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Base your B2B marketing decisions on your customers, not your products or services

Posted by Ron Jacobs on February 10, 2015

Marketing communications and marketing channels are changing rapidly. Not all business-to-business (B2B) marketers are keeping up. Too many B2B marketers base their decisions on results gleaned in a marketing landscape that doesn’t resemble today’s – one where marketing communications were focused on products and brands, not on the customers who purchased them. That may have been acceptable in the past, but not in a time where personalized, relevant data-driven communications have become the norm.

I see B2B marketers hanging on to the past all the time. If the tools and techniques being used for a brand are based on ideas of customers and prospects from the 1980s or 1990s, shouldn’t that be a red flag? Sales and marketing techniques built on cold calling, trade publications, a major annual conference/event and some PR releases seem hopelessly outdated. Yet this is the marketing plan for more than one B2B marketer.

I am not against tools and techniques that worked in the pre-Internet era. Nor do I believe that marketers should always chase the next shiny new marketing tool that they read about. I know that channels like direct mail still work!! I also know that when direct mail is combined with other techniques (e.g., direct mail and personalized URLs), really good things happen.

Great strides have been made in B2B marketing practice over the last few years. But in many organizations, there is still great reluctance to commit to new ideas. Too many B2B marketing (and sales) executives see new thinking as a threat. Or they just don’t understand the changes going on around them. I don’t believe in changing any organization’s marketing overnight. I recommend some careful marketing experiments –testing to learn what works best for each brand. To me, this starts with a better understanding of a B2B organization’s customers.

No marketer is lucky enough to have just one homogeneous segment. B2B marketers need to develop multiple buyer personas based on buyer needs, buying authority, responsibilities, role, behaviors, motivations and buyer lifecycles.

This is different than how many businesses look at their customers. Ask who a company’s customers are and you are generally given the kind of companies that they sell to, some firmographic information on those companies (annual sales, number of employees, etc.) and maybe which titles they focus on within a firm.
A persona is more about the roles and responsibilities of the decision makers and influencers than their titles. Personas reveal what we need to have a dialogue about as part of the buying process. Of course, in B2B firms it is not one individual doing the buying. So marketers need to reach a number of different people, each with their own persona, in order to get a purchase decision made.

Personas drive the customization and personalization strategies necessary to find small and profitable subsets and niches within an organization’s market. This will require better data and a better ability to use that data to create one-to-one conversations. These conversations can be enabled by triggered or automated email campaigns. Such programs only work when marketers have the data to make the communications seem natural and personal. This is what many marketers describe as “nurturing.” It really works. But it works best when the emails are highly personalized and when marketers really understand where prospects are in their purchase journey and decision process.

Prospects expect communications to be relevant to their current business situations. We need to help them see how the products and services that an organization offers will help them meet their business goals. In the early stages you may need to let them know of advantages that your products and services have that they may not be aware of. Later on, that may switch to the choices and options available.

Personas are just one of the new tools that B2B Marketers have been slow to adopt. Together with email personalization, personas provide a powerful tool for developing successful data-driven lead generation programs.

Topics: Direct Marketing

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