Defining the real buyer

Author: 
Alicia McCarty

Today’s buyers expect us to speak to them personally, not in their general direction. Increasingly, customers want businesses to know what they want before they do and to serve them hyper-targeted, relevant content and offerings.

For example, one study by Marketo found that 79 percent of buyers are only likely to engage with a brand if those promotions are directly tied to how they have interacted with the brand previously. According to Marketing Insider Group, 78 percent of U.S. Internet users said that personally relevant content increases their purchase intent.

That’s why email campaigns that were perfectly reasonable just a few years ago qualify as borderline spam today. Think
of how many emails you delete every week or even daily from reputable companies that took time to create high-quality content that wasn’t of any interest or relevance to you whatsoever. (And as a marketing professional, doesn’t it give you just a slight twinge of guilt?)

This is as true for business-to-business buyers as it is for consumers, as Marketo notes in its 2017 State of Engagement report.

So, if both buyers and marketers alike are aware of this paradigm shift, why are we all still bombarded with spam and other offerings we simply aren’t interested in?

Failure to understand

According to The State of Engagement, the answer is that we marketers think we’re doing just fine, thank you very much. Marketers aren’t aware that what we see as personalization, customers often view very differently. That’s why 82 percent
of marketers believe they have a deep understanding of who they’re trying to reach, while more than half of buyers think brands could do a better job aligning with their engagement preferences.

This mistake begins with marketers’ failure to understand their audiences. If you don’t make the effort to understand who you’re marketing to before you get started, there’s no way you can possibly offer them something that speaks to their needs and wants. From there, it’s a slippery slope — unable to frame the conversation in terms of customers’ needs, the only option left for marketers is to do the one thing we all know we’re not actually supposed to do: bore them to death by talking about our product, without framing the conversation around them.

Your audiences are real people, and your engagements need to be conducted as conversations with real people. That’s easy to forget when you’re sitting behind a computer, diving into your marketing automation platform, creating great content or even in a brainstorming session with colleagues.

Companies and industries don’t buy your products. Susan in accounting, Madison in IT, and Paresh in marketing are the ones you need to convince. They are the target of your marketing campaigns and content, not their companies.

Deep down, every marketer knows this, so where are we going wrong?

It starts with the data…

The answer is that most marketing teams today lack two crucial tools:

  • Enough of the right data
  • Actionable intelligence and insights firmly rooted in that data

After years of being assailed with slogans like “data-driven marketing,” every B2B marketer worth his or her salt knows that their marketing efforts need to be measurable and driven by customer/prospect data. It’s no surprise, then, that the
most popular technologies for B2B marketers, according to a recent survey of senior marketing executives, are CRMs and marketing automation platforms.

But what’s really important is the kind of data you’re using. Of course, the data needs to be accurate — that should be a given — but it also needs to be relevant. That means going beyond superficial data like name, title, company name, geographic location and contact details.

Ask yourself: if you were personally introduced to Joe Bloggs, director of marketing at Acme Corp., who works from the company’s Arizona office, would you know enough about him to sell to him? What if you only had a minute or two to pique his interest before he looks at your competitors?

It just isn’t possible. That information is simply too basic and two-dimensional to do anything with it. It tells you nothing about Joe Bloggs the buyer: What are his business challenges? Is he familiar with the relevant technologies? Is he even the right person to talk to? Joe’s title might be “director,” but if there’s a Jane Doe, VP marketing, above him in the pecking order, he might not have buying power at all.

And what about Acme Corp.? Are they even in an active buying cycle? Are their existing processes/technologies compatible with what you’re selling? Are they already using a competitor? What if I told you Acme Corp. is really just a subsidiary of Global Enterprises — is it worth talking to Joe or Jane at all, or should you be engaging with their parent company?

...And ends with intelligence

Of course, when your database contains tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of records, there’s no way you could process all the necessary data on each one and come out with a plan of action. That’s why what you do with that data is just as important, i.e. your ability to draw out actionable insights from that ocean of data.

If data is the foundation, intelligence is everything else. Ultimately, who do you need to engage with, and when? Which handful of the hundreds of people within an account constitute its buying centers (or what SiriusDecisions labels “Demand Units”)? Do they fit any of your buyer personas/ideal customer profiles? (Do you even have buyer personas or ideal customer profiles?) If so, which one? How should you engage with them? Are they sales-qualified or should you be targeting them with more marketing content?

On the flipside, many marketers have buyer personas, but those personas aren’t rooted so much in the data as much as in intuition or general, superficial observations. (“We mostly sell to CMOs.” Or, “Our customers mostly come from companies in the financial services industry.”)

While it would be foolish to discount the importance of human intuition and experience, ultimately your engagement will be a lot better if you’re able to anchor that intelligence in your data. It’s better to know that directors of marketing and CMOs in manufacturing companies of 300 to 400 employees who use X technology and have additional experience with Y platform are five times more likely to buy your product than the average prospect.

Truly personalized marketing — built on these two foundations of data and intelligence — is the way of the future.

According to Salesforce, 51 percent of consumers expect that by 2020, companies will anticipate their needs and make relevant suggestions before they make contact. Once that happens, personalization will become the norm. Anything else will just be spam.  

Alicia McCarty is director of marketing for Leadspace, which provides data intelligence for B2B sales and marketing.