Connecting with Buyers: A River Runs Through It
There’s an art to tying just the right kind of fly to catch the river fish you’re after. Skill is important. If the fly isn’t executed well, it won’t do the job effectively. But there’s also a lot of science involved: understanding if the fish you seek is migrating upstream or plying its usual waters, or knowing what your fish perceives and the limits of its visual acuity. Though a fly might seem like a primitive tool, the best of them are elegant reflections of the subtleties and sophistication that drive the behavior of a particular fish species.
A similar depth of knowledge and skill are required to effectively engage with and sell to B2B buyers. ITSMA’s recently completed annual How Buyers Consume Information study, Persuading Buyers to Choose You, offers solid insights into the preferences and priorities for buyers of complex, high-consideration B2B services and solutions. The results confirm some key trends and dispel a few myths. Our analysis also points to state of the art approaches that best capitalize on the main findings.
Here are some highlights:
- The overwhelming majority (89%) of B2B buyers use social media at some point in the purchase process, but it is only of middling usefulness overall. Even among the 70% of respondents for whom social media is deemed useful, it ranked near the bottom of the list in terms of credibility and trustworthiness.
- Solution provider subject matter experts (SMEs) are the highest rated source of information by a solid margin. Despite a cacophony of buzz about digital marketing and social media, buyers clearly prioritize direct contact with SMEs, industry analysts, peers, and—this will surprise many—salespeople. Add in solution provider websites and you have the top five sources of trusted information in the buying process.
- Thought leadership, in a variety of different forms (see the Research Highlight below for more on this point), plays a crucial role for buyers determining which solution providers they want to learn more about and which ones they decide to short list.
- Personalizing information, both on- and offline, to the needs of individual buyers is an asset. While 57% of respondents considered it a valuable service in its own right, 50% said it would make them more likely to consider working with that service provider.
These findings and others in the study provide the important nuances B2B marketers need to improve the way they engage with buyers. The main headline hasn’t changed, though: to be successful, you must make your compelling information and expert opinions available to buyers when and where they want them. This requires, among other things, carefully balancing the mix of paid, earned, and owned media. It means thinking of social media as an engagement tool, not a broadcast channel. It also increases the importance of managing and integrating the online and offline customer experience.
So how do you get this right? We recommend a number of tools and approaches that lend considerably more science to the art:
- Buyer personas. The right kind of primary research yields powerful insight into why, when, and how buyers choose to purchase from you—or one of your competitors.
- Thought leadership. Good thought leadership embodies the views of SMEs and extends their reach, enabling anyone in the company to have valuable, engaging interactions with potential buyers.
- Storytelling. Whether you’re trying to clearly communicate the key message of thought leadership, value propositions, or just about anything else, a storytelling approach will dramatically increase how well you can do so.
- Marketing automation and CRM. Despite the confusing and ever-changing array of options available, marketing tools are key to offering useful personalization and improving your powers of observation.
As with fly-fishing, patience and perseverance are essential. You have to be in the right place with the right fly when your fish are biting. Just having a great fly isn’t enough. Follow our advice and our bet is, they’ll be hooked.
For support or further information in any of these areas, talk to us. ITSMA can help.
For more results from the survey, listen to Julie Schwartz’s online briefing, Persuading Buyers to Choose You or read the abbreviated summary, Persuading Buyers to Choose You: Results from the ITSMA How Buyers Consume Information Survey, 2014.
What’s Your Story?
Co-authored with Vincent Rousselet
When Tim Cook emerged on the stage of the Flint Center for Performing Arts in September 2014, he was about to tell not one but two stories. The first one was overtly in support of the day’s launches: the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch. The other was the continuation of Apple’s story, a narrative that was started by Steve Jobs and has been running ever since.
Why is storytelling such a powerful technique?
Stories reach three distinct parts of the human brain, directly connecting with our instincts, emotions, and higher-order, rational thinking. Over thousands of years of evolution, our brains have been wired to communicate in this way. Stories turn us on.
But a war for the buyer’s attention is being waged. Every minute of every day we create 204 million email messages, 684,000 bits of content shared on Facebook, 100,000 tweets, and 48 hours of new YouTube videos. And this only keeps growing.
