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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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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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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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Channeling Buyer-Based Experiences in SMB

© All Rights Reserved I-5 Design and Manufacturer

This is part 4 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. 

When it comes to the SMB segment and the multiple sub-markets, it is just a plain fact that you cannot be everywhere.  We addressed the segmentation thought process crucial for buyer-based marketing to the SMB segment in the previous article, Grow SMB Revenues With Buyer-Based Marketing, as a means to know where to have a presence.  Therein lays the new buyer realities of today.  Having a presence that creates a gravitational pull of SMB buyers towards your organization is the new realty of mastering the SMB challenge.

SMB marketing and sales began to become more than just an afterthought in the early ‘90’s through the early 2000′s.  Considerable investments were made in establishing inside sales organizations and in outbound marketing activities specifically to reach the SMB base of customers and prospective buyers.  Newly created inside sales organizations endured the trials and tribulations of field sales entrenched infrastructure as well as the ownership battle of the mid-size customer gray area.  Marketing discovered that outbound tools for inside sales and for marketing to the SMB segment varied greatly from that of a focus on large field accounts.

In a span of 5-7 years we find ourselves in a drastically different world.  The notion of reaching buyers is becoming a huge hurdle to climb for those wedded to predominantly outbound activities related to inside sales.  As mentioned, establishing an inside sales function can be a sizable investment.  The Fortune 1000 and Global 2000 today find themselves with inside sales units loaded with personnel, technology, software, and etc. that were installed and aimed at outbound efforts.  What we now have is the challenge of turning on a dime to repurpose inside sales and marketing support to at least gain balance in inbound marketing while succeeding at a level of outbound demand generation as well.

This has more to do with transformation shifts in buyer behaviors with new technologies being the driving force behind these changes.  What is profound is that this is more than the labels of the elusive, invisible, or buyer 2.0.  No, they didn’t go anywhere and they are not hiding.    Nor, should we be of the mind that buyers are now just empowered – as if sellers gave them the empowerment.  Buyers today – with SMB buyers a significant part of this picture – are creating new ways of working and conducting business.  Here’s the smell the coffee moment for sellers: SMB buyers, in addition to larger accounts, are creating a new world of buyer-driven economies whereby as sellers – if you do not fit or adapt – it is a world in which you will not be participating within.

While I may be seemingly digressing here, I do so to make a very salient point.  SMB buyers are adapting new technologies in the entrepreneurial fashion they have started their business with in the first place.  Unburdened by large scale infrastructures, they can see how to make new uses of technologies nimbly and drive new ways of conducting business as well as expand their own customer bases.  SMB businesses, not so surprisingly, may be surpassing larger enterprises in their adoption of new technologies for interacting with buyers.

What Does This All Mean?

If you are part of a larger enterprise marketing to SMB buyers, what this all points to is a higher stakes challenge.  Expectations on buyer experience are being renewed at a constant rate for the reasons mentioned above.  Many of today’s new technologies, which for the most part had their original invention in non-business pursuits, have balanced the equation.  While larger enterprises enjoyed an advantage in acquiring newer technologies over that of SMB businesses, this may no longer be true.  In fact, the opposite in many cases may be true with SMB businesses able to leap frog into newer technologies as cost factors continue to be driven lower.

With this being the case, larger enterprises need to focus on creating seamless buyer-based experiences that allow SMB businesses to act quickly, make choices, and do so in the channels they prefer.  This applies to both inbound and outbound efforts.  A key focus for inbound efforts is that of enriching the buyer experience.  Darren Pleasance, a Principal with McKinsey & Company, recently covered this topic in an excellent article entitled, Serious about SMB experience?  Focus on your web site, on McKinsey’s Chief Marketing & Sales Officer Forum site.  Darren mentions the importance of the web site experience, providing the ability to buy seamlessly through multiple channels, and investing in post-purchase experiences as keys to success in the SMB segment.  All of these contributing to enriched buyer experiences.  The core of SMB buyer-based marketing and selling will not only be the web site as Darren articulates, but I believe the totality of the buyer experience now becoming the driving force behind how SMB buyers choose.

This brings us back to outbound.  Does this mean inside sales and other outbound activities will simply go away?  Far from it I believe.  A fundamental shift however needs to take place in how organizations view and orient their outbound efforts such as inside sales.  This shift relates to transforming from a tools-based approach to a buyer-based experience approach.  Here’s the voice of one SMB business executive articulating this point:

“The thing that kills you is that you get what you need from the web site but contacting them directly is a whole different matter.  It’s as if they are clueless that I may have visited their site and got information to review.  On top of that, I get calls from their people saying they are my account manager.  Really?  Then how come they don’t know that I talked to someone in their company already?” 

This exemplifies what happens when organizations fail to connect their inbound activities with outbound activities in SMB buyer-based marketing and selling.  On the other hand, connecting the two tightly enriches the experience as this SMB business owner says:

“I was really impressed to be honest.  I went on the site and found a few items I wanted to read so downloaded them.  I got a call from the company; his name was Steve, first acknowledging that I had downloaded the papers and then asking if I had questions.  We wound up having a discussion on some of things we’ve been working on.  Wasn’t pushy or anything like that.”

To create impressive buyer experiences, this integration of inbound and outbound cannot be ignored.  While the shiny object these days is inbound and the incessant promotion of content marketing, for some products and services, the ultimate deciding factor will continue to come down to the buyer conversation taking place.  One thing we can count on is that more and more SMB buyers today come to table ready for a conversation – are you?

