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Predictive Buyer Modeling Is Changing the Future of B2B

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I would not be surprised today if a group of B2B executives said they were using fortune tellers to peer into a crystal ball to make predictions about the future.  The fast pace of change makes the crystal ball of how buyers will behave in the future enveloped in a hazy fog.  C-Suites are under enormous pressures to get it right the first time with regards to marketing and sales planning.

The ability to make decisions based on predictions is becoming an essential attribute for B2B executives.  Predictions come with a host of implications and the ability to assess their impact is perhaps the toughest part of strategy planning.  One approach that has been used by executives to inform strategy planning is that of scenario modeling.  It has been used both in business and in military exercises for several decades.  What matters in today’s B2B climate is having the ability to predict multiple scenarios and more importantly – multiple buying scenarios that will shape the organization’s marketing, sales, product, content, and social strategies.

Predictive analytics and modeling has mostly been about exactly what the name implies – an exercise in using analytics to predict and model different scenarios.  There are three profound changes occurring in predictive analytics and modeling that is being driven by the impact of the buyer increasingly self-directing purchase decisions:

  • Putting buyers at the center of predictive modeling
  • Emphasis on modeling buyer behavior
  • Bringing a qualitative interface to the quantitative analytics

Some leading B2B executives are proceeding with a level of qualitative buyer research that allows them to understand current buying scenarios as well as behaviors to create predictive buyer scenario models.   Using the nuances of each buyer scenario modeled to create specific as well as variations of marketing, sales, social, product, and content strategies that help them to attain key objectives related to growth.  One reason B2B executives are turning to integrating qualitative buyer scenario models into predictive analytics is that it allows them to view real world business challenges at an insightful level.  This approach gives them an all important interface to existing analytics as well as guiding what analytics to get predictive about in the future.

A case in point could be that quantitative predictive analytics can help predict the types of IT servers needed, what is the average quantity purchased, quantify search behaviors, and how IT servers are being purchased.  Buyer scenario models bring the real world insight that will help to predict under what scenarios IT servers are needed, what problems usually surface that causes the need, buyer behaviors during search and decision-making, and why it is important.  Integrating the quantitative and the qualitative allows B2B executives to then predict multiple buyer scenarios that reflect real world problems and also represent real-time growth opportunities.

How Can B2B Leaders Make Predictive Buyer Modeling An Important Part Of Strategy?

For some B2B organizations, jumping into full blown predictive analytics can be an expensive proposition. One key benefit of qualitative predictive buyer modeling is that it can be done less expensively and it also helps to identify where predictive analytics is needed.  Here are a few ways B2B leaders can consider predictive buyer modeling and the use of buyer scenario models:

Input – I was in the business information and intelligence industry for a good portion of my career and one tenet that is still true today is that good output is driven by good input.  In this case, good input is represented by qualitative research and interviewing efforts that help to identify important behavioral data and insight elements.

Multiple Scenarios – In today’s business climate, the number of possible buying scenarios continues to increase.  And they are touching more parts of the organization than ever before.  Building buyer scenario models for strategies related to marketing, sales, content, social, and service can be extremely valuable for a C-Suite team in planning.

End-to End – The emphasis should be on understanding the full spectrum of the End-to-End Buyer Experience.  Even in quantitative predictive analytics, this point is often overlooked.  Buyer behavior is often shaped not only by pre-sale experiences but by post-sale experiences – with bad post-sales experiences having a detrimental impact on future sales.

Implications Analysis – Predictive buyer modeling should be designed to enable B2B leaders with the ability to understand the implications that different buyer scenario models will have on their business.  This should include some “what if” modeling around how buyers may respond to different approaches and strategies.

People Involvement – Predictive buyer modeling should not be for the chosen few.  It should involve as many people from affected areas as possible.  Buyer scenario models enable teams to look at real world challenges and literally play a game of understanding how strategies and tactics can change the game in the real world itself.

