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

The Thinking Man sculpture at Musée Rodin in Paris
Image via Wikipedia

 

Recently, I embarked on a series of articles related to buyer trends and how they are changing conventional business thinking as we know it.  These series of articles, referenced as Buyerology Trends, highlighted 7 areas of where buyer trends are challenging conventional thinking.

Business in general has been undergoing the most unprecedented period of economic challenges, social changes, technological changes, and rapid changes in buyer behaviors in several decades.  Pressing business leaders today to not only adapt quickly but to rethink many long-held business beliefs.  The world has become hyper-connected and hyper-competitive.  Making many business concepts rendered obsolete or not as true as they once were.  While some business thinking and management ideas stand the test of time, such as those of Peter Drucker, others will begin to fade as the global marketplace continues to spin and behave differently.

I have compiled this series of articles into an eBook of 65 pages for easy reading and it is made freely available for sharing.  In this eBook, significant buyer trends derived from qualitative research are highlighted.  They are presented in the context of how conventional thinking may need to change to align with new buyer behaviors that are affecting purchase decisions.  Particular focus is made on what the C-Suite must do to respond and how the future may look as a result of buyer trends related to changing buyer behaviors.

It is my hope and passion that the eBook will spark dialogue and thinking that helps organizations to better understand buyers.  Rethinking conventions and reshaping them to align better with buyers today and in the future.  The eBook can be downloaded at the following link:

Buyerology: How Buyer Trends Are Impacting the Future of Business Thinking


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One Thing That Can Get You From Here to There in 2012 and Beyond

image from www.flickr.comIn the world of B2B management, there are numerous head scratching efforts going on as we peer ahead into 2012 and beyond.  Primarily, it has to do with how to get from here to there.  One of the issues faced by B2B companies with the high degree of uncertainty, global economic turbulence, and a rapidly changing buyer driven and social world is figuring out where the from here to there actually leads to.

Recent buyer and management interviews tell me a lot of head scratching continues to go on.  Plenty of internal angst and debate is taking place on how to get from here to there, what is needed, what should be done, and what a lot of people think.  The what to do aspects of internal planning usually center on strategy and tactical questions such as:

How do we grow revenues?
What can we do to generate more leads?
How do we expand business with existing customers?
What type of content will drive more traffic to our web site?
Should we get more active with social media?
Do we need to improve our product quality and offering?
Should we boost marketing and sales budgets?
Do we need to hire more people?
What should our pricing strategy be going forward?
What new technologies do we need to adopt?

As you can see, the list of questions for B2B organizations can be endless.  And plenty of them have to do with what should we do – probably more so than how to get from here to there.  What is striking however is that there is a tendency to dive into the angst over and debated questions without truly having clarity on where from here to there actually should end up.  As they say in the venture capital world: sometimes there is no there – there.  So in this riddle of thinking, to figure out how to get from here to there, you first have to figure out where the there actually is.

What is the one thing you can do to figure out where the there is and how to get from here to there?

You have guessed it by now, I am sure, if you have read my articles before:

Attaining deep qualitative B2B buyer insights.

Investing in deep qualitative B2B buyer insights means talking to your customers – and yes that sometimes means with the help of a third party.  Let’s face it – in certain situations buyers are more revealing to a third party when the perceived wall of sales agenda comes down and the expertise level to conduct qualitative research is not in-house.  However the point is this: to be informed on where the there is actually means your company needs to be talking with existing customers and prospective buyers deeply outside of a marketing and selling context.

Revealing buyer insights can tell you plenty about where your existing customers and buyers are headed.  Deep buyer insights give you a clue on where the planning of how to get from here to there is suppose to end up.  Giving you answers to the above mentioned type questions as well as what you should be doing to align with your buyers.

Collecting deep qualitative B2B buyer insights – before you get in over your head in angst and debate – can alleviate much of the headache that comes with strategy and tactical planning.  Imagine a meeting with less I think we should debating going on and more discussion on how we need to help existing customers and prospective buyers get from here to there.    Helping your customers and buyers to get from here to there helps you figure out how you and your company will get from here to there.  The definition of where that is, if you are aligned with your buyers, should be a two sided coin.  Helping buyers achieve their emblem of success on their side of the coin ensures that you will have an emblem of success on your side of the coin.

