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The State of Buyer Personas 2012

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This June marks ten years since the first buyer persona development methodology was pioneered and launched by the firm Goal Centric now called Buyerology.  Over the past ten years it has been quite a journey.   Much has happened and much has changed.  The adoption of research-based modeling of buyers that leads to buyer personas has been mixed.  The rise in popularity of the term has also been a mixed blessing.  It has resulted in many misguided definitions and practices that have not produced the potential results other organizations have seen when the goal-based modeling methodology is utilized.  The organizations who have embraced the goal-based modeling methodology for research-based buyer personas have seen tremendous success in uncovering new opportunities for revenue growth.

The State of Buyer Personas 2012

Buyer personas today are becoming more widely used by marketing and sales organizations than ten years ago.  Understanding about buyer personas and their place in the grander effort of modeling buyers to inform marketing and sales strategies ranges from harmful misperceptions to evolving maturity levels profoundly transforming organizations.  Today’s business leaders can reach a maturity level that allows for a robust practice of modeling buyers whereby buyer personas are one of the tools used for descriptive and predictive buyer modeling.

The following are some reflective thoughts on the current state of buyer personas:

Buyer Persona Sophistication On The Rise

 Personas first emerged as a tool for design in 1999 when Alan Cooper published The Inmates Are Running The Asylum.  It was in this book that the term buyer persona was first used although to point out that the focus of design should be on user personas as opposed to buyer personas.  I was privileged to be a witness and participant to the development of the goal-based modeling methodology created by a cast of innovative thinkers for design personas focused on users.  This same methodology serves as a foundation for what later became a specific goal-based modeling methodology for marketing and sales personas focused on the buyer.  Today, in 2012, the understanding of this methodology is unevenly understood yet buyer personas are evolving into a more sophisticated modeling tool being used by marketing and sales organizations.

Success Dependent Upon Modeling Methodology

We are seeing organizations attempt researching buyer personas for the first time while others are attempting to take limited success with buyer personas to new maturity levels.  There is a direct correlation between success and the foundational understanding of the goal-based modeling methodology when it comes to buyer personas in general.  Robust understanding of buyer personas as a modeling tool versus a profiling tool helps to ensure that they are effective and do what they are designed to do – inform marketing and sales strategies.  In cases where I have seen poor results, lack of adoption, and inappropriate use, these can usually be traced back to the misunderstanding of buyer personas as a detailed profiling exercise.  Business leaders today will need to be more discerning as the proliferation of the term buyer persona becomes more widely used by consultants and agencies to describe what amounts to as profiling.  Much of the offered templates and practices are buyer profiles masquerading as buyer personas.  Determining whether consultants or agencies are trained and skilled in the goal-based modeling methodology foundational to personas becomes an imperative.

Modeling Takes Center Stage

A development on the rise is organizations today are beginning to make the connection between understanding new and fast-evolving buyer behaviors and the need to understand these behaviors through modeling.  Buyer personas are best defined as the modeling of buyer behaviors, the key attributes of buyers, and most importantly the goals of buyers.  In the past few years, through co-creation efforts with Fortune 100 companies, we began to see robust modeling expanding beyond just the concept of a single buyer persona to that of modeling key dynamics of the overall buyer experience such as buyer ecosystems, buying scenarios, mental models, values, and experience.  Additionally, we are seeing more robust efforts in descriptive, narrative, and predictive buyer modeling that represent a comprehensive view of behaviors associated with individuals as well as with companies.

Research-Based Understanding Gaining Momentum

Personas are developed from primary qualitative research with real customers.  Specifically it calls for the type of qualitative research that is grounded in a robust understanding of goal theory.  Many business leaders are discovering that this may not be as simple as assigning this task to marketing personnel and that outside expertise in goal-based qualitative research and modeling ensures the highest return on such efforts.  Personas are not created, crafted or constructed as in the world of profiling.  Personas represent a distinct set of patterns uncovered in research and represent the illumination of buyer’s behaviors, goals, and experiences that inform.   At this state of buyer personas in 2012, companies are beginning to realize that poorly researched and template-based persona profiling may be proving to do more harm than good.  This important aspect of buyer personas and buyer modeling is beginning to grow solid roots in the minds of many business leaders – particular those who have wasted budgets on poor profiling based efforts imitating as personas.

