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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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Are Your Marketing and Sales Systems Broken?

Everything Is Broken

Everything Is Broken (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For many in marketing and sales, the march continues towards the attempt to develop tactical plans that will connect them to buyers.  We have seen many variations over the past two as these attempts are made.  Whether they relate to demand generation, content marketing, sales enablement, and more, efforts are being made to make adaptations to changing buying behaviors.

After two or three years, there is still much frustration that some of these new tactics are not working.  Senior executives are scratching their heads and wondering where the ROI is on some of these new tactics.    The problem may lie in the inert marketing and sales systems that are in place.  By systems, I do not refer to technology.  Technology enables systems and processes.  What I am specifically referring to is that companies have built-in systems and processes that have been in existence for years and may not have undergone a serious overhaul in many years.  Simply put – in today’s connected buyer world company marketing and sales systems can be broken and out of alignment with buyers.

Buyer Designed Systems

B2B companies today will need to evaluate whether they have systems and processes that are buyer designed.  If they are not designed with the buyer in mind, then getting good results from whatever systems or processes you have in place will be a difficult mountain to climb.  This especially true for larger organizations where layers upon layers of systems and processes have been designed over the past two decades – and they can be as thick as the United States tax code.

In marketing and sales, various systems and processes have been built around how to market and sell to the customer and prospective buyer.  When we live in a frantic chaotic world, the annual budgeting process unfortunately can become routine and thoroughly evaluating the results of in-placed systems and processes can be overlooked.  Sales systems, which have been put into place several years ago and with considerable investment, may no longer be aligned with the buyers of today.  Marketing systems and processes may be slow in transitioning to be more aligned with new buyer behaviors associated with search and content.

Here’s what happens when strategies and systems as well as processes are out of alignment themselves.  There is a struggle to execute.  When there is a struggle to execute, teams generally will fall back to the way things have always been done.  And, when you go back to the way things have always been done, then they will be out of alignment with buyers.

Based on Knowledge of the Buyer

The key to aligning newer marketing and sales strategies with your systems and processes is buyer knowledge.  Without it, the connection between them will not be evident.  With true buyer research, the glaring holes in systems and processes get shined on with a bright light.  For example, many a frustrated sales rep will personally walk a buyer through systems and processes to close a deal – out of fear that the company’s own systems and processes will cause a deal to go awry.  And many a frustrated buyer has abandoned a buying process and decision with a company out of frustration from too many hurdles to jump before they can get the information they want.

The design of systems today within companies will need to revolve around the buyer.  What’s interesting in this area today relating to strategy, tactics, and systems is that companies struggle to get the right frame of reference.  Most organizations continue to have the frame of reference that even with new strategies in place – the focus is still on marketing or selling to the buyer.  The buyers of today are looking for a connection with them - not seeking a connection to them.

Do you know enough about your buyers to discern the difference between strategies and systems designed to do activities to the buyer versus with the buyer?  Understanding this critical difference today in designing system and processes that allow you to be with the buyer can put you in alignment with buyers – and ahead of competitors.

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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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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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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
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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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How B2B Leaders Respond to the Psychology of Buyer Choice

© All Rights Reserved Kenny Madden

This is part 3 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. 

When it comes to understanding the psychology of the buyer, much has been done in the world of B2C to get inside the mind of consumers to understand buying choices and preferences.  For B2B, it has been harder to translate B2C research dynamics into ways that would make the psychology of B2B buyers more readily understood.  However, what we do know is that there is an increasing consumerization effect happening in B2B buying whereby B2B buyers have the same desires for more experiential purchasing as opposed to a heavy emphasis on sterile transactions.

In part 2 of this series, I discussed the Buyer Orbit and the elements of the Buyer Choice Model.  Each of these now filled with more psychological aspects related to why B2B buyers buy.  This comes with many implications for B2B leaders to not only understand new buyer psychology but to also shift business models, operations, strategies, and interactions that transforms the way they connect with B2B buyers.  In part 3, let us look at how B2B leaders are responding to new buyer psychology in relations to the elements of the buyer choice model.