Integrate Analytics – Predictive analytics can indicate areas that can benefit from further illumination.  In those cases where further illumination is needed, predictive buyer modeling and buyer scenario models can get to the story behind the numbers.  In the reverse, buyer scenario models can introduce a new story and predictive analytics can get to the numbers behind the story.

Recently, I witnessed a group of executives use predictive buyer modeling.  What became evident to me was how the process opened up the mind to alternative possibilities.  Additionally, by putting the buyer at the center of predictive modeling, assumptions as well as implications were easier to assess because the focus was on how buyers would respond.  This type of process sparks the creativity needed to look at real world business challenges and think in new ways to reinvigorate as well as sustain a business.

Predictive buyer modeling and buyer scenario models can show B2B executives a new path towards making customer-centric and buyer-centric planning a reality.  Enabling a promising future for how B2B organizations can reinvent strategizing and planning – and when doing so, they do so with the buyer at the center.

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How B2B Leaders Are Understanding Buyers Better With Behavioral Buyergraphics

B2B Buying Process Today © All rights reserved by Kenny Madden

In the business-to-business world, the quest to connect with decision-makers has been and most likely will continue to be the main challenge confronting B2B leaders.  Meeting this challenge successfully is the essential lifeblood of survival for many B2B companies.  While today’s continuing convergence of the Internet, social technologies, and Enterprise 2.0 platforms are increasing B2B visibility like never before, connecting with buyers and decision-makers is becoming increasingly elusive.

For decades, B2B sales and marketing has relied on business information of the likes of Hoovers, Dun & Bradstreet, and others.  They provide the critical view of market segments and the companies that fall within those markets.  Business information also plays a role in providing B2B with a level of company profiles and firmographics data about organizations within markets.  Business information services also serve a valuable role in drilling down to help with contact information, such as newcomer Netprospex, to provide B2B with potential decision-makers they can reach.  On the other end of the business information spectrum, B2B leaders have relied on business and market research reports that help them understand strategically trends in markets and how they may be impacted.  These reports, often analyst generated, help to shape strategic vision and enable both short-term and long-term planning.

What has been missing?  Where is the void in today’s fast and furious changing B2B landscape?

As the rate of increasingly changing B2B buyer behaviors continues to skyrocket, the void for deep behavioral insight continues to widen.  Behavioral B2B buyer insights are becoming mission critical to informing, shaping, and adapting to changing buying behaviors that are coming in like ocean waves on a sandy beach.  Today’s B2B leaders are just beginning to understand the importance of behavioral analytics and insights for making informed decisions on how to allocate company resources to engage buyers in the new hyper-connected B2B world.

When I introduced buyer persona research and creation a decade ago, the premise then, as it is now, is that it is a methodology for understanding not only who your buyers are but how and why buyers buy.  The primary driver being that understanding goal motivation helped you to understand what drove buyers in decision-making.  What is becoming increasingly clear as a result of the changing B2B landscape is that buyer personas alone may be inadequate (especially as a result of the multitude as well as widening disparity in how buyer personas are defined today) and that gathering a new set of behavioral buyer insight is required to meet the challenge of today.  The B2B leaders facing challenging market dynamics, to fill the void of deep behavioral buyer insight, are becoming more aware of the value of what I term behaviorally oriented Business Buyergraphics™ to understand buyers better.

Understanding buyers better behaviorally is today’s “holy grail” of sustaining competitive advantage that can no longer be guaranteed standing pat for any amount of time.  Behaviorally oriented Market and Business Buyergraphics provide insight into and answers for several crucial questions:

  • How do we understand buyer segments based on purchasing behaviors?
  • How do we understand buying scenarios that we can meet?
  • How well do we understand the buyer decision journey?
  • Do we understand our buyer’s story and the narrative they tell?
  • What are the new buyer ecosystems and networks that affect purchase behaviors?
  • What do buyers think and what are their collective attitudes?
  • How do we know what type of content engages and how buyers will find, use, and share content?
  • Do we understand the critical moments of truth in the buyer experience cycle that affect purchase decisions?
  • Do we understand changing buyer values and how they impact purchase decisions?
  • How do we understand and distinguish the buying behaviors of emerging social buyers and traditional buyers?