Addressing Complexity

The significant shifts in buyer behaviors in the past few years have left companies struggling to deal with increasingly new dynamics of complexity.  Particularly those who have large bases of existing customers and have seen the mix of channels used by customers become more diverse as well as integrated.  Organizations are beginning to address newer forms of complexity by improving understanding of buyers by behavioral groups and focusing on the goals of buyers.  At this state, the adoption of this approach has been mixed.  Some organizations have come to misunderstand buyer personas as a tool only for messaging and content marketing.  Thus, the focus can shift to a narrow profiling view intended to help with writing content as opposed to the intended focus on helping business leaders and stakeholders to make informed decisions based on an outside-in view of customers.  Efforts in buyer modeling and buyer personas help companies to cut through the complexity and to prioritize tactical and strategic measures that best connect with customers.  The highest return on the modeling of buyers with the use of buyer personas and other modeling tools is when they help to optimize all facets of the buyer experience as opposed to a limited scope of just messaging.

Buyer Persona Lifespan

The rapid pace of changes occurring in technologies and the impact they have on buyer behaviors means that the lifespan of research-based buyer personas has considerably shortened.  This is causing a shift in thinking about qualitatively researching buyer personas from a periodic one-time event to a view of ongoing buyer research whereby buyer models are continuously updated.  This is one of the most profound changes occurring in the field of buyer modeling and use of the modeling tool we know as buyer personas.  Companies striving to remain relevant to their customers will need to constantly update their knowledge of evolving channels and buyer preferences and how they relate to buyer goals.  Business leaders will also need to evaluate their own in-house capabilities to conduct appropriate goal-based qualitative research with customers versus use of outside expertise in light of this change.

The Next Frontier: The Rise Of Sales Personas

After ten years, I’ve witnessed the rise of buyer personas as a concept embraced by primarily marketing albeit with mixed results.  What I am witnessing over the past couple of years is what may be counter intuitive to the current notion about buyers being elusive, hidden, invisible, becoming buyer 2.0 or 3.0, and many other similar descriptors.  I do not buy into these views based on results from conducting qualitative research directly with buyers.  Here’s what I am seeing as the next frontier: buyers are seeking more interaction and connection and not necessarily more content to read.  Our definitions and concepts of interaction and connection will undergo transformation due to rapidly changing technologies.  Buyers today see new technologies as a means to enable stronger interaction and connection – not as a means to be elusive or to hide.  However, it ups the game for companies to be even more relevant than they ever had to be in their existence.  Based on ROI and revenue growth impact alone, in the totality of the buyer persona development efforts conducted by Goal Centric/Buyerology, the most impact from an ROI standpoint have been those originating from sales.

This leads me to another belief that may be counter intuitive: poised to enable this stronger form of interaction and connection is sales.  Sales as we know it today will undergo further transformation yet I see its role becoming more prominent in developing the closer connections buyers seek.  Buyer modeling and the modeling tool of buyer personas will be an enabling process for companies to transform their sales organizations into a gateway for buyers to make the interactions and connections they seek.  While marketing personas and the proliferation of the term buyer persona have gravitated towards a specialized focus on messaging and content marketing, I see the rise of sales personas emerging to inform understanding and strategies that result in stronger connections with buyers.  I am excited to be working on specific goal-based modeling methodology that address the role of sales personas utilized towards lead development, lead nurturing, social selling, inside selling growth, account-based marketing and sales, sales effectiveness, and buyer conversation effectiveness.

We’ve come a long way with the concept of modeling buyers and the tool of buyer personas.  Yet, we have a long way to go.  One constant we can count on is that buyer behavior will continue to change just as rapidly as new technologies are evolving.  The use of descriptive and predictive buyer modeling tools such as buyer personas and buyer scenario models will become an important part of helping companies to make informed decisions on their future strategies.

(The State of Buyer Personas 2012 is available in PDF format on the Buyerology eBook page: click here for download)

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Is Your Organization Likeable? Are You Attracting the Right Buyers?

Sally Field

Sally Field (Image via RottenTomatoes.com)

The phrase Laws of Attraction first appeared in the early 20th century around 1906 by William Walter Atkinson as part of the new thought movement and release of his book  Thought Vibration or the Law of Attraction in the Thought World (Chicago, 1906).  Since, this phrase has been used to help explain attraction-based theories and concepts in many areas of the social sciences throughout the 20th century and now into the 21st century.  Most recently, Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret became a worldwide sensation in 2006 which was based on the laws of attraction principles.  One powerful constant has remained throughout the 20th and 21st century – that likes attract likes.

While there is much focus given to demand generation, content marketing, lead generation, lead management, and opportunity pipeline management, recent significant changes in buyer behaviors calls for serious examinations of whether organizations are attracting the right buyers.  Simply stated – is your organization even “likeable” in the eyes of your buyers?  Does your organization have so called “laws of attraction” attributes that buyers are attracted to?

