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The core reason b2b prospecting underperform. Why prospect personas represent opportunity?

The core reason b2b prospecting underperform. Why prospect personas represent opportunity?

The core reason b2b prospecting underperform.
Why prospect personas represent opportunity?

By Scott Hornstein

There’s a very obvious reason b2b prospecting efforts underperform – a reason that we easily and conveniently overlook every day of the week. Let’s take a closer look at our myopia, and how to move forward.

Underperformance is baked in

The overwhelming majority of people working on any given b2b marketing campaign have never seen, met or spoken to a customer, nevertheless a prospect. They may have a basic understanding of the business issues, but they haven’t a clue about the people. They are separated, a gap to a chasm, from the often-conflicted humanity of the individuals that make the decisions.

We are not fishing on the shores of Lake Abundant – it’s harder than ever to differentiate ourselves – to find, nurture and motivate the prospect as the world becomes increasing atomized.
The b2b prospect is the most elusive, with a long consideration journey that takes place, for the most part, prior to any direct engagement. They have almost completely insulated themselves from most marketing messages. So, who are those guys? What do they want? How do we get it to them? Perhaps we should ask.

Getting to the truth

Many companies utilize personas – archetypes or synthesized summaries, which are based on qualitative research with real people in this position about their characteristics, specific information behaviors, attitudes, motivations, and goals. Personas have generated great success in b2c. Here’s an example from Per Tom Spencer, a very experienced marketing executive,

Best Buy had devoted a lot of time and effort to strategize
their customer centricity campaign. They developed personas
to help each store take the goals and bring them right down
to the ground. Overall, this campaign generated a
double-digit improvement in sales.

We think persona’s greatest potential is in b2b prospecting.

B2B is an emotional sell

Personas have one thing that reports and presentations do not. Personality. In the words of Stuart Taylor, SVP of The Nielsen Company “B2B has always been an emotional sell”. This can put the personality on the planning table, and can serve as a point of reference, if not agreement, between marketing and sales.

Understanding a buyer’s persona has helped to identify what is most important and how to successfully deliver services to keep the buyer interested in the future.”

The Power and Potential of Personas

We conduct annual proprietary research among marketing professionals to begin to understand, and benchmark, how companies are using personas, where and how they have been effective. The yearly report is called The Power and Potential of Personas.

As we examine the potential of personas in b2b prospecting, three points jump out:

– Well over half (63%) agree completely or very much that personas
have become a permanent strategic tool for them

– About a third (35%) report that personas are very or extremely effective

– Over a third (37%) report that personas deliver a competitive

The biggest frustration with buyer personas is that they are not respected or appreciated (37%). Relatedly, others say they lack strategic impact (13%) or don’t advance prospect understanding (13%).

The reality is that for over half (53%), buyer personas helped them discover important new insights or corrected faulty assumptions.

How and why they work

The finding that there is an incredibly strong link between persona effectiveness and the use of external persona research continues to be strongly supported.

  • Over the last two years, fully 89% of persona that were judged very or extremely effective were based on new external research.
  • Similarly, all 86% of the personas judged “ineffective” were not based on any new external persona research.

I addition to the main decision-makers, personas must also be created for those that influence and recommend.

“The persona work we completed for a client helped them change the way they viewed their customers to a much more nuanced understanding of their customers’ motivations, goals and behaviors and who participates in the evaluation and recommendation process. They are in the process of redesigning their go-to-market process as a result.”

Are personas the marketing silver bullet we’ve been waiting for? How you’re your use of personas benchmark against the industry? Send us an email and request the latest report, Power and Potential of Personas 2017. We’re hard at work analyzing the data.

Strategic Readiness is the Key to Creating a B2B Marketing Advantage

Strategic Readiness is the Key to Creating a B2B Marketing Advantage

Strategic Readiness is the Key to Creating a B2B Marketing Advantage
By Scott Hornstein

My partners and I are consumed with answering the question: how can marketing create compelling competitive differentiation, by itself. We’ve spent the last few months reviewing our case studies, brainstorming, and bumping our shins.

We start off assuming that the product (and the company) is a leader in quality and innovation. However, marketing touches the prospect before they’ve had first-hand experience. If they will lend us an ear, if we can then create a conversation, engagement happens sooner and with an aura of the expectation of satisfaction.

Aha + Tools + Agility = Strategic Readiness

Our journey has led us to a working theory on how marketing can create this competitive differentiation. I’m going to lay it out as simply, and in as few words as possible. You tell us if it passes the sniff test.