The one thing you can do is acquire deep qualitative buyer insights.  The type of insights that inform you on the map you need to put in place that shows you, your teams, and your company how to get from here to there.  Now – can you imagine getting anywhere in the world without a map?

(Image by Kenny Madden © All rights reserved)

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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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5 Ways New Buyer Behaviors Will Affect B2B Marketers in 2012

image from www.flickr.comChanges in buyer behaviors continue to march on as new social technologies take root into the mainstream of B2B businesses.  Uncertainty on how best to understand buyers today as well as engage buyers is on top of the list for many B2B organizations as they look ahead to 2012 and beyond.  During the past two years, we’ve seen new tactical attempts come and go while some are sticking.  With clear determination of changes in buyer behavior remaining elusive, B2B organizations are struggling to find the right mix of buyer strategies and tactics that result in a winning formula.  Looking ahead, more and more B2B organizations will seek to find a formula that works specifically for them.   (Image “Breathe the sames air as your prospects/customers” by Kenny Madden © All rights reserved)

5 Ways B2B Marketers Are Affected

New buyer behaviors means B2B organizations have to rethink many of their existing ways of engaging B2b buyers today.  This is certainly problematic when rethinking often entails looking at such building blocks as strategy, tactics, systems, and infrastructure.  Let’s take a look at new buyer behaviors and how they are affecting B2B Marketers (note – when using the term B2B Marketers, I am referencing both marketing and sales):

Buyers Expanding Their Decision-Making Networks

The advent of social technologies is allowing B2B buyers today to expand not only their social network but their collaborating network.  While we have been conditioned over decades to focus on a single target buyer, or as I have written about often, a target buyer persona, we are beginning to see that this will no longer be adequate for B2B Marketers.  The expansion of these buyer ecosystems and networks is changing who is included in new buyer decision models.  Buyers are less and less representing themselves or behaving as individual buyers but more and more as a buyer network.  B2B Marketers will need to get grounded in figuring out what buyer ecosystems and buyer networks exist for their respective industries.

Buyers Are Seeking Intelligence, Not Content

I’ve covered this recently in several articles.  In qualitative efforts I’ve been involved with recently that included conducting buyer interviews, I can tell you that the overwhelming amount of content that buyers are dealing with is an issue.  Buyers are essentially being forced to be more selective and to “junk” perceived non-relevant content.  I use the word perceive here because it is very much like Malcom Gladwell’s theory of Blink.  They are making the perception of non-relevance in a blink of an eye.  B2B Marketers then must focus on standing out and offering intelligence that buyers seek and not mere push messaging content.

Buyers Want Humanized Buyer Experiences

Let’s face it, many B2B buying experiences still feel, look, and are acted out in very transactional ways.  Buyers today are basically saying: why should I settle for less!  I still stand solidly behind Paul Greenburg’s mantra that “buyers want to be a subject of an experience, and not an object of a sale.”  B2B Marketers will need to focus on how to make humanized buyer experiences happen.  The margin of difference between products and services is narrow so the playing field of experience is gaining in prominence.

Risks Continues to Play Big Role in Buyer Decisions

Risk aversion and risk avoidance continue to affect B2B buying decisions.  The uncertainty created by a tumultuous global economy and uncertainty about the future means B2B buyers give extra attention to driving down costs and putting more pressure on reducing price whenever they can.  The affects of buyer perceived risks is enormous.  It is resulting in more problem solving research, longer sales cycles, and the expansion of buyer networks in decision-making as mentioned above.  B2B Marketers then must not only determine what these perceived risks are, but address them early on in buying cycles and buyer decision models.

Buyers Adopting New Self-Enabling Technologies

If we think back ten to fifteen years ago, it was very common to think that mid-level managers to senior executives probably would privately break down and cry if the administrative assistant called in sick.  Fast forward today, new technologies have caused a major mind shift.  B2B buyers from mid-level managers to senior executives are efficient at using newer technologies to be self-enabling.  Meaning they want more self-enabling technologies and services from B2B Marketers.  With 60% to 70% of purchase decisions being made before there is direct sales involvement, this is the new frontier in B2B Marketing and Sales.  B2B Marketers then will need a mind shift themselves.  In the past three years, we’ve seen a considerable increase in marketing technology investing with some producing measurable success while some are questionable at best.  The shift needs to be towards investing in buyer enabling technologies.  Meaning B2B Marketers will have to think more about how they can create self-enabling buying experiences that buyers customize on their own.  Experiences that don’t necessarily follow what we think are normal buying processes or stages.