This is a powerful question today.  For some organizations, it may feel like reality dealt a blow to the midsection when they truthfully answer the question.  While others may scream like Sally Field and exclaim “they really like me, they really like me!”  While strides are being made in how to adapt to new strategies for managing leads and performing lead nurturing, many outdated assumptions about how buyers look at and evaluate organizations are still in play.

Are Buyers Really Hiding?

Based upon my qualitative research, I am having a hard time buying into the recent rash of terms to explain buyers today.  In talking with buyers directly, they certainly don’t describe themselves as the hidden buyer, the elusive buyer, the buyer 2.0, the invisible buyer, the secret buyer, and the many more terms that are being used.  Here’s what one buyer recently said to me while interviewing:

“It is silly to hear you say that.  I am not hiding from anything.  If they have nothing to offer and can’t help me, then why am I going to pick up the phone and contact them? “

I don’t think buyers are waiting behind a rock to come out of hiding.  In fact, I am beginning to form an opinion that this mode of thinking may even be detrimental to attracting buyers!  It creates a mentality that you have to coax buyers to come out from hiding or to stop playing dodge ball with you.  In other words – hurt the laws of attraction psyche meant to attract the right buyers in the right situations.  The real issue from my point of view is that recent changes in technology and buyer behaviors are resulting in a manifestation of whether your organization is found to be likeable or not.  New technology and newly formed buyer behaviors make it easier for buyers to say:

“If we like you, you will hear from us.  If not, you won’t hear from us.” 

Becoming Likeable

Finding out how to be likeable and, in effect, make the laws of attraction work for your organization is a complex issue today.  It can be frustrating to get at the kernel of why buyers are attracted to organizations and find them likeable.  It very well could be like asking your teenage daughter why they like something with the usual answer of “I don’t know, I just do, and stop asking me questions!”

Finding the right group of buyers today and determining what makes your organization likeable takes more than an exercise in buyer personas – and especially more than the enhanced buyer profiles with a photo slapped on it and mislabeled a buyer persona.  It takes a deeper commitment to understand qualitatively how to be likeable and attractive to the right group of buyers.    Here’s the premise of why this commitment today is of significant importance:

To become likeable and to attract buyers, you must first change your vision of buyers. 

If your vision of buyers has not changed much in the last few years, then it is highly unlikely that knowing what laws of attraction are in play to make an organization likeable to buyers are well understood.

It’s The Vision Thing

Obtaining a renewed vision of buyers today takes a commitment to let go of long held assumptions and investing in getting to know them qualitatively.  While new technologies in quantitative big data and data mining can provide some insights, this alone cannot offer the deeper qualitative insight into which attributes result in powerful laws of attractions that make your organization likeable in the eyes of buyers.  Modern day techniques and efforts such as predictive buyer modeling, descriptive buyer scenarios, modeling buyer values, and etc. can go a long way in renewing an organization’s vision of groups of buyers.  However, it starts with a commitment to seek a new vision of buyers and change the trajectory of the organization’s future.

Trajectory is a complicated concept highly dependent upon vision.  You have to first find out where you need to be going and to see where you are going.  Getting a renewed vision of your buyers and becoming likeable in their eyes gets you moving in the right direction.

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4 Ways the Power of Buyer Choice Will Transform Business Marketing

Higher Grade Product Design Concept Models

Higher Grade Product Design Concept Models (Photo credit: Jordanhill School D&T Dept)

This is part 5 and final article of a limited series on why buyer choice modeling is the new view B2B Business must adopt to improve revenue performance and develop long lasting relationships with buyers. 

How buyers make choices today, in large part driven by empowering new technologies, will transform how B2B businesses will view buyers as well as redefine what is meant by business marketing.  The rigid funnel will no longer serve as a workable means of communicating unique views of buyers and their buying behaviors.  This not to say that buyer processes, stages, and steps are no longer relevant but to highlight that buyers today no longer make choices neatly in the paradigm of the funnel.  A rigid funnel view, whether it is drawn up horizontal or vertical, cannot provide the orbital view of choices being made continuously.

There are four ways that new buyer choice dynamics will transform the practice of business marketing and alter the view of what practices are relevant:

Predictive Buyer Modeling And Intelligence

As we covered, many B2B businesses are wrestling with the unknown and the invisible.  B2B buyers are remaining invisible in their behaviors associated with exploring as well as establishing new networks of participants in decision-making.  There will be a rise in the use of buyer modeling techniques as well as integrating the use of buyer intelligence, predictive analytics, and the illuminating aspects of predictive buyer modeling.  The changes underway in buyer behavior will cause B2B business marketing to extend well beyond conventional buyer profiling as well as simplistic buyer persona creating for demand generation.

