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The State of Buyer Personas 2012

© All Rights Reserved by 24point0

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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Can You Predict Your Ideal Scenarios For Lead Nurturing?

"Sales Checking For Leads" © All Rights Reserved Kenny Madden

Depending on which reports you may read when it comes to lead nurturing, approximately 60% or more of B2B businesses do not have a formalized lead nurturing program.  Yet, depending on these same reports from the several research organizations benchmarking such effort, companies who perform effective lead nurturing enjoy a better than 25% higher return on their efforts than those who do not.  Which begs the question: why are companies slow to adopt to lead nurturing?

Reasons

I suspect one reason may be that the pressure for instant results from lead generation efforts is a primary driver.  Especially from firms heavily rooted in measuring results monthly and quarterly to a fanatical nature.  Which makes you think:  how much potential revenue is being left on the roadside in the speedy monthly pursuit to instantly convert leads generated into month-end results?  If organizations who find themselves in this predicament were to evaluate their efforts against what has been bypass in their pursuit, I believe they would find a sizeable amount of opportunities.

Another important reason why adoption may be either slow or unproductive is that there is a “once size fits all” mentality to lead generation and lead nurturing.  While efforts are made to develop the usual litany of content such as white papers and other mediums, they are focused on a generic understanding of challenges and issues.  While mapping content to the buying stages or journey has come into vogue, a review of forty qualitative research programs I have been involved in indicates that today’s buyers do not think or behave in such linear fashion.  Their information needs do not necessarily align or map one-to-one to a linear view of buying stages.

Buyer Scenario Modeling

While modeling the ideal buyer is of extreme importance, in the form of buyer personas, it is only one model of multiple to understanding buyers today.  In terms of lead nurturing; perhaps one of the most significant efforts an organization can make today is in the area of buyer scenario modeling.  Here is buyer scenario modeling defined:

Buyer Scenario Modeling is the process of analyzing research-based modeling of possible events, buying scenarios, buyer behaviors, buying decisions, and alternative future outcomes.”

Lead generation, lead nurturing, and content marketing can each be enhanced dramatically as well as integrate together on a more effective level with buyer scenario modeling.  This is more so than any mapping to buying stages or journey.  Buyers today do not think today nor are they forced to think in a linear fashion as they may have in the past.  Buyers are thinking in terms of the situation they find themselves in and the world swirling around them; pulling from their ecosystems and networks to meet objectives.

Changing B2B with Predictive Buyer Modeling

I recently introduced the idea of how predictive buyer modeling will change B2B as we know it.  One of the underpinnings of this idea is the use of buyer scenario modeling.  What companies can do more effectively through this process is begin to segment their lead generation and lead nurturing programs according to predictive scenarios, buyer behaviors, and buying outcomes.  Gaining knowledge and insight into how buyer scenarios develop, what challenges occur to trigger buying considerations, how buyers interact with others, and why decisions are being made.

One such Fortune 100 company who helped to co-create this concept with me recently segmented their lead nurturing efforts by modeled scenarios of the time buyers were investing in researching, evaluating, and decision-making once a challenge, problem, or issue arose.  Not happy with their lead generation results, they reorganized programs around four identifiable and predictable buying scenarios to achieve a much higher return on their efforts.  Content was developed to support the buying scenarios buyers found themselves in and not according to previously mapped generic buying stages.

This type of effort turns out to be good for all parties involved.  Marketing no longer is wasting effort and content on non-applicable situations.  Selling teams are nurturing leads at the right level and more importantly – timing.  Buyers are getting their information needs met at the right time, the right place, and the right situation of challenges they are dealing with.  To a greater degree, companies will be better able to identify and predict the ideal scenarios that give them the best shot at winning and being a long-term alternative to buyers.