The methods for gathering behavioral buyer insight and getting answers to these questions rely on what has been true for understanding buyer behavior – qualitative research and buyer interviews.  B2B buyer research has been heavily weighted towards quantitative surveying methods over the last few decades.  These types of methods remain extremely valuable – getting deeper and understanding buyers better behaviorally however requires some shift to the qualitative.  It will also require a degree of savvy integration of analytics and qualitative behavioral insight.

Without going into an extensive treatise on the tools and methods of behaviorally oriented Business Buyergraphics, they are designed to provide data and insight elements related to:

  • Insight into evolving buyer persona ecosystems and networks
  • Understanding buying scenarios that affect purchasing behaviors
  • The mental models of buyers that affect purchase decisions
  • Insight into buying processes and the buyer decision journey
  • Insight into how buyers find content and share content
  • Modeling the buyer experience to understand critical moments of truth
  • Insight into the perceived values of buyers that shape purchasing behaviors

These tools and methods are utilized to collectively tell the story of how buyers behave when making purchase decisions.  The purpose of behavioral Business Buyergraphics is to enable B2B leaders to understand buyers better in terms of their purchasing behaviors.  This understanding and set of deeper buyer insights informing B2B leaders on what they need to know to shape sales and marketing strategy that are going to work in today’s B2B landscape.  Or, as many would say: at least a working chance when the ability to peer around the corner is getting harder and harder to do.

Understanding buyers better and deeper today as well as more intimately requires filling in the void of the business information spectrum.  Filling the void with behavioral insight into how buyers behave when making purchase decisions and understanding various segments by buyer purchasing behavior.  B2B leaders, who are intent on winning, understand that what they think matters very little – unless they have a good idea of how their buyers think.


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Free eBook: How Buyer Trends Are Impacting the Future of Business Thinking

The Thinking Man sculpture at Musée Rodin in Paris
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Recently, I embarked on a series of articles related to buyer trends and how they are changing conventional business thinking as we know it.  These series of articles, referenced as Buyerology Trends, highlighted 7 areas of where buyer trends are challenging conventional thinking.

Business in general has been undergoing the most unprecedented period of economic challenges, social changes, technological changes, and rapid changes in buyer behaviors in several decades.  Pressing business leaders today to not only adapt quickly but to rethink many long-held business beliefs.  The world has become hyper-connected and hyper-competitive.  Making many business concepts rendered obsolete or not as true as they once were.  While some business thinking and management ideas stand the test of time, such as those of Peter Drucker, others will begin to fade as the global marketplace continues to spin and behave differently.

I have compiled this series of articles into an eBook of 65 pages for easy reading and it is made freely available for sharing.  In this eBook, significant buyer trends derived from qualitative research are highlighted.  They are presented in the context of how conventional thinking may need to change to align with new buyer behaviors that are affecting purchase decisions.  Particular focus is made on what the C-Suite must do to respond and how the future may look as a result of buyer trends related to changing buyer behaviors.

It is my hope and passion that the eBook will spark dialogue and thinking that helps organizations to better understand buyers.  Rethinking conventions and reshaping them to align better with buyers today and in the future.  The eBook can be downloaded at the following link:

Buyerology: How Buyer Trends Are Impacting the Future of Business Thinking


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One Thing That Can Get You From Here to There in 2012 and Beyond

image from www.flickr.comIn the world of B2B management, there are numerous head scratching efforts going on as we peer ahead into 2012 and beyond.  Primarily, it has to do with how to get from here to there.  One of the issues faced by B2B companies with the high degree of uncertainty, global economic turbulence, and a rapidly changing buyer driven and social world is figuring out where the from here to there actually leads to.