Reorient From Business Marketing Teams to Buyer Driven Marketing Teams

Traditional business marketing has been historically put together teams that are seller driven and narrowly funnel focused.  The single buyer model view narrowly shared across all channels.  Leaders in B2B marketing and sales will soon have to migrate towards buyer segment teams that are focused on activities that are focused on the buyer’s entire brand and buyer experience.  We are beginning to see leading organizations, such as GE, move towards aligning their organizations to industry buyer segment teams focused on deeper understanding and alignment with buyers.

Create Orbital Match With Buyers

B2B is becoming more complex with every passing month.  When informed with deep buyer intelligence, business marketing can begin to align to the continuous orbital loop of what confronts buyers and how they make choices.  The new role of business marketing is to pull buyers into an orbital loop that mirrors their own and enables choices that are buyer driven.  The new business marketing strategy is to create the gravitational pull that buyers feel and are drawn to because it aligns with their own orbital loops.  Conversely, how can your organization get close to the buyer’s own gravitational pull and be drawn into their orbital loop?  This is a departure from the seller driven and narrow funnel view of push messaging.  Another way of positioning this concept in simple terms is this: either your B2B business becomes part of the orbital loop or you can watch it from afar with a telescope – and be out of the loop.

Total Brand and Buyer Experience

Business marketing today can take a strong leadership role in organizations by transforming itself to an orientation around the buyer.  Historically, in the seller driven and narrow funnel view world, business marketing has been positioned as the conveyers of getting information in front of buyers.  Producing material that buyers could read, provide messaging to sales, and putting together promotional programs with the aim to get sellers to sell harder.  My intuitive guess is that in the world of business marketing, this positioning still exists in a large majority of B2B organizations – perhaps trapped within the label of marketing communications.  To influence corporate strategy and decision-making, business marketing must now become the conveyors of buyer intelligence and influencing organizations to orient around the buyer.  Conveying that what counts is the total brand and buyer experience and that business marketing’s role is to help create these experiences for buyers.

Business marketing today, by making these four ways the cornerstone of transformation, can enhance their leadership role in organizations.  Orienting businesses around the understanding of buyer choices being made in a new complex buyer driven world.  This is no easy challenge yet one that business marketing must take up.  It must demonstrate that it understands buyers deeply and that a designed focus on the total brand and buyer experience is the new business marketing strategy.  It is time for business marketing to come out of the literature closet and lead.

(This 5 part series has been compiled into an eBook entitled, A Matter of Choice: How B2B Buyers Choose in Today’s Complex Markets, to make for easy reading and sharing.  Click on the hyperlinked title to receive.)

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Revenue Growth by Choice and The Buyer Orbit

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This is part 2 of a limited series on why buyer choice modeling is the new view B2B Business must adopt to improve revenue performance and develop long lasting relationships with buyers. 

Growth is getting harder and harder to come by.  With this comes the realization that some of the embedded thinking about how to reach and market to buyers are not working well.  In part 1 of this series we looked at how the funnel is facing a slow death and the limitations of so called funnel thinking.  We are entering a new era of the buyer.  Buyer behaviors are shifting yet we know only a fraction about this shift.  One emerging insight is that of buyer choice.  Simply stated, buyers are making multiple choices prior to as well as well after buying decisions.

Why It Is Important to Understand Buyer Choice

Buyers Have Many Options.  The floodgates have opened on channels, social media, old media, the Internet, and countless other ways to interact, explore, retrieve, and digest information in this new era of the buyer.  With countless options available, buyers are making choices on where to start their exploring.

The Buyer At The Center Of Strategy, Marketing, And Sales.  Conventional funnel thinking has a hard time doing this.  A better way of stating this is that conventional strategy, marketing, and sales decisions are funneled through an old paradigm of the buyer where marketing and sales held the information cards – cards used to target, sell, and persuade buyers.  Today, buyers make the choice on which information cards they decide to deal.  B2B leaders today must find ways to focus strategy on the buyer, the choices they make, and the experiences they have with their organizations.

Experience Determines Choice.  A while back, I made a choice to attend a Broadway musical – of which I am a big fan.  The pre-show experience and excitement was plenty of fun with a great dinner in New York.  The musical started and about 20 minutes into the musical the dread began to overcome me.  I knew this musical production was going to be – dreadful.  We made the choice to leave at intermission and the choice didn’t ruin the entire experience of the evening but it sure changed it.  We chose to find a jazz club and had a great time which meant cancelling out the plans we had after the show.  Buyers today are taking experience cues well before the buyer decision journey and well after.  The buyer experience cues they take-in alter their thinking about the choices they make.  And they could be choices about whether to continue having an experience with your organizations – or – find another.