The foundational construct is what we call “strategic readiness”. This is when marketing has everything it needs to create this compelling competitive differentiation. There are 3 legs that give this concept stability. You have to have all 3 to pass GO.


Creating a series of “AHA” moments. This involves talking, and carefully listening to prospects and customers, with intelligence and empathy, to gain a deeper understanding of who they are as professionals and people, how they define their needs, and their criteria for a decision.

Each “Aha” moment is a moment of truth. If you are in B2B, and/or market a high consideration product or service these “aha’s” are high value insights.

We find the persona process to be uniquely strong in helping us to gain the insight we need. Per Adele Revella of the Buyer Persona Institute:

“When buyer personas evolve from authentic stories related by actual buyers – in the form of one-on-one interviews – the methodology and presentation allows you to capture the buyer’s expectation and the factors that influence them.”

One could say it’s like getting the answers before the test. Another way to look at it is – we are privileged to know and work with the smartest marketers. But none of them are clairvoyant.


Marketing technology may be the tools we’ve always dreamed of, but you need the persona to know how to use these tools.

“Knowing our customerand communicating with them in their language,in the places they goin an appropriate way… everything else is tactics.” – Peter Bell, Product Marketing Senior Director, Marketo

MarTech appears to be an area of critical concern, where adoption and deployment are often without the Aha or the Agility, and often result chronic underperformance. A recent poll undertaken by our organization reveals that 90% of marketers are realizing less than 50% of the potential of their MarTech investment. Strategic readiness is the cure.


The term originates in Latin and then surfaces in Middle French and Middle English to mean nimble, fleet, quick. We hear agility mentioned as an attribute of an athlete – the quickness of motion.

Marketing must be agile as a core competency. As we looked through our case studies we found an obvious, but distinguishing trend: the persona process frequently revealed that the emperor was wearing no clothes, that some basic assumptions, some widely held beliefs were dead wrong.

– One company found that their “tried and true” positioning for Market A, told decision makers in Market B exactly what they did not want to hear.

– One company’s product innovation was revolutionary, if not disruptive in a risk-averse market. They learned the appropriate entry point.

– One company entered a new market touting that the benefits of their recent release (11!). The decision makers didn’t care, they wanted the basics (release 1).

This is like open source code. We’re putting it out there and relying on all those really smart marketers we mentioned before to co-develop this. Put a comment here or hit me up at scott.hornstein@b2ppartners.com.

Do You Have a Marketing Strategy or Just Marketing Automation

Do You Have a Marketing Strategy or Just Marketing Automation

Do You Have a Marketing Strategy or Just Marketing Automation
By Scott Hornstein

Corporate decision-making is messy, confounded by perceptions, expectations, and personalities, with individual and professional motivations that often conflict. And, depending on who you listen to, 60% to 70% of the b2b sales process now occurs before the prospect engages in sales.

Marketing must stretch its intellectual tools to find and nurture prospects through more of the realization and qualification process until we have created a sense of preference.

Said differently, if your strategy is marketing automation, all you are doing is pumping out stuff, only a tiny fraction of which may actually be relevant. It is unlikely that a prospect will engage based on the sheer tonnage of communications.

If, however, your strategy is to align your marketing with the needs and preferences of your prospect, as they express them, then you are providing true value, and it is that value that will tip the scales.

Let me tell you a story about a really smart technology company with disruptive technology for the enterprise. They have come up with a longer lasting, more powerful, smaller, cleaner way to store and retrieve energy, in counterpoint to batteries, which can be noxious, are large and occasionally fail. Did I mention that this technology is new and thus has not been tested over time? And, because we are early in its lifecycle, it’s also expensive.

The impact on the industry could be huge. Think of a company’s data center. In case of an outage, most rely on lead-acid batteries, which cost a lot of money to maintain and have a shorter life expectancy.

To get real-world input to the marketing plan, this company engaged targeted executives in purposeful conversation, or an evolved form of prospect persona research designed to bring clarity to prospecting. The goals:

  • Identify high-potential prospects and low-potential prospects
  • Understand their information behavior – how they learn or don’t learn
  • Assemble the information into human form, to drive messaging and focus sales and marketing

Here’s what the research revealed – the decision making process in all its beauty:

  • The CEO only cares that he has a signed agreement regarding how many micro-seconds it will take for all of his critical data to be back online if there’s an outage. Doesn’t care how it gets done. Has a say in the final purchase decision.
  • The CFO is open to the concept of buying an expensive, superior technology to decrease the cost of ownership, but is under short-term pressure to push down costs. She is wary of being on the bleeding edge of technology. Get the vendor info through purchasing. She signs the check.
  • The CIO is very experienced. He lives and breathes data recovery. Losing power is his worst nightmare, and he’s survived a few. Batteries have always saved him. This makes him unlikely to “cross the chasm”. His peer network is his primary source of information on innovation (the engineers are his second). He also learns online, at executive-level events and from the trades, which he skims online in the office and reads at home on paper. If interested, he assigns indepth research to his assistant. He’s involved with key vendors, leery of others. He makes the purchase recommendation.
  • When exposed to the technology, his remark was “unproven”. He was specific about the testing and results that might eventually get him to try the technology, if not change his mind.
  • Engineers are voracious, gobbling bits of information from their favored websites, communities and social media. Always curious, looking for new ideas, innovative technologies that do things more elegantly – better, cleaner and faster. If an idea intrigue, they research (and they were very specific regarding the information they require), valuing anonymity until convinced. They feel a responsibility is to champion such innovation to the CIO.
  • When exposed to the technology they were impressed but cautioned that the data center’s batteries were unlikely to be ousted anytime soon. Instead, they brainstormed, what about use in remote installations, like switching stations on top of mountains, where they are critical to operations and maintenance is almost impossible.
  • Purchasing is responsible for vendor evaluation – both initially and ongoing – and their recommendation is part of the decision making process. They get their information from trade shows, vendor presentations, and online research. They have an uneasy relationship with Engineering.

These results, to me, are a beautiful thing, an intellectual and technological road map for marketing and sales to sit side by side and combine their energies. Marketing to sell.

Why marketing automation systems underperform and what to do about it.

Why marketing automation systems underperform and what to do about it.

Why marketing automation systems underperform
And what to do about it.

When both my girls lived at home I had a wonderful idea – let’s have a family calendar.

We’re all bumping knees – I didn’t know you had a swim meet; your aunt’s birthday is
next week; yes, Mom’s working Saturday. This would be a the week at a glance, a sketch of the month to keep us on track and off each others’ nerves. And if we put it on the computer, everyone has instant access.

Didn’t work. So I tried printing a blank calendar and putting it on the refrigerator. Everyone could just write stuff. Didn’t work. For a very basic reason – it can’t work unless everyone contributes.

Same with marketing automation. Without the participation of each individual, you’re not going to get its “calendar” – a window into your prospecting detailing the touch points, in sequence, and the outcome of each. A fantastic tool to ratchet up effectiveness and efficiency.

There’s a catch: sales and marketing barely speak, which is a bit more than just a speed bump. Per recent Forrester research, 50% of marketing initiatives under perform because of lack of organizational cooperation. As Pogo says, ‘we are confronted by insurmountable opportunity’. Moreover, “we have met the enemy and he is us.”

This river of organizational discontent, separating sales and marketing, runs deep. It’s called culture. Culture is tradition and history, is deeply ingrained, passed along and eats change for lunch. Do not underestimate its power.

Realizing the incredible potential of marketing automation requires a working partnership between marketing and sales, trust and respect driving cooperation and dedication, which is, unmistakenly, a change process. Successful change requires persistence and imagination. I’d like to suggest three strategies that will set the table for a banquet that all will attend.

  • 1. Sales must be meaningfully integrated into the marketing process now and forever more.

Sales has perspective you’re not going to get anywhere else. They’re talking to the marketplace every day. If sales has the opportunity to contribute to each phase of the process, from planning to analysis, everyone benefits. Here are two critical areas:

Prospect Persona development to gain insight into the people that make the business decisions. We need sales’ contribution to goals, questioning, potential offers, and analysis.

Lead definition – when is a lead worth the time and effort of a sales person. Everyone in the room gets a vote, but the only vote that counts comes from sales.

Remember – sales integration is a process, not an event.

  • 2. There must be shared measurement and reward.

Measurement and reward must be consistent with the goal. If our goal is shared work for a better outcome, measurement and reward must be in lockstep. Both departments must be measured, and rewarded, by contribution to the sale. Corporate initiatives that are neither measured nor rewarded happen only once.

Marketing can’t get away with generating leads and tossing them over the wall. Sales must have measurable contribution to generating, and thus ensuring, a high quality lead. Then marketing automation can be accepted as an enabler, and not a hammer.

  • 3. Change only happens from the top down.

Management needs to walk the talk, and provide both the carrot and the stick consistently and over time. They must make it clear that the train has left the station, and that if you’re not on board, well, you’re not on board. Occassionally, they may need to give change a good hard shove.