Why

Buyer scenario modeling is needed in today’s connected buyer world due to the multiple types of scenarios buyers find themselves in today.  If companies are not in synch with understanding possible scenarios and outcomes, then they will be left out of the picture so to speak.  It is time for companies today to make giant leaps in their lead nurturing efforts.  Buyer scenario modeling may be just the springboard they need.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Use Buyer-Based Selling To Engage The New SMB Buyer

©All Rights Reserve by PhotoSteve 101

This is part 5 and final article of a series on the challenge of targeting SMB markets and how the use of buyer-based modeling and buyer-based marketing help organizations to grow their SMB customer base.

Prognosticators today abound on the demise of sales.  Not so fast.  While the notion of field sales shrinking for the SMB is a fact, it doesn’t quite mean the end of sales.  We’ve seen tremendous growth in the arena of Inside Sales over the past decades as the expense of dedicating field resources to SMB is no longer affordable as well as seismic shifts in buyer behaviors.  Where are we today?  The roles of sales in general and inside sales functions are struggling to adapt to the new psychology of the buyer and the new rules of engagements.  This is creating a clarion call among the Fortune 1000 and Global 2000 to attain deeper buyer-based marketing and sales capabilities for the SMB markets.

Success in expanding inside sales is highly dependent upon shifting to buyer-based models of selling that redesigns the roles and make up of inside sales departments.  Expanding the number of inside sales reps while not changing models of buyer conversations and engagements will just lead to more frustrated inside sales reps.  Far too often, who the SMB buyer is and understanding how and why they make purchasing decisions gets lost in the shuffle of statistics on number of dials, connections, and product pitches.  In a few of my qualitative research efforts, I’ve sat with frontline inside sales reps for a few hours.  I know and I get it – the grade that counts is meeting the quota numbers for dial and connections let alone revenue.  What the new breed of inside sales reps wants today is more engaging conversations with buyers and less focus on product pitches once they connect.

How To Make This Happen?

 In this series, we’ve focused on buyer-based modeling.  Modeling buyers today is the path towards creating models of buyer conversations that engage the SMB buyer today.  Let’s take a look at the path towards creating buyer-based selling models that transform inside sales to unified communicators engaging the SMB buyer:

Model the SMB Buyer Persona: researching and developing composite archetypes of various SMB business executives and owners can be a powerful tool for inside sales enablement.  Visual representation gets inside people beyond the wall of the computer screen and to thinking about who their buyers really are.

Model Buyergraphics: stopping at buyer personas today is a grave mistake.  Modeling a detailed set of SMB Buyergraphics gives your Inside Sales teams the contextual situations and predictive scenarios they need in order to engage the SMB buyer.  With the savvy SMB buyer adept at researching and making quick decisions, this approach gets Inside Sales teams to the same level.

Model Range of Interactions: the SMB buyer is rapidly changing their range of behaviors depending on the context of their situation.  The model of inside sales has been a simplistic idea that you hope to “catch” the buyer when he or she happens to be sitting by his or her desk phone.  In today’s world, SMB buyers are hurriedly going about running their businesses and not sitting still.  The range of behaviors includes their behavioral attributes associated with social networks, the web, while at customer locations, engaging with employees, and several others.  Accounting for these ranges of behaviors puts your organization in the right place at the right time -the SMB buyer’s time.

Model Unified Communicator: inside sales has lived with the equivalent association to telesales.  If you are still doing this today, this is another grave mistake.  The range of communications and engagement is becoming more expansive than ever.  The phone now is only one of several.  Building a range of available interactions albeit social, mobile, web, and etc. is needed to transform inside sales to a new role.  A new role of Unified Sales is critical to engaging the new SMB buyer who, as mentioned above, is expanding their range of how they behave to get information and meet goals.  Today’s buyer-based Unified Sales reps must have the skills and capacities to meet the SMB buyer where they are – at a critical moment in time.

Model Buyer-Based Selling: remapping processes is going to take some hard work.  Shifting from product-based and phone-based sales processes is in essence a cultural change within organizations.  And anyone who has ever been involved in managing culture change in large organizations knows the mountain that must be climbed.  However with the right gear, product and phone-based selling processes can be transformed to buyer-based conversational models.  Modeling new buyer-based selling processes will lead to incorporating newer technologies that enhance engaging the SMB buyer such as cloud-based technologies and tools.