Understanding Buyer Choice Helps You To Make The Right Choices Available

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Buyer choice anchors five choice elements that can be thought of as continuously orbiting buyers today.  A fundamental shift is happening here.  In the conventional DNA of funnel thinking, we are accustomed to thinking that involves phases or steps.  One phase ends and another phase begin.  What I propose is something we can call the Buyer Orbit.  This is meant to shift the thinking towards recognizing that buyers are continuously addressing goals, challenges, issues, uncertainty, and growth that are in a continuous orbital loop.  This applies to buyer choice:

© All Rights Reserved Buyerology

Explore.  As mentioned in part 1, funnel thinking usually started with attempts to make buyers aware of a product or solution.  It is still rooted in the thinking of flashing attention-getting means before buyer’s eyes as well as push messaging outwards in the hopes of making buyers aware.  Today, buyers are mapping out deliberate exploration prompted by the orbital loop of the goals and etc. that orbit them.  Confronted with many choices, buyers are taking time to map out where to explore, how to explore, and etc.

Network.  As buyers make progression towards less of a single buyer model to that of a world that includes ecosystems and open networks, buyers are making choices to interact with networks and different ecosystem players to collaborate on addressing the issues orbiting them.

Decide.  The way buyers decide today is becoming increasingly complex.   Choices are being made on such things as the rules for deciding, who is included, checking dependencies, and assessing impact.  Buyers today no longer make decisions in a vacuum.

Buy.  The actual buy choice has become a higher stakes game in the B2B world.  Not only are the rules for deciding more complex, but there are more dependencies related to buying and potential impact as well.  The experience element here is now more critical than ever because of the high stakes.  Making the wrong choice, for example, on a software platform designed to measure quality of manufactured parts could have drastic affects downstream with OEMs and distribution.

Relate.  The word – relate – has more applicability in a B2B context than say engage for example.  The higher stakes involved means buyers needs an organization that can relate to the high stakes and a relational bond is being formed.  In the example mentioned above, there may be many discussions before and after the buy choice to ensure that the software platform meets an intended goal.  The ability for B2B companies to provide relational choices and experiences becomes an important factor.  Does the company provide relational choices whether they are face-to-face, telephone, or complex networking technology that involves exchanging design ideas and specifications?

The new era of the buyer is resulting in a paradigm shift on what is required thinking about the buyer today.  Letting go of funnel thinking is no easy task – especially when you strip away the hyperbole and promotion that can surround strategy, it is still very much about the funnel.  Buyers today have many elements related to growth, goals, and uncertainty orbiting their world.  Making choices as this orbital loop continuously impacts their world is changing the very nature of buyer behavior today.  These changes are rocket propelled by a new world of hyper-connectivity and hyper-competition.

Next up: The Buyerology of the Buyer

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Slow Death of the Funnel: Why Buyer Choice Matters to Revenue

IT Buying Process © All rights reserved by Kenny Madden

This is part 1 of a limited series on why buyer choice modeling is the new view B2B Business must adopt to improve revenue performance and develop long lasting relationships with buyers. 

Finding the keys that unlock improving revenue performance and achieving growth is becoming harder and harder as we go from a single buyer model to that of more interdependency among ecosystems and networks by B2B buyers.  B2B marketing and sales is still predominantly tethered to traditional ideas, approaches, and systems that are being dragged into the modern era.  While we have seen modifications, the idea of the traditional funnel is still at the core of many B2B organizations today.  It matters little whether you keep it vertical or flip it sideways and make it horizontal – it is still suggesting a funnel that winnows down opportunities down to a “buy” decision.

As the modern era rages on with increasing speed where the Internet and Social Technologies are converging into new forms, the oversimplification of the funnel becomes more and more apparent.  Simply put, buyers just don’t act or behave in that way anymore.  Evidence suggesting that buyers are behaving well out of the norm of our conventional views of the funnel as well as the buying process is abundant from surveys.  These behaviors cannot be represented in the view of a funnel.  DemandGen, for example, reported that B2B buyers don’t talk to a sales rep until they’ve conducted independent research 77% of the time.  There are plenty of surveys around showing buyers acting and behaving differently – yet – the willingness to snap the tether cord of the funnel doesn’t appear readily apparent.  It does beg the question of: what is going on?

I believe that is still an open question without an answer.  We are about to see an uptick in Big Data being touted as the next Big Thing.  Why?  To figure out what’s going on.  My thinking is that if this Big Data explosion is designed to tell us what’s going on within the confines of the funnel – then B2B organizations can find themselves in the untenable position of explaining why Big Data is not telling them anything.  Here’s why: we will learn a lot about what buyers purchase and we will learn a lot about how they are purchasing – perhaps.  What is missing is the most important question of all – why.  And there are two very important components to the why question:

First, why are they buying and second, why are they making the choices they make. 