Investing In The Two Sides of Buyer Insight 2.0

Enriching insights on existing customers and prospective buyers is rising to the top of the agenda for C-Suites in B2B organizations.  The above mentioned buyer behaviors and their impact on B2B Marketers mean that making assumptions about existing customers and potential buyers is risky business.  While investments in BIG data surged in the past two years, investing in BIG insights will gain more attention as B2B Marketers continue to struggle making sense out of data and analytics.  In 2012, B2B Marketers will begin to incorporate the two sides of buyer research and analysis into Buyer Insight 2.0 – data and context.  There is a symbiotic relationship between the two and B2B Marketers will discover in 2012 that to understand buyer decision-making behaviors – data or analytics cannot exist without context and that context cannot exist without data or analytics.

Without question, there is a lot to think about in 2012.  One thing B2B Marketers can think about consistently is that new buyer behaviors will affect them and it will not be the other way around.  Those days are long gone indeed.

 

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Buyerology Trend: Humanize the Buyer Experience

image from www.flickr.comThis is the final article looking at buyer trends that will influence marketing and sales in the near and foreseeable future. Let’s recap the significant buyer trends noted so far in this series:

This final article looks at how buyers desire above all else – a rewarding buyer experience and how businesses today and in the future will need to focus on enhancing as well as humanizing the buyer experience.  (Image “people not numbers” by Kenny Madden © All rights reserved)

Buyer Trend: Buyers desire rewarding human experiences

The concept of Experience in business has undergone a roller coaster ride during the past ten to fifteen years since it was first introduced.  Both the terms customer experience and buyer experience taking on different meanings in this time period.  For buyers in general, there has been a slow but progressing convergence of desiring B2C like experiences in B2B market worlds.  Without question, the rise of the Internet and Social Technologies has shaped and reshaped our concept of Experience in general.  I believe we are at a pivotal moment in business history with respect to buyer behavior and experience.

This pivotal moment is centered on the idea that buyers desire human experiences in the business world and see experience as a two-sided coin.  The two key principles of experience in the modern Social Age are:

  • Contextual: the overriding foundation of customer and buyer experience is engaging existing customers and prospective buyers in relevant contextual experiences – whether they are in social mediums, conversations, or interactions.
  • Learning: rising as an essential component of experience in business is the growing expectations on the part of buyers that undergoing an experience also mean they will learn from the experience.  Knowledge and practical intelligence will be gained by entering into the experience.

Buyers today are redefining the meaning of business experience.  Consequently, integrating their business experience into how buyers are reshaping their human experience in general as a result of the Social Age.  Buyers not only want to “feel good” about the business experiences they undergo, but now also have a higher expectations they will take away knowledge they did not have before.

The seven buyer trends in this article series point to what I call The Buyer Circle of Experience.  As they reshape their definition of what a business experience means and integrate it into their human experience, buyers are expanding their circle of experience in a business context.  The totality of their humanized buyer experience including what has been covered in this Buyerology Trend series:

  • To undergo rewarding and fulfilling experiences
  • To be understood qualitatively – in human terms and not data terms
  • To enable their quest to fulfill knowledge needed; not be seen as object for demand generation
  • To enhance collaborative experiences with expanding buyer networks
  • To be enabled to make informed decisions that align with organizational decision models versus generic buying process views
  • To grow their intelligence and in essence grow their knowledge and practical wisdom in their respective areas and beyond
  • To foster the ability to meet shared corporate values, in addition to needs, as part of the business experience

What Must CEO’s, CMO’s, and CSO’s Do?

A place for C-Suite leaders to start is to rethink their own concept of what experience – customer and buyer experience – means in today’s Social Age.  Guiding the organization to adopt a two dimensional view of experience – contextual and learning – as opposed to one dimensional views.  It will take hard work and deep customer and buyer understanding to turn B2B business engagement into humanized social experiences.  This becomes a new imperative for the C-Suite.  Undergoing think shift – viewing every interaction as one that must become an engaging and fulfilling experience and represent a learning experience for existing customers and prospective buyers.