Engaging today’s SMB buyer will take profound changes in how organizations market to and sell to this important growth segment.  It will take big thinking as opposed to the small thinking that sometimes has been accorded to the SMB markets.  Today’s SMB buyer is more technologically savvy, nimble in making changes, and certainly don’t think of themselves as small.  Meaning, that the Fortune 1000 or Global 2000 has to change their approach – and not let their own largeness get in the way.

(This 5 part series has been compiled into an eBook entitled, No Small Hurdle: Buyer-Based Marketing and Selling to the New SMB Buyer, for easy reading and sharing. Click on the hyperlinked title to receive.)

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Grow SMB Revenues With Buyer-Based Marketing

This is part 3 of a series on the challenge of targeting SMB markets and how the use of buyer-based modeling and buyer-based marketing help organizations to grow their SMB customer base. 

Buyer Persona © All Rights Reserved Cristian Cardenas

The sheer size of the SMB makes for a daunting task for any organization intent on marketing to the SMB segment.  When you consider some Fortune 1000 or Global 2000 organizations can have in the 10’s or 100’s of thousands of companies in their customer bases, the expression of zeroing in on your target buyer can sound near impossible.  It is a dilemma however that cannot be ignored.  The U.S. Small business Administration estimates that the SMB segment accounts for better than 98% of all businesses in the United States.

In the previous article in this series, How To Get To Know The New SMB Buyer, I touched upon the means to get to know the SMB buyer.  Marketing to the SMB segment and buyers should first start with visiting the segmentation issue a little deeper.  There have been many means tried for SMB segmentation whether it is by size, type, vertical, products, solutions, and etc.  To some degree, they have helped to manage the challenge of bringing a tighter focus to the SMB segment and its’ sub-market segments.  Analytics of your SMB customer database is like fighting numbers with numbers – you can contain the data but without behavioral insight – you will not be able to get inside them.  The call to action now is for organizations to bring more science and evolution to the challenge.  Why?  Because buyers in general have changed so rapidly in the last three years alone that gaining a competitive edge has become much more complex.

Getting Descriptive

Going beyond conventional methods of segmenting the SMB customer base means getting more descriptive about how SMB buyers behave and how goals drive their behaviors.  This includes getting a good sense about their Buyergraphics – their attitudes, perceptions, values, information needs, and more.  The attempt here is to answer some tough questions that help to bring more focus to an SMB strategy:

Who are our best customers in the SMB segments and why?

In what SMB sub-market segments are our best customers?

Who are our best prospects and in which SMB sub-market segment are they?

What are the best means of engaging our best SMB customers and best SMB prospects?

Descriptive buyer modeling helps you to get answers to these questions and gives you insight into the data as well.  In the previous article I stressed the importance of buyer modeling to help get to know your SMB buyers.  Modeling buyers and portraying them via buyer personas and scenarios helps you get to the first two questions mentioned.  To help round out the SMB buyer picture, learning their attitudes towards your product, service, or technology and how these attitudes drive information needs help to get deeply descriptive.  There are three specific buyer modeling efforts that can help shed light on the attitudes and goals driving SMB buyer behavior and help inform buyer-based marketing strategies:

Buyer Mental Models: collecting a picture of SMB buyer attitudes, perceptions, and goals that influence buying decisions can be a descriptive means for segmenting as well as buyer-based communicating.  For example if your product technology is getting high marks for user-friendliness and there is strong attitudinal resistance to perceived complex technology in 3 out 5 identified sub-markets, then  creating buyer-based marketing strategies around this mental model is one way of segmenting.

Buyer Content Models: identifying the information needs and goals of buyers today extends well beyond just the concept of content marketing.  With the rise of SMB sub-market segments engaging not only in new technologies but forming new ecosystem, the information needs of SMB buyers are vastly different and changing rapidly.  Carrying the above example further, the information needs of the 3 sub-markets may vary differently in context and how information is shared amongst both suppliers and partners.  More and more, organizations will need to think context-based marketing and context-based selling as opposed to just content-based marketing.  While this will apply to all types of businesses, I believe this will be especially true for the SMB markets.

