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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 While strides are being made in how to adapt to new strategies for managing leads and performing lead nurturing, many outdated assumptions about how buyers look at and evaluate organizations are still in play.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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How To Get To Know The New SMB Buyer

©All rights Reserved Peter Schofield

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

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

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

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

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

Getting To Know The New SMB Buyer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avoid Big Data Trap

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

A New Challenge And A New Frontier

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

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

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

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

Unprecedented Transformation Occurring

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

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

Next Up: Understanding New Buyer Realities In SMB

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4 Ways the Power of Buyer Choice Will Transform Business Marketing

Higher Grade Product Design Concept Models

Higher Grade Product Design Concept Models (Photo credit: Jordanhill School D&T Dept)

This is part 5 and final article of a limited series on why buyer choice modeling is the new view B2B Business must adopt to improve revenue performance and develop long lasting relationships with buyers. 

How buyers make choices today, in large part driven by empowering new technologies, will transform how B2B businesses will view buyers as well as redefine what is meant by business marketing.  The rigid funnel will no longer serve as a workable means of communicating unique views of buyers and their buying behaviors.  This not to say that buyer processes, stages, and steps are no longer relevant but to highlight that buyers today no longer make choices neatly in the paradigm of the funnel.  A rigid funnel view, whether it is drawn up horizontal or vertical, cannot provide the orbital view of choices being made continuously.

There are four ways that new buyer choice dynamics will transform the practice of business marketing and alter the view of what practices are relevant:

Predictive Buyer Modeling And Intelligence

As we covered, many B2B businesses are wrestling with the unknown and the invisible.  B2B buyers are remaining invisible in their behaviors associated with exploring as well as establishing new networks of participants in decision-making.  There will be a rise in the use of buyer modeling techniques as well as integrating the use of buyer intelligence, predictive analytics, and the illuminating aspects of predictive buyer modeling.  The changes underway in buyer behavior will cause B2B business marketing to extend well beyond conventional buyer profiling as well as simplistic buyer persona creating for demand generation.

Reorient From Business Marketing Teams to Buyer Driven Marketing Teams

Traditional business marketing has been historically put together teams that are seller driven and narrowly funnel focused.  The single buyer model view narrowly shared across all channels.  Leaders in B2B marketing and sales will soon have to migrate towards buyer segment teams that are focused on activities that are focused on the buyer’s entire brand and buyer experience.  We are beginning to see leading organizations, such as GE, move towards aligning their organizations to industry buyer segment teams focused on deeper understanding and alignment with buyers.

Create Orbital Match With Buyers

B2B is becoming more complex with every passing month.  When informed with deep buyer intelligence, business marketing can begin to align to the continuous orbital loop of what confronts buyers and how they make choices.  The new role of business marketing is to pull buyers into an orbital loop that mirrors their own and enables choices that are buyer driven.  The new business marketing strategy is to create the gravitational pull that buyers feel and are drawn to because it aligns with their own orbital loops.  Conversely, how can your organization get close to the buyer’s own gravitational pull and be drawn into their orbital loop?  This is a departure from the seller driven and narrow funnel view of push messaging.  Another way of positioning this concept in simple terms is this: either your B2B business becomes part of the orbital loop or you can watch it from afar with a telescope – and be out of the loop.

Total Brand and Buyer Experience

Business marketing today can take a strong leadership role in organizations by transforming itself to an orientation around the buyer.  Historically, in the seller driven and narrow funnel view world, business marketing has been positioned as the conveyers of getting information in front of buyers.  Producing material that buyers could read, provide messaging to sales, and putting together promotional programs with the aim to get sellers to sell harder.  My intuitive guess is that in the world of business marketing, this positioning still exists in a large majority of B2B organizations – perhaps trapped within the label of marketing communications.  To influence corporate strategy and decision-making, business marketing must now become the conveyors of buyer intelligence and influencing organizations to orient around the buyer.  Conveying that what counts is the total brand and buyer experience and that business marketing’s role is to help create these experiences for buyers.

Business marketing today, by making these four ways the cornerstone of transformation, can enhance their leadership role in organizations.  Orienting businesses around the understanding of buyer choices being made in a new complex buyer driven world.  This is no easy challenge yet one that business marketing must take up.  It must demonstrate that it understands buyers deeply and that a designed focus on the total brand and buyer experience is the new business marketing strategy.  It is time for business marketing to come out of the literature closet and lead.

(This 5 part series has been compiled into an eBook entitled, A Matter of Choice: How B2B Buyers Choose in Today’s Complex Markets, to make for easy reading and sharing.  Click on the hyperlinked title to receive.)

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3 Ways To Connect With Today’s B2B Buyers

Pamban Bridge ~ Connecting Rameshwaram Island
Image via Wikipedia

This is part 4 of a limited series on why buyer choice modeling is the new view B2B Business must adopt to improve revenue performance and develop long lasting relationships with buyers.