Traditional marketing and sales, oriented towards the funnel, don’t answer these why questions very well.  To get close, it may take years of piling on data after data to get a clue.  This is a very expensive proposition for companies to take on today.

Despite the many super hyped concepts coming to the forefront attempting to address the 77% who are not getting a sales rep involved until much later, the funnel – whether vertical or horizontal or even cyclical – seems to be glossed over like a sacred cow.  The language of these many new concepts is spoken through the prism of the funnel – still.  For example, if we take an often used expression of the first part of a funnel – awareness – many of the new concepts are really talking about how to make awareness happen differently in the new social buyer era.  But is that what’s really going on?  I don’t believe so.

Before moving on to what I believe, let’s review limitations of funnel thinking against the new realities of today:

Buyers Explore vs. Become Aware.   B2B buyers are less likely to become aware of solutions and more likely to explore and find them.  And they are making significant choices during their exploring based on what they find.  Unlike consumer purchases where there is an object of purchase desired – for example a HDTV – B2B buyers are making choices on which path they will invest more time hiking and exploring.

Buyers Are Part of Ecosystems and Networks.  The age of the single buyer has come to a close in complex B2B environments.  While there may be a target buyer per se’, they are increasingly dependent upon various ecosystem participants who are directly impacted by purchase decisions and have a voice in these decisions.  The funnel is very limited outside the scope of the single buyer.

Buyers Just Don’t Make New Buys.  In the complex realities of today, buyers are not repeating the new buy orientation of the funnel.  There are many choices being made around how to modify different alternatives.  In the age of just-in-time – and now in the age of real-time, buyers look ahead into the longevity of repurchase – or continuous supply that feeds the ecosystem with little disruption.

Buyer Views Extend Beyond Purchase.   The funnel is based on the short-term view of making the sale and it is measured in quantities.  In today’s environment, the funnel cannot accommodate the long term views buyers have on the overall buying experience and doesn’t account for many factors that happen well after the sale.

Given these limitations, I believe that companies today must attempt to understand buyer choices and adopt a different model.  A Buyer Choice Model that begins to reflect buyer behavior and provides the language and terminology needed to understand why buyers choose as they do.  It puts the buyer at the center of B2B marketing, sales, and service and reflects, more accurately, that buyers are making multiple choices throughout their actions as well as behaviors that ultimately lead to a purchase decision.  But – it doesn’t stop there at the purchase decision.  There is a continuous loop that extends beyond the purchase decision.  The idea of buyer choice modeling is to understand choices that are being made in this continuous loop – so as not to be left out of the loop.

Next up: The elements of the Buyer Choice Model

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The Single Buyer Model: A Dangerous Road Towards Competitive B2B Marketing

Building A Tribe Of Buyers ©All Rights Reserved Kenny Madden

Many B2B Marketers today are faced with the daunting tasks of connecting with buyers in new ways and using new mediums that are still in infancy.  New tactical approaches have been introduced at a rapid rate and some old ideas repurposed with new labels – all in an effort to find the ever flowing fountain of gaining buyer attention.  The shelf-life expectancy of some of the new approaches is yet to be known; making investment and resource decisions for leaders in B2B Marketing a road filled with risks.  For many of these new approaches, the foundation of thinking is still directed towards the single buyer model that has been the standard way of thinking for several decades.

Evidence is building that the standardized focus on a single buyer model has major disadvantages: depictions have lacked in the reality of the real world today, they are narrowly focused on messaging to one buyer or role, it is an over simplification of marketing and selling to a buyer, they are created with little research, and are routinely ignored by selling teams today.  These disadvantages are overshadowing the higher-cost and dangers of the single buyer model used in ways where missteps are being made in overall buyer strategy.  These missteps resulting in significant loss of marketing dollars and waste of valuable yet limited resources.

How Did We Get Here?

The single buyer model had worked well right up to the advent of the Internet and email.   That’s when the barriers started falling down like the Berlin Wall at the end of the cold war.  Up until then, all the power of information was held in the hands of the supplier.  And in most cases, there was a single buyer target that needed the closely held information.  Complex buying was an arduous task assigned to one decision-maker and sellers did all they could to target that one most important buyer – including bringing coffee and donuts.  Marketing played the role of supplying information in literature form and focused on advertising.  Sales role was to target the single buyer.  Sales training was all geared to train sellers how to persuade the single buyer and in the 1980’s we started to see models of how to determine the psyche of the single buyer – was he or she an amiable or an analytical?