Recent buyer and management interviews tell me a lot of head scratching continues to go on.  Plenty of internal angst and debate is taking place on how to get from here to there, what is needed, what should be done, and what a lot of people think.  The what to do aspects of internal planning usually center on strategy and tactical questions such as:

How do we grow revenues?
What can we do to generate more leads?
How do we expand business with existing customers?
What type of content will drive more traffic to our web site?
Should we get more active with social media?
Do we need to improve our product quality and offering?
Should we boost marketing and sales budgets?
Do we need to hire more people?
What should our pricing strategy be going forward?
What new technologies do we need to adopt?

As you can see, the list of questions for B2B organizations can be endless.  And plenty of them have to do with what should we do – probably more so than how to get from here to there.  What is striking however is that there is a tendency to dive into the angst over and debated questions without truly having clarity on where from here to there actually should end up.  As they say in the venture capital world: sometimes there is no there – there.  So in this riddle of thinking, to figure out how to get from here to there, you first have to figure out where the there actually is.

What is the one thing you can do to figure out where the there is and how to get from here to there?

You have guessed it by now, I am sure, if you have read my articles before:

Attaining deep qualitative B2B buyer insights.

Investing in deep qualitative B2B buyer insights means talking to your customers – and yes that sometimes means with the help of a third party.  Let’s face it – in certain situations buyers are more revealing to a third party when the perceived wall of sales agenda comes down and the expertise level to conduct qualitative research is not in-house.  However the point is this: to be informed on where the there is actually means your company needs to be talking with existing customers and prospective buyers deeply outside of a marketing and selling context.

Revealing buyer insights can tell you plenty about where your existing customers and buyers are headed.  Deep buyer insights give you a clue on where the planning of how to get from here to there is suppose to end up.  Giving you answers to the above mentioned type questions as well as what you should be doing to align with your buyers.

Collecting deep qualitative B2B buyer insights – before you get in over your head in angst and debate – can alleviate much of the headache that comes with strategy and tactical planning.  Imagine a meeting with less I think we should debating going on and more discussion on how we need to help existing customers and prospective buyers get from here to there.    Helping your customers and buyers to get from here to there helps you figure out how you and your company will get from here to there.  The definition of where that is, if you are aligned with your buyers, should be a two sided coin.  Helping buyers achieve their emblem of success on their side of the coin ensures that you will have an emblem of success on your side of the coin.

The one thing you can do is acquire deep qualitative buyer insights.  The type of insights that inform you on the map you need to put in place that shows you, your teams, and your company how to get from here to there.  Now – can you imagine getting anywhere in the world without a map?

(Image by Kenny Madden © All rights reserved)

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5 Ways New Buyer Behaviors Are Impacting B2B Sales

image from www.flickr.comFor many in B2B sales, from senior leaders to sales representatives, it may be a discouraging time.  If you follow conventional and social media closely, the storied demise of sales has been told many times.  You probably could buy a few lunches if you collected a dollar for every time you heard that buyers are in control and don’t need sales.   To you, this sentiment seems like it is taking on mythical proportions.  I am not so sure.  If I ask myself three simple questions, I think my answers are clear:

Have buyers changed?  Answer: Yes
Does B2B Sales need to change?  Answer: Yes
Will buyers still require the assistance of B2B Sales?  Answer: Yes

I suspect many of you will answer the same way.  B2B Sales will continue to matter very much and it will go through periods of redefinitions and transformations over the next few years.   Although, in the Social Age, it may seem that people want to be devoid of actual interactions with others in such buying settings, I for one believe buyers are actually seeking more.  However, more of what has not defined interactions and relationships in the past.