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

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

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

Buyer Modeling To Understand Buyer Choices and Scenarios

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

Focus On The Total Brand and Buyer Experience

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

Descriptive Buyer Segmentation Based on Buying Behavior and Opportunity

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

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

Next up: Transforming B2B Business

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Revenue Growth by Choice and The Buyer Orbit

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

Image via Wikipedia

This is part 2 of a limited series on why buyer choice modeling is the new view B2B Business must adopt to improve revenue performance and develop long lasting relationships with buyers. 

Growth is getting harder and harder to come by.  With this comes the realization that some of the embedded thinking about how to reach and market to buyers are not working well.  In part 1 of this series we looked at how the funnel is facing a slow death and the limitations of so called funnel thinking.  We are entering a new era of the buyer.  Buyer behaviors are shifting yet we know only a fraction about this shift.  One emerging insight is that of buyer choice.  Simply stated, buyers are making multiple choices prior to as well as well after buying decisions.

Why It Is Important to Understand Buyer Choice

Buyers Have Many Options.  The floodgates have opened on channels, social media, old media, the Internet, and countless other ways to interact, explore, retrieve, and digest information in this new era of the buyer.  With countless options available, buyers are making choices on where to start their exploring.

The Buyer At The Center Of Strategy, Marketing, And Sales.  Conventional funnel thinking has a hard time doing this.  A better way of stating this is that conventional strategy, marketing, and sales decisions are funneled through an old paradigm of the buyer where marketing and sales held the information cards – cards used to target, sell, and persuade buyers.  Today, buyers make the choice on which information cards they decide to deal.  B2B leaders today must find ways to focus strategy on the buyer, the choices they make, and the experiences they have with their organizations.

Experience Determines Choice.  A while back, I made a choice to attend a Broadway musical – of which I am a big fan.  The pre-show experience and excitement was plenty of fun with a great dinner in New York.  The musical started and about 20 minutes into the musical the dread began to overcome me.  I knew this musical production was going to be – dreadful.  We made the choice to leave at intermission and the choice didn’t ruin the entire experience of the evening but it sure changed it.  We chose to find a jazz club and had a great time which meant cancelling out the plans we had after the show.  Buyers today are taking experience cues well before the buyer decision journey and well after.  The buyer experience cues they take-in alter their thinking about the choices they make.  And they could be choices about whether to continue having an experience with your organizations – or – find another.

Understanding Buyer Choice Helps You To Make The Right Choices Available

© All rights Reserved Buyerology

Buyer choice anchors five choice elements that can be thought of as continuously orbiting buyers today.  A fundamental shift is happening here.  In the conventional DNA of funnel thinking, we are accustomed to thinking that involves phases or steps.  One phase ends and another phase begin.  What I propose is something we can call the Buyer Orbit.  This is meant to shift the thinking towards recognizing that buyers are continuously addressing goals, challenges, issues, uncertainty, and growth that are in a continuous orbital loop.  This applies to buyer choice:

© All Rights Reserved Buyerology

Explore.  As mentioned in part 1, funnel thinking usually started with attempts to make buyers aware of a product or solution.  It is still rooted in the thinking of flashing attention-getting means before buyer’s eyes as well as push messaging outwards in the hopes of making buyers aware.  Today, buyers are mapping out deliberate exploration prompted by the orbital loop of the goals and etc. that orbit them.  Confronted with many choices, buyers are taking time to map out where to explore, how to explore, and etc.

Network.  As buyers make progression towards less of a single buyer model to that of a world that includes ecosystems and open networks, buyers are making choices to interact with networks and different ecosystem players to collaborate on addressing the issues orbiting them.

Decide.  The way buyers decide today is becoming increasingly complex.   Choices are being made on such things as the rules for deciding, who is included, checking dependencies, and assessing impact.  Buyers today no longer make decisions in a vacuum.

Buy.  The actual buy choice has become a higher stakes game in the B2B world.  Not only are the rules for deciding more complex, but there are more dependencies related to buying and potential impact as well.  The experience element here is now more critical than ever because of the high stakes.  Making the wrong choice, for example, on a software platform designed to measure quality of manufactured parts could have drastic affects downstream with OEMs and distribution.

Relate.  The word – relate – has more applicability in a B2B context than say engage for example.  The higher stakes involved means buyers needs an organization that can relate to the high stakes and a relational bond is being formed.  In the example mentioned above, there may be many discussions before and after the buy choice to ensure that the software platform meets an intended goal.  The ability for B2B companies to provide relational choices and experiences becomes an important factor.  Does the company provide relational choices whether they are face-to-face, telephone, or complex networking technology that involves exchanging design ideas and specifications?

The new era of the buyer is resulting in a paradigm shift on what is required thinking about the buyer today.  Letting go of funnel thinking is no easy task – especially when you strip away the hyperbole and promotion that can surround strategy, it is still very much about the funnel.  Buyers today have many elements related to growth, goals, and uncertainty orbiting their world.  Making choices as this orbital loop continuously impacts their world is changing the very nature of buyer behavior today.  These changes are rocket propelled by a new world of hyper-connectivity and hyper-competition.

Next up: The Buyerology of the Buyer

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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, ...