Buyer Experience Models: how SMB buyers view, perceive, and expect experience is undergoing transformative gyrations.  The way SMB buyers experience inbound marketing and other newer technology-based marketing and sales is certain to be different than larger enterprises.  There are many more what I call Buyer Moment of Truth in SMB that are frankly invisible to marketers and sellers today.  Not identifying where these moments of truth are can be a significant disadvantage in laying out both inbound and outbound marketing and sales strategies.  Understanding experiences is important since they are instrumental in shaping attitudes, perceptions, and perceived values.  For the examples mentioned, previous experiences with technology not yet cleared of bugs may have created entrenched resistance to both new and complex.  Reshaping thinking around experience can then become an important strategy.

Modeling SMB buyers to a deeper level and around the three modeling efforts mentioned gets organizations closer to a true buyer-based marketing effort.  In addition, it gives more robust ability to segment SMB by behavior and context.  Buyer-based marketing can be most effective when it addresses how buyers behave and understanding the context of why they make purchase decisions.

Informed with behavioral buyergraphics that hone in on buyer behaviors and how they are influenced by mental models, information needs, and experience can be a powerful way to resonate with SMB buyers.  Getting at the heart of their contextual environments, which will vary by sub-market segments, gives the insight needed to develop specific buyer-based marketing strategies that defies one-size fits all.   When it comes to the dilemma of how to make sense of thousands of SMB customers and prospects, taking these steps eliminates wasteful guessing and pinpoints buyer-based marketing at the right buyer, the right sub-market, the right context, and the right time.

Next Up: Connect With SMB Buyer Through Buyer-Based Selling

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How To Get To Know The New SMB Buyer

©All rights Reserved Peter Schofield

This is part 2 of a series on the challenge of targeting SMB markets and how the use of buyer modeling and buyer-based marketing help organizations to grow their SMB customer base. 

In the first article of this series, we visited two new realities.  One, that many Fortune 1000 and Global 2000 organizations are turning a focused eye towards growing their SMB customer and revenue base.  With revenue growth potential shrinking in larger strategic accounts due to budget and pricing pressures, many are dedicating attention and resources with more determination than in the past.  The second reality is that they are finding a very different buyer this time around than in the past.  Simply put, SMB buyers are more social, more sophisticated, more connected, and are transforming their buying behaviors at an accelerated pace.  New technologies opening their world to advantages only once afforded to large enterprises.

Waking up to these new realities has set up another challenge for executive leaders.  That is of how to get to know the new SMB buyer.  Here’s how one sales executive put this to me recently:

“One of the things we realized is that we have got to get to know our SMB customers.  If you keep in mind that we haven’t really dedicated much resource to this area, then we are lacking in knowledge per se’.  We’ve got to find out what is important to them versus just giving them some generic sales pitch.”

This is a very salient point for many organizations tend to view the SMB as a whole segment in of itself.  The reality is that the SMB is highly fragmented and consists of many layers of sub-market segments.  Getting to know what makes SMB buyers tick is, by no means, as easy as saying this is your SMB buyer.  Layer on top of this the enormous changes in buyer behavior, the invisibility of SMB buyers in their sourcing for information, and new empowering technologies makes this endeavor a higher mountain to climb.  It is no wonder many executives are walking out of their meetings where SMB growth is identified as a top priority saying – now what?

Getting To Know The New SMB Buyer

The first tough challenge is realizing that viewing the SMB as a single market and that rudimentary means of segmenting by employee size and revenue figures are not going to result in the understanding needed.  While vertical segmentation is of significant help, what is paramount is knowledge of how these sub-markets and buyers within behave.  What are steps that executives can take to understand the new SMB buyer?

Buyer Research: This has to be a clear mission.  Getting to know the new SMB buyer is going to take some level of buyer research.  It is going to take the integrated approach of committing to both quantitative and qualitative approaches to understand the full 360 degrees of the new SMB buyer.