5 Ways B2B Sales Are Affected

New buyer behaviors are emerging and evolving.  The rate of change will, without a doubt, continue to take place at a significant rate.  B2B Sales will have to charter a new course that gets them rethinking about how interactions, engagements, and relationships are changing.  Let’s take a look at new buyer behaviors and how they are affecting B2B Sales in particular:

Buyers Have New Knowledge Expectations

The instantaneous availability of information and knowledge at buyer’s fingertips puts pressure on B2B Sales to match their expectations when it comes to what we can call knowledge readiness.  If buyers are truly able to access information and knowledge for researching as well as assessing potential opportunities and resolutions, then B2B Sales needs to bring more to the table when an actual engagement takes place.  B2B Sales needs to pick up where the buyer left off.  Let an actual buyer voice be heard:

“Okay, so what gets my goat more than anything is that after I do all the research and such, I finally get to talking to a sales rep.  And what happens?  They just regurgitate all the stuff I found online.  They are not telling me anything new.  Just telling me what I already know.”

For B2B organizations today, not only is sales readiness important but so is knowledge readiness.

Buyers Seeking Advisement, Not Ready-Made Solutions

A generalized assumptive statement can be made, based on numerous surveys conducted over the past two years, that buyers are generally 50% to 60% into the buying process before having direct engagement with sales.  They’ve done the spade work in looking at potential solutions, scoping out what might be a good resolution, and approximating budgets.  This changes the game significantly for B2B Sales.  Buyers already know about your ready-made solutions found in their researching.  What they seek is skills and knowledge in advising them on how solutions – modified, customized, and most definitely altered – will help them to achieve the specific goals and outcomes they seek.  The implication for B2B organizations is B2B Selling organizations must have talent that reflects excellent advisory skills.

Buyers Including More People in Their Ecosystems and Networks

Driven by social and Enterprise 2.0 technologies, buyers are able to expand their ecosystems and networks in complex situations.  The degree of interdependencies between not only users and influencers but partners, suppliers, and their customers as well makes for more complexity.  And once again – more knowledge needed.   Decision-making is getting more participative within ecosystems and networks.  B2B Sales will need to adapt and address complexity as well as possess knowledge that makes them an important participant within a buyer’s complex ecosystem and networks.  I believe this will be B2B Sales toughest challenge over the next few years.  Why?  I believe wired into the DNA of selling organizations are systems, training, processes, and the likes all oriented towards the tunnel vision of a single buyer making a non-sophisticated decision.  Today’s realities tell us otherwise.

Buying Cycles Are Getting Longer

Counterintuitive to today’s hyper-connected and hyper-speed world is the acknowledgement that buying cycles in complex B2B Sales situations are actually getting longer.  Increasing need for more knowledge, more advisement on problem-solving, more modifications and customizations, more participants in buyer networks, and more complex global environments all point towards why buying cycles are getting longer.  This means B2B Sales will need to exercise patience in serving in the advisory role and slow down the train on ready-made solutions selling.  What we will see here is boiling tension points begin to emerge.  Many organizations are still wedded to pipeline thinking and management.  Mandated for decades has been to push sales opportunities fast and furiously through the pipeline to meet quarterly projections.  Readjusting thinking around this tension point is very much akin to turning a freight ship around in a harbor – it’s going to take a while and some tug boats are definitely going to be needed.

Buyers Are Relating Differently

Emerging generational differences are beginning to sprout into the workforces.  A generation is rising that has little knowledge of a world without an Internet, email, social networks, ubiquitous smart phones, and always on connectivity to their social and professional networks.  How interactions takes place and how relationships are formed are undergoing major transformations.  The implications for B2B Sales is that it will need to look at their buyer groups and determine how advanced they are along these lines and are they impacted significantly with generational differences.  Causing a reexamination of what the coveted ratio between field and inside sales should be in the future.  Which is better suited to interact with and relate to the social buyer will be the new determining factor on this ratio – as opposed to some arbitrary cut off line between large accounts and small accounts.

Where Is B2B Sales Headed?

These emerging new buyer behaviors will contribute towards the changing face of B2B Sales.  They will impact traditional vanguards such as sales planning, sales strategies, pipeline management, sales training, and sales hiring.  Solving the decades old marketing and sales alignment issue will need to be reexamined as well.  Much of the debate has been around functional definitions as opposed to how an organization best coalesces around changing buyer behaviors and dynamics.