The single buyer model is still the major face of the buyer in many B2B organizations.  Evidence suggests that this singular picture of the buyer is cracking like an old oil painting found in an attic:

    • It made sense for many years.  After all we are talking about the buyer and that is the focus of marketing and sales.  On the surface, the profiling of a buyer target seems like an easy fix.  In this new age of social and newly emerging forms of networks – it is no longer an easy fix.
    • Emerging is buyer networks extending beyond our traditional views of the buyer.  New technologies, social and Enterprise 2.0 as examples, have completely erased the barrier to information and allow buyer networks to operate as one and to weigh-in on purchase decisions.
    • Buying has become more complex since a key factor in buyer networks and the ecosystems they support are interdependent.  Meaning more parties participating and more validation is occurring in the purchase decision-making.
    • The tools of the single buyer model are no longer effective.  Sales in particular at the frontline routinely discard sales enablement tools given to them by marketing according to recent IDC research.

What Are The Dangers?

Continuing a narrow focus on the single buyer model is a dangerous path for B2B Marketing.  Evidence points to major disadvantages occurring.

First, with a focus only on the single buyer model, businesses risk finding their organization being excluded from a buyer’s network and not seen as an integral part of the buyer’s ecosystem.  This is a heavy price to pay if you are indeed outside of the network and not an ecosystem player.

Second, the use of the single buyer model has proven to be fraught with shortcomings.  They can best be characterized as only helpful today but not revealing.  Several executives I interviewed in the last six months of 2011 are saying it best:

“What we’ve learned is that buyer personas, building tools for sales, creating lots of content, and etc. don’t meet the mark in today’s competitive market we are in – we need to know more.”

“Our marketing department created marketing material that targeted a specific role in our industry and they rolled out it out with all the fanfare you would expect.  Let me just say everybody had a piece a cake and the party was over that quickly.”

 “Our sales people barely look at the tools we give them.”

Third, the research connection has been lost in the conversation.  While we are seeing a rise in predictive analytics, companies are yet lacking profoundly in qualitative buyer behavior modeling.  This is important due to the evidence which suggests that the introduction of new technologies and networks are changing buying behaviors rapidly.

Fourth, companies are experiencing missed opportunities.  When marketing and sales operations have a singular focus on one buyer, it is like having horse blinders on.  There is much swirling around the buyer and their buyer network.  If the company doesn’t seem to “get it” in terms of what is going on from a network standpoint, then they are unlikely to be privy to other opportunities.  More from the voice of a senior director of global marketing:

“We did this whole campaign around the CFO.  Yes, we even did a buyer persona.  Only to find out we could never talk to a CFO and that they were not the right buyer!”

Fifth, the use of a single buyer model has misdirected focus towards targets that have always been there and has even backfired.  They are problematic in today’s world as they are fraught with many built-in assumptions that were developed over the years.  The risk here is that buyer requirements and the very nature of the buyer have changed.  Here’s the voice of a senior level sales executive articulating this point:

“After the first year of joining this company, I began to realize there was a disconnect between sales and our customers.  What occurred to me is that our customers have become highly educated folks and were of a different background of let’s say fifteen years ago.  The disconnect is that our sales force hasn’t kept pace with this change.”

Is There A Better Way?

For many executives today in B2B leadership positions, there are three constant clouds twirling around their heads: the lack of insight about buyers, they are faced with tremendous uncertainty about the direction to steer their organization, and they lack the ability to predict as well as forecast into the near as well as far future.  The better way points towards providing clues to disperse these clouds before the rain extinguishes any hope they had.  There are several ways that I believe can give businesses the insight they need to respond to the ever changing buyer of today:

  • Engage in predictive buyer modeling that models the behavioral trends of buyers – a need that aligns with the fast pace of change
  • Connect predictive buyer modeling to predictive analytics to illuminate a 360 degree view of buyers
  • Balance market and buyer research investments to include qualitative research along with quantitative research
  • Develop robust B2B oriented Business Buyergraphics based on purchasing behavior that extend beyond buyer personas, demographics, and firmographics and serves as the triborough bridge between marketing, sales, and strategy
  • Utilize target buyer modeling as a gateway to understand and model fast emerging buyer networks and buyer ecosystem dynamics
  • Develop a renewed focus on descriptive buyer segmentation based on purchase behaviors

The single buyer model no longer works in this new complex world.  We are confronted with a world where buyers no longer act independent of others in decision-making and are dependent upon networks and ecosystems.  The imperative for senior B2B executives is to adapt to change and make the tough decisions that come with change.  Modeling the behaviors, decisions, and buying scenarios of buyers and their networks give leaders what they seem to be asking for: deeper understanding of buyer behavior, how to attract more buyers, know which direction to lead their organization, and keep the ship floating upright while at the same time plugging the leaks.