Buyer Modeling: Depending on the degree of fragmentation in sub-markets, powerful buyer modeling can be an extensive exercise.  However, one well-worth the upfront investment to get to know the new SMB buyer in ways that transforms efforts into an order of magnitude competitive advantage.  There are several areas of modeling that by understanding them deeply, can make your organization relevant to buyers and core to their problem-solving:

Buyer Persona Modeling: What is important here is not to model the single archetypal buyer but to model the new levels of interactions buyers are having with newly formed ecosystems and networks.  They may be SMB but they are growing exponentially and organically by creating new ecosystems.  Buyer persona modeling represents composite archetypes based on behavioral research with a focus on identifying critical goals that drive buyer behaviors.

Buyer Scenario Modeling: To get a handle on the problems SMB buyers face and what confronts them, modeling buying scenarios can give your marketing and sales teams insight into how to be relevant.  Additionally, this gives you the ability to address fragmentation and identify sub-market segments that have the best optimal scenarios to be part of the SMB buyer’s solution.

Buyer Decision Modeling: How SMB buyers are making purchase decisions today is changing so fast and by sub-markets that not monitoring this aspect of a SMB strategy can put an organization behind the curve.  While looking at the buyer decision journey can be fruitful, in my qualitative research I’ve noted how the new SMB buyers are adept at more ad-hoc decision-making.  Furthermore, with the rise of ecosystems and networks, collaborative efforts in making purchase decisions are not so neatly streamlined.  Newer technologies are also making purchase decisions more decentralized than ever – making fragmentation on this issue even more complex.

Buyer Value Modeling:  SMB buyers’ value varies widely by sub-market segments.   Gaining insight and modeling how these values operate in their day-to-day world can help you to tailor offerings and communications to fit specific sub-market segments.  Depending on the industry and markets, values in the SMB take on a deeper emotive texture and can be a deciding factor in purchase decisions.

Avoid Big Data Trap

With the rise of big data, there will be a tendency to try and “cut the numbers” every which way to make sense of the SMB market challenge.  When dealing with 5,000 SMB accounts to 150,000 SMB accounts, the tasks of getting to know these SMB buyers at a deeper level can look downright daunting.  Analytics will play an important role towards reaching understanding.  I also contend and advocate that qualitative and predictive buyer modeling is essential to integrate into the mix of discovering the new SMB buyer of today.  Buyer behavior within the SMB world is rapidly changing.  A reasonable assumption can be made that in some SMB sub-market segments it is changing at a faster pace than that of larger organizations.

The combined use of analytics and predictive buyer modeling can yield an insightful picture into how these new behaviors translate into uncovering why buyers make purchase decisions.  And, get closer to the holy grail of uncovering the reasons why they would change.

Next Up: The Importance of Buyer-Based Marketing in SMB

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Your Top Priority Is Growing The SMB Revenue Base – Now What?

 

Do Your Research Before You Pick Up The Phone © All Rights Reserved Kenny Madden

This is part 1 of a series on the challenge of targeting SMB markets and how the use of target buyer modeling and buyer-based marketing help organizations to grow their SMB customer base. 

As we continue to come out of the deep freeze over the last few years, we are beginning to see encouraging signs of an economic recovery.  However, the purse strings are still drawn tight and new patterns of buying has created an atmosphere of even more exacting pricing pressures from enterprise-wide level buyers and accounts.  This means less room for revenue growth to come directly from the fabled 20-30 percent of large customers who typically have made up 70-80 percent of total revenues.  This is how a VP of Sales in the software industry put it to me recently in my research:

“Here is what it looks like…we are actually selling more of our product into our larger accounts than ever before….but…over the last three years we’ve faced stiffer competition that has driven our pricing down.  So the net-net has been that we are just holding on as best we can to these larger accounts.  Another words, we are not getting significant real revenue growth from them.”