There are three things we can be sure of in the future.  One, new buyer behaviors will continue to impact B2B Sales.  Two, how we define B2B Sales will undergo drastic change.  And lastly, B2B Sales will continue to play a vital role in how organizations engage with buyers in the future.

How is your organization being impacted today?  What changes are taking place that you see?

(Image by Kenny Madden © All rights reserved)


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7 Burning Questions for B2B Marketers in 2012

image from www.flickr.comAsking good questions was seared into my mental consciousness by several mentors early in my career.  This notion was further influenced by prodigious reading of Peter Drucker.  The premise being that good questions help you to focus and to get to the heart of what matters most.  Here’s what I’ve learned over the years: it is hard to do and it takes practice!  As I think about the future for B2B Marketers, these questions ring the loudest:

Who Are Our Customers?

We are undergoing the most significant changes in buyer behaviors in several decades as well as seeing the rise of connected social buyers, albeit younger, who behave much differently than traditional buyers.  As simple as the question sounds, it is still the hardest question for businesses to answer.  With existing buyers, new buyers, and expanding markets constantly in transition – getting insight into answering this question will need to be on top of the list.

Where Did Our Customers Go?

If we randomly picked a ten page year-end report, it would be a good bet that somewhere on page eight or nine in the third paragraph there is mention of it.  You know what I am talking about.  The one about, in management speak of course, losing existing customers or prospective buyers dropping out of the pipeline.  If you don’t have solid answers on where they’ve gone – and why – then it is a safe bet you might see increases in next year’s ten page report.

How Do We Create A Better Buying Experience?

With distinctive differences between products and services narrowing substantially, experience-centered marketing and relationships will be the coveted playing field to win on.   When was the last time your organization reviewed processes, systems, departments, and the likes to determine whether they added value to the buying experience?  Were processes or systems put in place, now in hindsight, to address an anomaly that occurs in less than 3% of all situations?  Meaning, the remaining 97% of existing customers and prospective buyers have to go through hurdles that in the end may cause them to say: forget it!

What Is The Best Way To Interact Directly With Customers?

If we totaled all of the articles written in 2011 in the B2B world, it would make you think that there is nothing happening after this so called 70% window where buyers don’t want sales interaction.  Well, ignore at your own peril.  What has happened is that it has raised the stakes on the remaining 30-40% where direct interaction from sales is still needed.  In service what is the best means for direct interaction?  In sales, what resources should be dedicated to field sales versus inside sales?   What in the world is social selling and what do we do about it?

How Do We Best Equip Our Employees For The New Way Of Business?

If you haven’t noticed, buyers are a changing.  Meaning your organization cannot stand pat without changing also.  Buyers are expecting their suppliers and vendors to change with them.  If there is a growing perceived gap between how much they’ve changed and how much you haven’t – could mean they will go elsewhere.  It is time to look at the talent needed and the equipping technologies needed to have employees ready to do business in a new way.

How Do we Best Assimilate Social Media Into Our Business – The Right Way?

Enriching experiences with social media is here to stay.  The cabling has been laid out and becoming hardwired into the mainstream conscious of every business.  If you resisted, it is time to take a fresh look and ease up on the tight grip you’ve had on social media expenditures.  Granted, the hype was spectacular and some companies bet their whole marketing budget on social media.  Those who did will probably rethink that idea and be much the wiser going forward.

What Exactly Is Doing Content Marketing The Right Way?

Many B2B companies are grappling with the ideas behind content marketing and content strategy.  It all sounds good – give existing customers and prospective buyers’ great content and that should result in gains in customer loyalty and buyer conversions.  How to make that happen is where the grappling is taking place.  When does too much content do more harm than good?  When does too little content hurt conversions?  What exactly is good content versus bad content?

As you see, the questions could never end.  The important take away is to be sure to ask them.  Ignoring them and sweeping them under the rug will only make the rug a little bumpy.  And one day, buyers will simply pull the rug out from underneath you.

(Image by Kenny Madden © All rights reserved)

 

 

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