Because storytelling engages audiences emotionally, it can help win this battle for attention. It’s no surprise that, from HP and BT to Telefonica and Orange Business Services to Hitachi and Amdocs, an increasing number of organizations have observed the effectiveness of storytelling in B2C and are now deploying the technique in B2B markets.
In fact, in ITSMA’s 2014 Budget and Trends Survey, when asked about essential skills for the future marketing organization, 53% of senior B2B marketing executives surveyed put storytelling at the top of the list, on par with leadership skills (51%) and ahead of data analytics (36%). Sadly, storytelling is the third most difficult skill to find, behind data analytics and subject matter expertise, according to ITSMA’s 2014 Marketing Talent Survey.
“Storytelling is the art of simplifying the complex,” says Chris Williams, head of global marketing at Amdocs, a global software and services company. “That gets harder to do the bigger a company becomes, and that’s the reason we’re launching a new company-wide program that puts the art of storytelling at the very center of our marketing strategy and culture.”
So, how do marketers go about creating stories? Simply put, stories have three components:
- A plot or storyline. This is the essence of the story, which, according to experts, can be articulated in as few as six words.
- A story or narrative arc. The arc is the journey you are taking the audience on, starting with an opening scene, followed by various crises—including a point of no return—reaching a climax, and finishing with the denouement. Think Steve Job’s 2005 commencement speech at Stanford.
- A cast of characters, with predetermined roles. A hero and a villain are a good start. When other archetypes join them, the story becomes more engaging. As part of its Rock Stars campaign, Intel put forward the co-inventor of the USB as one of its heroes.
Apple may for now remain the best storyteller around, but many B2B marketers are clearly catching up.
This is an extract from a longer article originally published in the 2014–2015 Winter edition of Market Leader, the magazine of the UK Marketing Society
Research Highlight: Think Cat Videos Trump White Papers? Think Again.
You’ve seen the headlines: Video Is the Future of B2B Content Marketing! The Rise of YouTube for B2B Advertising!
And the statistics on who is watching videos and the impact of video can be quite compelling. But what about buyers of complex B2B solutions? What are their content consumption preferences? How would they like to see content packaged and delivered?
B2B solution buyers want insight. And they prefer to get their insight from people, not screens. Here is why, according to ITSMA’s recently published study, human contact is critical:
- When keeping up with industry and technology trends, buyers spend nearly as much time offline as online, especially with people.
- Buyers rely on sales at all stages of the buying process, even the early stages.
- Technology solution provider subject matter experts are the most credible source of information.
- While gaining traction, social media—including YouTube—is not yet mainstream.
Beyond delivery by a human, how should we package content? In our study we asked participants to rank their preferred formats for online solution provider thought leadership. The results were surprising:
- Topping the list was interactive visualization (visual storytelling), such as interactive maps, data explorers, timelines, and scroll-triggered animations.
- This was followed by presentations or slide sets, such as SlideShare content and text-based copy, such as white papers and offering descriptions.
- In the next tier we find the much-lauded videos and infographics.
- Buyers rank podcasts last; they just don’t seem to have caught on yet.
So let me ask you a question: If I peruse your website, will I find an interactive visualization?
No? I didn’t think so. This is probably something you want to think about for 2015. Even if your 2015 planning is already completed, it’s not too late. Make this very important change to engage your audience through a mix of visuals and words, and you’ll see the difference.
Need some inspiration? Here’s an example to get your creativity flowing: EMC Privacy Index.
Using NPS across Multiple Countries: It’s the Little Differences
Cultural differences account for a great deal of variance among geographic regions and even countries in the same region. They’re not limited to whether you order a Quarter Pounder or a Royale with Cheese and have ketchup or mayonnaise with your fries. A recent Net Promoter Score (NPS) project reminded us of this simple truth.
NPS is a time-tested method for gaining insight into the customer experience. It is both simple and reliable, but its real power is that it represents direct customer feedback that can be used to drive change and improvement throughout your organization. That’s true whether you do business primarily in your home country, are a large multinational, or have key customers in multiple countries.
The challenge with using NPS across multiple countries is basic but important: due to a variety of factors, most significantly cultural, different regions tend to rate providers with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Anyone who has ever compared NPS scores from the US, Germany, and Japan is probably nodding vigorously. US customers tend to give higher ratings than just about anyone else. In Germany, customers tend to rate very conservatively, even if they are satisfied. In Japan, it is considered poor etiquette to rate any provider too highly or too poorly, regardless of their performance.