It is highly likely that this refrain is being repeated across many Fortune 1000, Global 2000, and even Inc. 500 listed companies across the globe.  With revenue growth opportunities shrinking among their large accounts, senior leaders in these organizations are turning a focused eye towards the highly sought after small and mid-size business segment.  For instance, in the highly compettive world of IT Products and Services, both HP and IBM made substantial investments and strategic moves in 2011 to target the SMB segment.  Challenging Dell and its’ low cost entry strategy for small to mid-size businesses.

A New Challenge And A New Frontier

There is good reason for Fortune 1000 or Global 2000 companies to target revenue growth from the SMB segment.  It is one of the fastest growing segments and traditionally has been coming out of a recession.  It also has proven to be lucrative when you consider that actual contribution margin percentages are much richer per sale when compared to large accounts.  It is little surprise that senior executives have shifted at least one eye towards expanding their SMB customer base and tapping into the revenue growth potential that can exists.

While targeting or at least accounting for the SMB segment is not a new idea to larger enterprises, this time around they are waking up to new buyer realities.  Buyer behaviors continue to change rapidly and these new behaviors are associated with largely buyer-driven changes.  What is confronting those wanting to achieve revenue growth from SMB buyers and companies is that they may know very little about these buyers and companies.  How to market to SMB buyers and companies becoming one of the hot priority items showing up on the agenda of many large enterprise management meetings being held daily, weekly, or monthly.  As one Senior VP of Sales and Markerting in IT pointed out to me recently:

“I am almost afraid to admit that we may have taken the SME (my notation: some executives refer to SMB as SME – small and mid-size enterprises) businesses for granted all these years.  We never really moved beyond segmenting by employee size and revenue so we really don’t know a lot about SME’s as we should.  It’s easy say you want to target them but planning how to target them is basically a whole new ball game for us.”

Because little knowledge may exist about SMB businesses and buyers, there are perhaps more assumptions being made about SMB than for larger accounts.  Generalized perceptions and preconceived notions run rampant in the halls and meeting rooms of larger enterprises attempting to figure out how to market to SMB segments.  There is what I call a “definition churn” that can happen when knowledge is found wanting – new definitions, classifications, segmentations, and etc. begin to appear every 3, 6, 9, or 12 months.  Moving around 1,000’s of accounts and prospects in virtual databases to new buckets created for employee size, revenue size, product targets, and verticals.

Unprecedented Transformation Occurring

In the past, working with these definitions may have been sufficient.  Looking ahead into the future - and the near future at that – these definitions alone will no doubt prove to be limiting and even detrimental to growth.  We are experiencing an unprecedented transformation in the world of business with new buyer-driven economies, ecosystems, networks, and communications emerging constantly – making understanding of SMB buyers and companies that may have been attained even as little 3 to 5 years ago nearly obsolete.

For many large enterprise organizations that show up on the famed Fortune 1000 or Global 2000 lists, growing the SMB customer base may be their number one, or at least in the top five, priority.  It is also, as a result of new buyer realities that are emerging, their number one challenge.  To tackle both angles of this two-sided coin, gaining deeper layers of understanding about SMB buyers and companies will need to get on these same priority lists.

Next Up: Understanding New Buyer Realities In SMB

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Revenue Growth by Choice and The Buyer Orbit

English: Two bodies with a slight difference i...

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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:

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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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As The World Churns For CMO’s

English: Churning paddle wheel, higher ferry, ...

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The good news is that CMO tenure continues to rise.  Spencer Stuart, the executive search consulting firm, in their study released early last year reported that average tenure rose to 42 months.  Up from 35 months two years ago and up from 27 months in 2007.  The bad news is that the CMO position still churns and remains one of the riskiest positions in corporate business.  Additional bad news is that the rise is largely due to economic instability and CEO’s desire to stay the course during uncertain times according to Spencer Stuart.  Not the best reason for a rise but nevertheless it presents opportunities for CMO’s to succeed in longer tenures.