Next Up: Closing the deal in SMB with Buyer-Based Selling

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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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3 Ways To Connect With Today’s B2B Buyers

Pamban Bridge ~ Connecting Rameshwaram Island
Image via Wikipedia

This is part 4 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.

Connecting with today’s B2B buyers is on the minds of most CEO’s and their teams today.  Not too long ago, reaching and connecting with B2B buyers was a straight forward proposition.  Depending on surveys from such sources as IDC, IDG Connect, DemandGen Report, Forrester, and more, we know that buyers are remaining invisible to B2B businesses and spend only a quarter of their time talking directly to sales when making purchase decisions.  The idea of connecting to B2B buyers has gone from straight forward to major league complex.

There are plenty of debates regarding the best tactical means to connect with B2B buyers.  The effectiveness of these tactical means, as reported by once again the likes of IDC and etc., show that many B2B leaders believe these tactical efforts such as content marketing and marketing automation may only be effective about a quarter of the time.  It does represent a big gap and it begs for a rephrasing of the challenge – this a big disconnect with B2B buyers.  Enough to keep any sane B2B CEO and their senior management team scrambling for answers.  Part 1 and part 2 of this series pointed out that conventional funnel thinking is woefully inadequate in today’s B2B buyer landscape and is limited in the ability to address new and evolving complexities.

Determining new strategies as well as tactics that can meet the challenge of connecting with today’s B2B buyers revolve around understanding new buyer psychology and dynamics that are in a state of continuous evolution.  B2B businesses can do three things to help grasp the connection issue and make plans that close the gap:

Buyer Modeling To Understand Buyer Choices and Scenarios

Business executives today are using the concepts of buyer modeling to understand as well as visually illuminate buyer choice.   Buyer modeling incorporates the elements of attitudes, beliefs, values, goals, perceptions, needs, and motivations.  By modeling buyers, buying scenarios, buyer experience, and decision journeys, B2B executives can then map strategy as well as tactical marketing and sales activities that enable them to connect with B2B buyers on a relational level.  Buyer modeling is based on qualitative research that addresses choices being made versus inadequate interviewing that is done in the context of the funnel.

Focus On The Total Brand and Buyer Experience

B2B businesses are learning how to think outside the context of the funnel and how to encompass the total view of the brand and buyer experience.  The invisibility of buyers who are in explore and network mode of the buyer choice model makes it an imperative for B2B businesses to better understand how different buyers interact with different channels that create impressionable brand and buyer experience.  The emphasis here is on identifying critical Buyer Moment of Truth™ impression points that contribute to the overall brand and buyer experience.  For example, does the web channel brand and buyer experience stay true to form when buyers interact with either the social media, sales, resellers, partner, or service channels?  HP, for instance, has a strong ecosystem of reseller and partner channels where the brand and buyer experience has many potential pitfalls and has several challenging Buyer Moment of Truth handoff points that can make or break their involvement.  B2B leaders today can conduct buyer experience mapping that identifies critical Buyer Moment of Truth and ensure that the brand and buyer experience stays true to form throughout.

Descriptive Buyer Segmentation Based on Buying Behavior and Opportunity

By integrating the benefits of predictive analytics with that of predictive buyer modeling, B2B leaders are gaining smarts on taking segmentation to a new level.  With the use of visually illuminating B2B Buyergraphics, buyers can be segmented descriptively by explore and buying behavior and also by modeling buying scenarios that identify where the organization can reach a “best fit” level with buyers.  This can be especially useful in industries where there is a strong company or account focus as well as complex buying scenarios that involve lengthy buying cycles.  Descriptive means of segmentation helps to illuminate the many elements related to choice, needs, goals, attitudes, behaviors, values, and experience.  This approach enables both marketing and sales to focus on resonating with buyer segments that have similar goals and buying behaviors where knowledge in doing so is dynamic and enriched with each company or account interaction.  In essence, allowing B2B businesses to build strong connections with B2B buyers in buyer segments that have higher winning percentages.

When B2B leaders can do these three things, they can be better informed on how to guide the overall trajectory of their organization.  Their focus is on identifying the buyers and buyer segments that they can best establish a connection within the context of understanding choices being made.  More importantly, they can learn how to connect with B2B buyers today in ways that resonates and invites participation into the buyer driven world of goals, challenges, issues, uncertainties, and growth objectives that orbit them continuously.

Next up: Transforming B2B Business

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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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5 Ways New Buyer Behaviors Are Impacting B2B Sales

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

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

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

5 Ways B2B Sales Are Affected

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

Buyers Have New Knowledge Expectations

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

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

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

Buyers Seeking Advisement, Not Ready-Made Solutions

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

Buyers Including More People in Their Ecosystems and Networks

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

Buying Cycles Are Getting Longer

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

Buyers Are Relating Differently

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

Where Is B2B Sales Headed?

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

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

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

(Image by Kenny Madden © All rights reserved)


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7 Burning Questions for B2B Marketers in 2012

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

Who Are Our Customers?

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

Where Did Our Customers Go?

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

How Do We Create A Better Buying Experience?

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

What Is The Best Way To Interact Directly With Customers?

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

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

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

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

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

What Exactly Is Doing Content Marketing The Right Way?

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

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

(Image by Kenny Madden © All rights reserved)

 

 

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