Psychology of Buyer Choice

Understanding buyer choice has many implications for B2B strategies and tactics – whether they are focused on demand generation, content marketing, or selling approaches.  Addressing new buyer psychology and buyer choice paradigms, within elements of buyer choice modeling, can be transformational:

Explore

With more and more buyers mapping out exploration due to the proliferation of content and information channels, a side effect of B2B businesses scrambling to be noticed in the 50% to 70% window of buyers remaining anonymous, B2B businesses are considering the implications of buyers taking deliberate action to map out their exploration.

What this means: predicting and modeling how buyers map and begin their exploring as well as what forms of navigation they usually take specific to their industry.

How to respond: devote more resources to qualitative investigative means, such as contextual interviewing and ethnographic research, to uncover how buyers begin their efforts to explore and how they are dealing with content proliferation.

Network

As elaborated upon recently, the single buyer model is no longer sufficient and more and more B2B buyers operate from the new buying model of working within ecosystems and relying on network participation.  Codependency is here to stay and B2B businesses must adapt.

What this means: reexamine how buyers are viewed internally and what forms of outmoded approaches may be resulting in missed opportunities.

How to respond: use various forms of B2B buyer research and begin working with buyers to understand important ecosystem and network drivers for their business and industries.  Incorporate important ecosystem views into strategy and organizational infrastructure.

Decide

The art and science of decision-making is becoming more complex each year.  An increasing number of variables are being introduced into decision-making such as globalization, uncertainty, ecosystem considerations, and more – shifting how buying is taking place.

What this means: how buyers are buying today is shifting dramatically and B2B businesses need to understand the new rules of decision-making, in addition to the buyer decision journey, that are being implemented for purchase decisions.

How to respond: shift internal focus to understanding new rules affecting decision-making, acquired through the mix of analytics and qualitative insight, and support how buyers are making purchase decisions.

Buy

Buying today, as mentioned in part 2, is a higher stakes game for many businesses today.  The margin for costly mistakes is the slimmest in decades.  The extent of poor choices can have disastrous effect on many aspects of a business.  Understanding high stakes motivations enables a focus on why B2B buyers buy.

What this means:  B2B leaders must not confuse how buyers buy with why buyers buy.  The focus here is on understanding the new buyer psychology in terms of their collective attitudes, goals, beliefs, perceptions, and drivers.  This new collection of mental models are changing each time new variables, such as new technologies, are introduced.

How to respond: getting an understanding of buyer mental models through qualitative research efforts will become more crucial each year as buyer psychology continues to shift.

Relate

With higher stakes involved in decision-making and purchases today, B2B buyers seek more assurances post-purchase than ever before.  Unlike the emphasis on engagement in B2C post-purchase, the need for deeper ties relationally is affecting long-term loyalty.

What this means: shifting out of funnel thinking and viewing the entire buyer experience cycle is a new rule of B2B thinking today.

How to respond: post-purchase support and talent can no longer be an after-thought of organizational planning but be seen as the gateway to being included in newly formed ecosystems and networks by buyers.

What we are witnessing today is a marked shift from funnel-thinking to that of focusing on the total buyer experience that does not fit neatly into stages or step approach thinking.  The new buyer psychology compels B2B businesses today to make the buyer the centerpiece of strategy and respond to the continuous loops of what confronts them (the buyer orbit) and the choices (buyer choice model) they must make.

Next up: Impact on Marketing and Sales

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Eric Got Me Thinking About The Next Buyer Revolution

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

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

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

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

Anonymous Environment

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

Organization Infrastructure

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

Research and Insight

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

Rush to Tactics

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

Smart Content

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

 The Waiting Game

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

For limited time only in the Middle East
Image via Wikipedia

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

Hey Eric, thanks for making me think!

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