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

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

Caught In A Spider Web

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

Spinning Wheel

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

The Vision Thing

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

Using A Periscope

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

Time For Good Behavior

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

Getting All Techie

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

Don’t Forget Your Best Friend

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

Going To School

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

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

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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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Predictive Buyer Modeling Is Changing the Future of B2B

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I would not be surprised today if a group of B2B executives said they were using fortune tellers to peer into a crystal ball to make predictions about the future.  The fast pace of change makes the crystal ball of how buyers will behave in the future enveloped in a hazy fog.  C-Suites are under enormous pressures to get it right the first time with regards to marketing and sales planning.

The ability to make decisions based on predictions is becoming an essential attribute for B2B executives.  Predictions come with a host of implications and the ability to assess their impact is perhaps the toughest part of strategy planning.  One approach that has been used by executives to inform strategy planning is that of scenario modeling.  It has been used both in business and in military exercises for several decades.  What matters in today’s B2B climate is having the ability to predict multiple scenarios and more importantly – multiple buying scenarios that will shape the organization’s marketing, sales, product, content, and social strategies.

Predictive analytics and modeling has mostly been about exactly what the name implies – an exercise in using analytics to predict and model different scenarios.  There are three profound changes occurring in predictive analytics and modeling that is being driven by the impact of the buyer increasingly self-directing purchase decisions:

  • Putting buyers at the center of predictive modeling
  • Emphasis on modeling buyer behavior
  • Bringing a qualitative interface to the quantitative analytics

Some leading B2B executives are proceeding with a level of qualitative buyer research that allows them to understand current buying scenarios as well as behaviors to create predictive buyer scenario models.   Using the nuances of each buyer scenario modeled to create specific as well as variations of marketing, sales, social, product, and content strategies that help them to attain key objectives related to growth.  One reason B2B executives are turning to integrating qualitative buyer scenario models into predictive analytics is that it allows them to view real world business challenges at an insightful level.  This approach gives them an all important interface to existing analytics as well as guiding what analytics to get predictive about in the future.

A case in point could be that quantitative predictive analytics can help predict the types of IT servers needed, what is the average quantity purchased, quantify search behaviors, and how IT servers are being purchased.  Buyer scenario models bring the real world insight that will help to predict under what scenarios IT servers are needed, what problems usually surface that causes the need, buyer behaviors during search and decision-making, and why it is important.  Integrating the quantitative and the qualitative allows B2B executives to then predict multiple buyer scenarios that reflect real world problems and also represent real-time growth opportunities.

How Can B2B Leaders Make Predictive Buyer Modeling An Important Part Of Strategy?

For some B2B organizations, jumping into full blown predictive analytics can be an expensive proposition. One key benefit of qualitative predictive buyer modeling is that it can be done less expensively and it also helps to identify where predictive analytics is needed.  Here are a few ways B2B leaders can consider predictive buyer modeling and the use of buyer scenario models:

Input – I was in the business information and intelligence industry for a good portion of my career and one tenet that is still true today is that good output is driven by good input.  In this case, good input is represented by qualitative research and interviewing efforts that help to identify important behavioral data and insight elements.

Multiple Scenarios – In today’s business climate, the number of possible buying scenarios continues to increase.  And they are touching more parts of the organization than ever before.  Building buyer scenario models for strategies related to marketing, sales, content, social, and service can be extremely valuable for a C-Suite team in planning.

End-to End – The emphasis should be on understanding the full spectrum of the End-to-End Buyer Experience.  Even in quantitative predictive analytics, this point is often overlooked.  Buyer behavior is often shaped not only by pre-sale experiences but by post-sale experiences – with bad post-sales experiences having a detrimental impact on future sales.

Implications Analysis – Predictive buyer modeling should be designed to enable B2B leaders with the ability to understand the implications that different buyer scenario models will have on their business.  This should include some “what if” modeling around how buyers may respond to different approaches and strategies.

People Involvement – Predictive buyer modeling should not be for the chosen few.  It should involve as many people from affected areas as possible.  Buyer scenario models enable teams to look at real world challenges and literally play a game of understanding how strategies and tactics can change the game in the real world itself.

Integrate Analytics – Predictive analytics can indicate areas that can benefit from further illumination.  In those cases where further illumination is needed, predictive buyer modeling and buyer scenario models can get to the story behind the numbers.  In the reverse, buyer scenario models can introduce a new story and predictive analytics can get to the numbers behind the story.

Recently, I witnessed a group of executives use predictive buyer modeling.  What became evident to me was how the process opened up the mind to alternative possibilities.  Additionally, by putting the buyer at the center of predictive modeling, assumptions as well as implications were easier to assess because the focus was on how buyers would respond.  This type of process sparks the creativity needed to look at real world business challenges and think in new ways to reinvigorate as well as sustain a business.

Predictive buyer modeling and buyer scenario models can show B2B executives a new path towards making customer-centric and buyer-centric planning a reality.  Enabling a promising future for how B2B organizations can reinvent strategizing and planning – and when doing so, they do so with the buyer at the center.

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