Economic instability and uncertainty will remain constant variables I believe for the next two years.  Compounding the complexity for CMO’s is the state of the buyer.  Or, a better expression may be - the ever changing and unsettled state of the buyer.  CMO’s can and should play an instrumental role in leading organizations out of economic instability and providing a clear picture of the state of their company’s buyers.  There are several guiding ideas that CMO’s can consider to ensure not only a longer tenure but solidifying a leadership role:

Caught In A Spider Web

The CMO role is first and foremost one of leadership.  Their role defined by the challenge of leading their respective organization and the company as a whole into the future of marketing to the new hyper-connected and hyper-networked buyer.  The cautionary tale here is to avoid getting caught in the spider web of hype and tactics.  The state of the new buyer has sprouted new buzz words, touted tactics, and channels all promising the chance to lift marketing up to higher levels.  When uncertainty reigns, the temptation can be as alluring as rich chocolate to bite into these new tactical measures.  Good CMO’s today will focus on setting the entire course as opposed to thinking about the dessert.

Spinning Wheel

CMO’s today must figure out how to keep the marketing wheel turning.  Looking at what relevant spokes in the wheel will result in the right balance.  Some of these spokes will come from internal while others may come from external.  Sound assessments are needed to determine where it makes sense to bring in outside expertise to keep the wheel balanced and spinning.  External spokes can come in the form of customers, partners, and consultants – all being brought together to help them navigate the risky and uncertain road ahead.  Balancing expertise in new forms of marketing and direction providing is a skill that CMO’s can develop to ensure less churn.

The Vision Thing

For most organizations, CMO’s can shape the role of not only being the eyes and ears of customers and buyers today but also help to give vision of where they are likely to be in the future.  CMO’s today can cause fundamental shifts in buyer understanding through the balance of quantitative predictive analytics and qualitative predictive buyer modeling.  When combined, helping CMO’s to offer a vision of the future buyer and how their company can best respond.

Using A Periscope

CMO’s will need to rely on the use of customer and buyer insight to guide strategy planning and gain foresight.  Taking care to realize insight gathering should be ongoing and not a static moment in time.  Repeating the refrain of balance, endeavors must include balancing quantitative insight and analysis with that of qualitative insight and analysis.  CMO’s will need to use these twin periscopes to look out above the turbulent waters and gain deep understanding about buyers that informs them where to find land where buyers reside.

Time For Good Behavior

In significant fashion, buyer behavior continues to be metamorphic as the heat of change rises each year.  CMO’s can influence how their company connects with buyers with deep analysis and portrayals of buyers that extend beyond demographics and firmographics.  Instead, focusing their sights on a more penetrating view of Business Buyergraphics aimed at understanding the purchasing behaviors of buyers as well as what tangible and intangible drivers are influencing these behaviors.

Getting All Techie

Understanding new technologies today, especially those related to digital, social, and Enterprise 2.0, remain an important function of the modern CMO.  New technology can either be your best friend or your worst enemy.  Some CMO’s, at least gleamed anecdotally, have had their tenure cut short by placing a big bet on implementing a new technology that turned into a sinkhole with little to show for it.  Careful assessment can result in good choices whereby new enabling technology moves the needle forward.  More profoundly, CMO’s of this era need to engage in the role of determining how introductions of external new technologies change buyer behaviors and what impact they have on their organization.

Don’t Forget Your Best Friend

It might be a good idea to get your office next door to that of the CSO and become fast friends.  Neither can exist without the other in today’s complex world where there is elusive understanding of not only buyers but how to create synergy in go-to-market strategies.  The marketing and sales alignment issue over the years has revolved too much around tactical concepts as opposed to strategic common sense about buyers.  It’s like two assistant coaches arguing about how to get a first down versus how to score points.  Get on the same team and worry about scoring points with buyers.

Going To School

On the job learning is critical to keep up with new understandings about markets and buyers.  This should not be confused with trying to learn all about the intricate details of social media, content marketing, and etc.  The focus on learning should be on understanding buyer behaviors and making sound assessments of what means help organizations best respond to these new behaviors and win over customers.  My sense is that the Spencer Stuart tenure numbers will fluctuate downward each time new technologies are introduced and new economic environments arise – caused primarily by skill gaps.