What can be done about it?
The answer is straightforward: only compare scores within a country. Trying to compare across countries can be a frustrating and fruitless exercise. It is not likely to yield any useful insights. What does work is comparing results within a country and tracking how those results change over time. The only potential difficulty this poses is ensuring you have enough respondents in each country to provide robust insights.
If you are interesting in using NPS to evaluate feedback from your customers, check out our NPS Tool. And remember to keep your Big Macs from your McSpicy Paneers.
By Anna Whiting
Each month, ITSMA receives a number of queries through Ask ITSMA, a resource designed to give members a quick and easy way to get insight on important services and solutions marketing questions they face. In this column, we will publish some of our favorite questions, along with excerpts from our replies.
Q: We are doing a lot of work with C-level executives, talking to them about digital transformation. What doesdigital-transformation means to C-level executives these days?
A: Much like the term solution, digital means different things to different buyers. ITSMA has never directly asked the question through our research, but we do have an opinion! Anyone who talks about digital transformation will need to tailor it to the title, role, or persona they are marketing to. If you are targeting CEOs, you might want to call it digital business transformation. For CMOs, call it digital marketingtransformation, and for CIOs call it digital infrastructure transformation.
The next level of relevance will be critical to furthering the conversation. Therefore, you will also have to tailor the email message or marketing content even more to the role, title, or persona.
Here are a few links to examples of how some companies are speaking to digital transformation:
IBM: “Digital Transformation”
Deloitte: “Digital Transformation”
McKinsey & Co.: “Digital Strategy & Organization”
Do you have a sales or marketing question?
Services Marketing News
- How ‘Active Listening’ Makes Both Sides of a Conversation Feel Better
- Five Ways Big Data Will Change Sales and Marketing in 2015
- Five 2015 Predictions only a B2B Marketer Would Care About
- Can You Write Viral Copy like The Huffington Post? Here’s 6 reasons Why You Might Not Be Stacking Up
- What Does It Mean to Enlighten, Guide, and Inspire?
For up-to-the-minute services marketing news, follow ITSMA on Twitter: @itsma_b2b.
Upcoming ITSMA Events
The New Architecture of Marketing Leadership
ITSMA Marketing Leaders Roundtable
February 18, 2015
10:00 am – 3:00 pm IST
Hyatt Regency Mumbai, Mumbai, India
Introduction to Account Based Marketing – Online Training Program
Online Training Program
May 5, 12, and 19, 2015
The 90-minute sessions will begin at 7:30 am ET, 12:30 GMT, 5:00 pm IST
Account Based Marketing Certification Program
Program kickoff dates: June 30–July 1, 2015
The Charles Hotel, Cambridge, Massachusetts
To view all events, please see our online events calendar.
Recent ITSMA Thought Leadership
B2B solution buyers have raised the bar. They are more proactive, connected, and empowered and they are hungry to learn. Their expectations are getting higher, and they have more choices. They have access to information anytime and anywhere, but at the same time they are harder to reach. ITSMA’s 2014 How Buyers Consume Information research confirms the growing importance of online and social media channels but questions broad assertions of the declining importance of sales and other interactions with solution providers. Our research shows that B2B solution buyers still base their decisions mainly on insights, expertise, and direct interaction.
Read more on this Focus Report
Thought leadership is an essential component of most effective B2B marketing approaches, but not all programs are created equal. To get the maximum benefit from thought leadership, ITSMA has compiled 10 critical success factors. Based on our research, these factors distinguish the high-performing thought leadership programs from the rest of the pack.
Read more on this Tool
As advances in technology and changes in buying behavior continue to shape the role of the marketing department, the nature of marketing talent your company needs is evolving. But what skills and attributes will you need? Should you develop your existing team or hire new people? In this web briefing, we explore the skills, characteristics, and attributes marketers will need to be effective and the decisions being made to train, hire, or outsource those skills today. We also discuss the working styles and career paths tomorrow’s marketers need to consider to continue adding value to their companies. Drawing on ITSMA research and experience with leading marketing organizations, we look at how marketers should prioritize their own professional development and how marketing leaders should plan their team’s transformation.
Read more on this Online Briefing
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