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Eric Got Me Thinking About The Next Buyer Revolution

English: Yemeni protests typical day at Sana'a...

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In my most recent article, Boost Demand Generation Using Target Ready Buyer Models, a comment was posted by the ever thoughtful Eric Wittlake, author of the blog B2B Digital Marketing and a member of the team at the Integrated B2B Marketing Agency – Babcock and Jenkins.  Here is a portion of what he said:

 “As more buyers wait to engage with sales and as more companies, in order to attract potential buyers, open up their content, the need to meet your audience’s needs before you know who they are is likely going to be one of the next revolutions we see.”

This comment really got me thinking.  What I have been thinking about is that we are in the midst of the next revolution right now – that we are in the midst of a business version of the Arab Spring.  Business today has its’ own Buyer Spring taking place today and some businesses are yet not awaken to the reality of this revolution.  Like the chaotic nature of revolutions, I am going to share the random thoughts I have been thinking about since reading Eric’s comment:

Anonymous Environment

Eric, in the same comment, also used the expression “creating demand in an anonymous environment.”  In many ways, it is a buyer’s revolt against years of having to first identify themselves before they can get an ounce of information.  The registration debate is really not about registration.  It’s about attempting to block a buyer’s revolt about identifying themselves.  Business needs to accept the fact that it will never know who is behind the door – until they knock and say let me in.  If your business has been engaged in knocking on the door of a buyer endlessly and no one is opening it – it means no one is home to greet you on your terms.

Organization Infrastructure

Many businesses still have not adapted their organizational structure and operations to an anonymous environment.  Marketing and sales functions as well as operations are still geared to the days when a buyer had to pick up the phone and let it be known they need information.  Buyers realizing that they were going to identify themselves in the process.  I hear the “but, but – we have a website” cries out there.  Take a hard look at it and see if it is any different than the phone – what are you requiring of visitors to do to get an ounce of information?  Is your sales function still geared towards that “first” call, designed 25 years ago, under the presumption the buyer knows nothing yet?

Research and Insight

Businesses that know they are in the midst of the Buyer Spring revolution are going to double down on research and insights.  Identifying buyer needs and goals, before you know who they are, are going to make the difference between surviving the next revolution and being exiled.  Business will need to connect the quantitative with the qualitative to make this work.   And I am not talking about buyer personas here folks – which have been bastardized to mean everything but the real research and insight intent established in the late ‘90’s.  I am talking about real world buyer research that means getting out from behind your computer, laptop, or tablet screen and knowing buyers in their environments.

Rush to Tactics

The rush to tactics such as content marketing, demand generation, marketing automation, inbound marketing, and more is a rush to meet mass Buyer Spring movements where they are marching in the buyer square.  B2B marketing is rushing head on into tactics without thinking about some of the ramifications of this next revolution.  While there are businesses enjoying success with these tactics, there are equal numbers or more getting little return because they haven’t yet figured out what their new strategies and business models need to be in this next revolution.

Smart Content

I like this term which has been bantered around – more so than content marketing.  Why?  Because it makes you think about how to make your content smart for buyers.  A big part of this next revolution – this Buyer Spring – is buyers not wanting a return to old style push marketing.  No matter how you cut it – and I am talking on the basis of buyer interviews I’ve conducted – when buyers hear and read that you are doing content marketing they still see it as a mental image of push marketing.  And believe me I am continuously amazed how companies are broadcasting to their buyers about their great content marketing.  Shutting down automatic defense behaviors is no easy feat so why make it harder?

 The Waiting Game

Buyers are waiting longer and longer to engage with sales.  Getting predictive about what’s happening in this waiting game is going to test the abilities of businesses to anticipate and be in a state of readiness when buyers do identify themselves.  B2B leaders are going to be measured on how well they can get their organization in a state of anticipation and readiness.  A significant majority of businesses are still oriented towards persuasion.  In the next revolution buyers are saying – be ready to tell me something important.

For limited time only in the Middle East
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These are random thoughts and I am sure I will think of more as you will have more.  One thing is clear, just as in the Arab Spring, the Buyer Spring will result in old regimes being thrown out and old ways of doing business being cast out like furniture being thrown out of the palace window.  Revolutions and democracy building is a messy affair as we are seeing with the Arab Spring.  In terms of the Buyer Spring revolution, it is going to be messy at first.  Businesses need to start figuring out today whether they are going to fight or join the revolution.  Which side are you going to be on?

Hey Eric, thanks for making me think!

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