I would point to Asigra, a developer of backup and recovery software, as having implemented a best-in-class, real-world solution. Tracy Staniland, then-Vice President, Corporate Marketing, provides an overview,

“We are huge supporters of and believers in marketing automation. Sales and marketing have agreed on a Service Level Agreement, including the lead score threshold for when MQLs (Marketing Qualified Leads) can be relabled as SALs (Sales Accepted Leads). We regularly check the system and continuously improve.”

Now, with all that said, will these same principles work with my daughters? Not a chance. (Can you say “Dad” with a world-weary sigh?)

How to Heal the Achille’s Heel of Marketing Automation

How to Heal the Achille’s Heel of Marketing Automation

The Achille’s Heel of Your Marketing Automation Dream: Sales Integration

Automation offers a window into the ultimate effectiveness of your marketing efforts. However, there are two underlying levers which can make this dream come true, or completely undermine your efforts. This post will address the first – the achille’s heel of sales integration.

No matter which marketing automation platform we’re talking about, we’ve got to have the buy-in, dedication and full participation of each individual sales person to make it work. This may be news to you, but sales and marketing barely speak. They are each in their own silo.

The epicenter of this disconnect is as much measurement as a culture. The long tradition of otherness, of an entrenched distrust between the departments, is underscored by hard metrics for sales – did you close? How big? – and the relative softness of marketing’s metrics – awareness, inquiries, leads.

This disconnect is most evident in lead follow-up. Marketing generates a quality lead (in their opinion) and tosses it over the wall to sales, who immediately assign it second-tier status. Our experience, across industries, is that sales follow up between 30% and 34% of the leads marketing produces. For this automation to be effective, we need 100% follow-up and sales’ dedication to updating the automation with quality data. Which kind of casts a pall on all that “window into the ultimate effectiveness” stuff.

Sales must engage – here’s how.
Here are what to do – our 7 steps to success.

Step One: Sales must have a seat at the marketing table, for two reasons:

  • They have broad experience and expertise that would otherwise be unavailable
  • If they participate in the planning, they have “skin in the game” and will be held co-responsible for results

A strong, respected representative of sales must be involved from day one in the marketing planning process.  Sales must contribute to analyzing the results of previous efforts and planning new ones, strategy development, setting goals and objectives and the co-responsibility for achieving those goals and objectives. Then automation is an enabler, not the demon.

Step Two: Sales contributes to Prospect Persona research.

Personas bring clarity to prospecting, providing actionable insights that may not come out in quantitative research. Personas bring sales and marketing together with their audience by turning percentages into people with whom they can relate. Personas shine a light on prospects’ information behavior.

It’s critical that Sales be involved in determining: the goals and objectives; selection of interviewees; the areas of questioning; and, of course, potential offers and/or events to be pre-tested. Which leads us to Step Three.

Step Three: Sales contributes to offer development.

Sales are talking to customers all day long about their needs, your products and services and the competitive environment. This gives them unique perspective when it comes to offer development. Marketing may propose that a low-level offer is desirable because it attracts many inquiries. Sales may feel that the many include competitors, students, and dead people. It’s a good discussion to have – if sales’ doesn’t support an offer, it isn’t likely to succeed.

Step Four: Sales reviews connected content.

The content that we generate must be connected to our prospects – it must satisfy, entertain and convert.

We are not advocating that sales assume the responsibilities of Creative Director, graphic designer or copywriter. We are, however, asking for their street-smart input and feedback. Sharpening our creative focus due to sales’ input will result in better content that connects and converts.

Step Five: Sales contributes to database development.

Who are we going to send these prospect promotions to? Field Sales has unique access to the most current prospect information. Their own database, whether it’s on the computer, a smartphone, 3 x 5 cards or in their heads, is likely to be deeper, more up-to-date and accurate than anything Marketing can access.

This is gospel, if sales does not have confidence in the list you are using for prospect promotions, they will not have confidence in the results.

Step Six: Sales defines lead criteria.

Look, everyone gets a vote on “what is a lead”, however, sales has the only vote that counts. When does it make sense for them to get involved – is it an event, a point score or key information? With a map of what sales wants, marketing can tee up the leads for sales to hit out of the park. This will go a long way to improving the usage of the automation and lead follow-up.

Step Seven: Shared metrics for marketing and sales.

Both marketing and sales must be measured and rewarded by their contribution to the sale. Which means the heads of the two departments will have to figure this out and agree. Which has an extra benefit, because change only happens from the top down. The rank and file need to see their bosses’ active cooperation.

Realizing the incredible potential of marketing automation requires more than an outlet and a training module. It requires a working partnership between marketing and sales, trusts and respect driving cooperation and dedication. It’s the only way to make the automation work, and by the way, the business, too.