how to win your prospects and not just identify them when they cruise by.

New external research with current prospects and customers will generate a prospect persona for each of the contributors to the buying center. Each is an archetype, with substance, form, and personality. They provide a window into a company’s consideration journey and buying process.

This research also generates a Key Prospect Insight (KPI) which provides the competitive superior insight into these real people regarding their needs, information behavior, attitudes, and motivation – the prospect to product connection, which drives segmentation, personalization.

Prospect personas drive:

  • Persona-lization, or the website’s ability to speak directly to the individual/persona.   
  • The account persona, or an overview of all participants and a map for how the account moves through the decision cycle, who is involved and when.
  • Persuasion-oriented content. Tell the visitor, by persona, why they should care, why they need to change to solve their issue, and why should we change to you.  
  • Positioning. Use the KPI to identify the big idea. Communicate the big idea. Roll out the big idea.

The Next Step

Actually, there are two next steps:

  1. Get a better grip on the prospect-centricity of your website by taking our website self-assessment. Looking with Your Prospect’s Eyes
  2.  Look for next week’s post, Part 3: Commitment 

*I’d like to acknowledge the help and assistance of Wayne Cerullo, Phil Shelp and Andrew Schulkind in developing this post.

This series is adapted from a post originally appearing on the MENG blog.