- Marketing recognizes the need to find new ways to keep prospects and customers engaged through complex buyer journeys
- According to the SiriusDecisions 2017 Global CMO Study, top priorities for CMOs include enhancing customer experience and addressing changing buying behavior
- Attracting and keeping B2B customers is similar to playing a dating game
While I spend my days working with SiriusDecisions clients on all things digital marketing, my teenage daughter spends perhaps too much of hers sharing pictures and videos and seemingly every thought with friends online. Notably, a major portion of any budding romance is also carried out online. That got me thinking: Our relationships with B2B prospects and customers throughout the buyer’s journey are something like dating – perhaps with a different type of angst, but angst nevertheless.
In fact, that angst is apparent in some of the results from the SiriusDecisions 2017 Global CMO study, which indicate that top priorities for CMOs include enhancing the customer experience and addressing the changing buyer’s journey. Just as in dating, marketers need to figure out how to respond to the messages that prospects and customers send throughout that journey to win their love, so to speak. Let’s look at the B2B marketing challenge using the language of love, or lack thereof:
- “I’m just not that into you.” Sometimes spoken, and sometimes apparent through actions, “I’m just not that into you” is what our targets are saying every time they ignore an email, click on a link but skip the download, or, worst case, unsubscribe (ouch!). Time to face the facts: If this is happening too often with solid targets – it’s not them, it’s you. So, it’s also not surprising that CMOs recognize changing buyer behaviors as a focus area, with the related top challenges: developing content that satisfies buyers’ needs, and a lack of buyer and customer insights. An underlying reason for this disconnect is the fundamental shift in expectations from business buyers in a world rife with options – all of which are available for examination via a few clicks. This shift requires a complementary shift from product-centric to audience-centric go-to-market strategies. Target audiences expect vendors to understand who they are, their challenges and what makes them tick, and they expect them to vie for their business by showing up in the right place at the right time with the right content.
- “I feel like you don’t listen to me.” So, you’ve had a few dates. You’ve got an audience engaged via an inbound search, for example, and prospects have downloaded an e-book. They’re in a nurture stream, but showing zero interest in the follow-on offers. These are prospects that fit your persona parameters, so what’s the problem? Time for a reality check, and that means checking the data. Does the data tell you that content in the nurture stream is working as planned? Is it pulling targets through a buyer’s journey as intended? Too often, B2B marketers put together nurture streams that make logical sense, and while they may track lead generation, they don’t track how each piece of content in a nurture campaign is performing against planned journey stages for specific personas. While they may think they’re responding to their target audience’s needs, they’re not truly “listening” to them. Content marketing platforms make it possible to personalize offers and collect data critical to better understanding audience needs at the same time. Vendors that don’t step up their personalization efforts need to realize that their competitors will.
- “I need to see other people.” And speaking of competitors, consider how easy it is for a prospect’s attention to be turned to another vendor – especially at early and mid-journey stages. Competitors are likely doing what you’re doing: trying to get closer to the target audience. Have you plugged into a competitive vendor’s nurture stream? Are you looking at how a competitor’s Web site pulls your targets in and where it takes them? If not, get ready to lose out to the guy with the nicer car or the girl with the family house on the lake, so to speak. Now, that’s not to say this is all about who has the shinier object – it’s about the whole package. Our Global CMO study shows that the biggest challenge CMOs cite with brand investment is establishing the brand positioning/messaging that differentiates them in the market. SiriusDecisions clients are focusing marketing energy on corporate narrative and the halo of value they can demonstrate to prospects and customers.
- “Ever since we made a commitment, you don’t treat me the same.” It’s the age-old story, whether in love or business relationships. It’s dinners out, meaningful conversations and “just because” gifts until the promise is spoken or the contract is signed, and then – poof! – all the attention and pampering disappears. CMOs cite customer experience as the top priority that will influence their marketing strategy over the next two years, and, customer marketing skills is a top requirement for enhancing skills. For too long, marketers have treated customer marketing as an afterthought – including customers in prospect campaigns, hoping that the same programs and content that attract prospects will be interesting to existing customers. At SiriusDecisions, we talk about four responsibilities of customer engagement – retention, loyalty, advocacy and growth. Understanding customer needs and interests post-sale and creating programs and content to meet those needs is key. While customizing content can work, don’t guess – persona detail should include research and data analysis related to post-sale behavior. Get it right, and instead of second-guessing their decision to sign with you, they’ll sign up for seconds on your product or service.
- “Our relationship is fine the way it is – stop pushing me for more.” It’s true in most B2B markets: the best opportunities to increase revenue are with existing accounts. It’s no wonder account-based marketing (ABM) is top of mind with marketers. However, the same customer marketing risks exist in ABM, plus a few more. Without rigor applied to customer upsell and cross-sell, you could risk customer engagement if you push too hard, or miss opportunities if you do too little. Challenges in ABM are well recognized by CMOs who say that a lack of budget and skills impact their ability to effectively launch ABM programs. In addition, they cite alignment issues with sales around ABM focus. If ABM is a clear priority in your business, then getting marketing and sales teams on the same page is critical, along with taking a programmatic approach to leveraging existing resources and content to focus on proving to clients why they should spend more of their time and dollars with you.
Our customer and prospect relationships require the same fundamentals as our personal relationships – trust, understanding and engaging communications. Are you ready to take all of your relationships to the next level?
SiriusDecisions clients will have access to the 2017 Global CMO Study information later this summer. If you’d like more information, contact us.