The implications affect every area of businesses – talent, training, functions, technologies, operations, marketing, and sales.  It will test the resolve and capabilities of business leadership as we know it today.

The Future

In the future, buyer expectations for experiences that engage them contextually and provide learning opportunities will grow.  The open systems of new social technologies fueling the rise in humanizing the buyer experience.  Buyers will be looking to integrate their business experience into their personal human experience.

As the millennial grows into leadership, we will see metamorphoses take place around the concept of business, organization, leadership, and shared values.  This will drastically affect our notions of what is thought of as a business experience.  We may very well begin to see a narrowing gap between the business experience and the human experience happen sooner than we think.

Key questions to ponder for the future are: What is your organization doing today to rethink experience and what it means?  How capable is your organization of providing both engaging as well as learning experiences?  How will your organization be impacted by this evolving trend?

 

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How Buyer Perceived Risks (BPR) Affects Buyer Behavior and Purchase Decisions

"Risk"Image by IceSabre via Flickr

The notion that perceived risks influences purchasing behavior has been around for quite some time.  As we have seen an increase in the complexity of the buying process, we are seeing a correlating increase in Buyer Perceived Risks (BPR)© associated with purchase decisions.  Compounding perceived risks is the increase in choices as mentioned in my previous article as well as new social channels to explore.  This new mishmash of complexity, choices, and new channels causes a much higher degree of uncertainty on the part of buyers.

What does understanding choice have to do with Buyer Perceived Risks (BPR)©?  It comes down to two general areas:

Buyers are dealing with the uncertainty and the risks of making a bad choice

Buyers are dealing with the unknown consequences resulting from a bad choice

These two general areas of perceived risks are not necessarily new however the degree of impact has expanded significantly as a result of the convergence of the Internet and Social Technologies.

Bpr impact

Variables that are affecting the degree of impact include speed, awareness, chance, and reputation.  Put more simply:

The impact of a bad choice is happening much faster, more people as well as organizations are aware when they happen, there are fewer chances to recover, and more damage to individual as well as company reputation.  The end result being that buyers are perceiving risks to be greater than ever and making the right choice more challenging than ever. 

Previously, I had written about Buyer Perceived Values (BPV)© and the need to understand how buyers prioritize values.  The other side of the coin is to understand Buyer Perceived Risks (BPR)© and to understand how buyers see the degrees of consequences that can result from a bad choice.  This calls for senior executives and strategists to increase their understanding through what I call Buyerology© -  which represents a deeper qualitative level of buyer intelligence.  Gaining deep understanding of complex perceived values and risks provides a window into the mind of the buyer as well as the business culture of an organization.

What research with C-Suite executives has borne out is that this understanding arrives too late when it comes to new services, products, and strategies.  Oftentimes, learning the hard way why a new product launch, a new service capability, or a much hyped strategy implemented fell flat on its’ face – and both seller and buyer reputation bruised and battered.  To prevent their own consequences, selling organizations will need to improve their early-stage buyer intelligence capabilities and make the investment upfront as opposed to investing in post-failure debriefings.

Improving buyer intelligence in Buyer Perceived Risks (BPR)© can lead to being informed on important decisions related to:

Pre-Sales Content: Providing knowledge and information that instills confidence in choice and reducing perceived risks.

Sales Interaction: Enabling sales to engage in conversations and interactions that authentically confront perceived risks and brings them to the forefront of the sales process as opposed to last minute barriers.

Post-Sale Implementation: Content, implementation services, and interaction can all be used to enhance a buyer’s perception that adverse risk has been avoided and value gained.

There is a given in all this.  The given is that a selling organization truly has the quality and the confidence that it can deliver for the buyer and that it has assurances in place that they can reduce Buyer Perceived Risks (BPR)© significantly.  No amount of content, smooth talking, and excuses will make up for poor quality and capability of a product or service.

Understanding perceived risks today through deeper qualitative buyer intelligence (Buyerology©) can go a long way towards organizations standing out from the pack of options that can exists.  Insightful understanding leading to helping buyers to make choices that are made with more ease, confidence, authenticity, and affirmation that ultimately results in hard sought loyalty.

 

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