Can any of these guiding ideas ensure longevity beyond 42 months?  No, that would be a bet worth not making in these complex times.  What I do believe is that it increases the probability and that CMO’s will be better off than when they first started their tenure.  Regardless of how long the tenure, it will also enhance preparedness for the next assignment.  There is a ying and yang that comes with churn – if you are on the exit side you can always be sure that there will be an entry side somewhere waiting.

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

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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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Buyerology: The New Science of Understanding Buyer Behavior

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Over the course of the past two years, we’ve seen a marked shift in buyer behavior and buying choices.  So much so that the degree of uncertainty of why and how both individual buyers and organizational buyers make buying decisions has also markedly increased.  There is a direct correlation occurring whereby as buyers continue to increase their share of self-directing the buying decision without any direct interactions from sellers, the degree of uncertainty grows.  While quantitatively as well as statistically we have a sense of what buyers are doing, as survey reports by Baseone and DemandGen indicate, we still lack in-depth qualitative awareness on why and how certain buying choices are made.

This is awakening a renewed reality among business today that understanding shifts in buying behavior is becoming paramount to planning marketing and selling strategies that will succeed.  Buyer behavior understanding began to surface more prominently in the mid-1970’s but remained on the fringes of planning and strategies as product-centricity was entrenched in much of business as we knew it through the ‘80’s and ‘90’s.  During the past three decades we have seen a growth in customer and buyer-centric thinking however buyer behavior analysis remained somewhat a small component of marketing and sales thinking as well as planning.  Fast forward to the last five years and the explosive convergence of the Internet and the Social Age; we are seeing recognition that buyer behavior understanding is moving towards being the centerpiece linchpin of planning and strategy.  Companies today are attempting to make themselves relevant to buyers who are radically evolving their buying behaviors and have more buying choices than they ever dreamed of in just a few short years.  The relevancy mystery can only be solved by understanding buyer behaviors and the shifts in buying choices that are occurring.

We are witnessing another awakening as a result of new and rapidly evolving buyer behaviors; organizations today needing to approach marketing and selling interactions as more science and less art.  These monumental awakenings call for a new approach and concept I call BuyerologyBuyerology is a means to introduce more science into understanding, both quantitatively and qualitatively, buyer behaviors and buying choices.  The convergence of the Internet and the Social Age requires new approaches to tools that are used to reach in-depth understanding as well as to monitor rapid shifts in buyer behaviors.  Buyerology must offer approaches and tools that help to translate buyer behavior understanding and insights into meaningful strategies that accomplish the relevancy that remains elusive for many companies today.

My own shift in thinking about buyer behavior began with a series of articles on Social Buyerology.  The articles tapped into the recognition and movement towards more science and less art in the spheres of marketing and sales as well as in overall social strategy.  Reflecting back on ten years since originating buyer persona development, much of the analysis performed via buyer persona development was in essence about buyer behavior.  Recently, I have written about how buyer persona development must indeed undergo its own transformation at this juncture in modern business history.

This article marks a turning point for me personally and professionally.  I have been thinking about something – in fact a lot – Tom Peters use to bellow loudly in many of his presentations years ago – that if you’ve been doing the same thing or staying with the same company for ten years or more you’ve become institutionalized.  In similar ways, buyer personas as an idea has become institutionalized in various circles; defined rightly and wrongly, and indeed no longer can suffice on its own.  Adapting to the new social world and taking a leap of faith, I will be devoting the next twelve weeks to elaborating on the new science of understanding buyer behaviors I call Buyerology.  I will be sharing new approaches and tools that address the many challenges faced by organizations in marketing, sales, social business, and content strategy planning.

My hope is to accomplish two things.  First, to avoid becoming institutionalized as Tom Peters ingrained in me many years ago.  Whether he meant mentally or physically, I am not sure but it has felt like a few times, like many of us, I was losing my mind while I attempted to understand the many changes occurring!  The second is to make a contribution towards advancing buyer behavior understanding through the social science of Buyerology.

 

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