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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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As The World Churns For CMO’s

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

Image via Wikipedia

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

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

Caught In A Spider Web

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

Spinning Wheel

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

The Vision Thing

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

Using A Periscope

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

Time For Good Behavior

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

Getting All Techie

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

Don’t Forget Your Best Friend

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

Going To School

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

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

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

Building A Tribe Of Buyers ©All Rights Reserved Kenny Madden

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

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

How Did We Get Here?

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

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

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

What Are The Dangers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is There A Better Way?

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

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

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

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How B2B Leaders Are Understanding Buyers Better With Behavioral Buyergraphics

B2B Buying Process Today © All rights reserved by Kenny Madden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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