B2B Customer Centricity: Defining, targeting content that creates sales
by Mark Eardley (@mdeardley) In this fourth Q&A with Laura Ramos, Forrester’s VP and principal analyst serving B2B marketing professionals, we’re going to look at targeting — as in channelling the right message to the right people at the right time.
In previous Q&As, we looked at the overall business benefits produced by centricity and drilled down into specific advantages it delivers in terms of differentiation and segmentation. We saw that centricity reveals insights essential for creating a calibre of differentiation that proves why your firm is the obvious choice in its markets. For a B2B firm to be acknowledged as positively different, Ramos stressed the importance of highlighting how customer experience (CX) consistently matches expectation. In fact, CX may well be the supreme differentiator. But, many marketers just don’t recognise that blunt fact. As she says, “Listen up, B2B marketers: You do NOT understand this concept. Not at all”. We also discussed how centricity drives needs-based segmentation. This is a high-class type of segmentation that identifies everyone who influences buying decisions and defines why they support them.
Back2Basics: How does centricity strengthen an understanding of the buying decision cycle and why does this help marketers to produce and deliver content that creates sales?
Laura Ramos: Ever since 1898, when Elias St Elmo Lewis mapped a theoretical buyer journey from initial interest through to the purchase of a product or service, marketers and sellers have been on a quest to understand the psychology of advertising and selling.() Now known as the “purchase or buying funnel,” Lewis’s model has unfortunately become more of a guide to promotional campaign design than to customer understanding. Somewhere along the way, we lost sight of the fact that the AIDA-model describes the customer’s journey, not just the steps required to drive a prospect into a purchase.
Taking a customer-centric approach — or becoming customer-obsessed as Forrester refers to this mind and cultural shift — reminds us to use this model as a proxy for the buyer’s purchase journey, not just a series of selling stages. A quick review of the model definitions reveals something essential to understanding buyers:
- Awareness = the customer becomes aware of the existence of the product or service.
- Interest = he/she actively expresses an interest in that product or service.
- Desire = the customer wants the value — or removal of a problem — that the product or service can deliver, and sees this as advantageous over alternatives, including the status quo.
- Action = the customer takes the steps toward purchasing the chosen product.
The four original steps focus on the buyer and their emotional journey from “What is it?” to “Where do I sign?”
In B2B marketing and selling, understanding your ideal customers (as companies), what key decision-makers at those firms truly suffer from, and what they are willing to do to relieve the pain is essential to operationalising the buying-decision cycle. It requires answering a key customer experience question: “What is the buyer trying to achieve during this journey?” (Not what do you want to make them do.)
Knowing what buyers want to do requires accurate insight into the specific nature of the problem they are trying to solve, the pitfalls of their current approach, and the measurable business value that comes from using your offerings to resolve their issues. In B2B marketing, multiple people participate in the purchase process, making it difficult to achieve this understanding.
Further complicating reality, the buyer’s experience really starts with the sale — and continues over the months and years that buyers use, gain benefits from, and extend their engagement with the purchased product or service. It takes rigorous investigative work by marketing and sales to understand buyer needs and create experiences that address their journey evolution from awareness through interest, desire, and action. Marketers and sellers who do this research well soon learn that buyers are self-educating and moving through the awareness and interest stages on their own.
To ensure buyers’ self-directed research features your products or services, marketers must develop content — backed by accurate customer insight — that addresses not just the profile of the “ideal” customer but also their emotional and psychological journey from awareness to action. This means 80% of marketing content should target specific buyers, their issues, how they try to solve them, why they fail, and what they need to do differently. And only 20% should expound on your firm, what you do, and why you feel this has unique value.
Getting this ratio right is the first step to ensuring your marketing gets through to the right people at the right time, regardless of channel. It’s the empathy in the message, not the choice of the medium, that ensures your marketing content and outreach will engage. Marketers who do this well enjoy that rare form of customer-obsessed maturity that leads to a higher propensity of satisfied customers, loyal customer relationships, share of wallet, and ultimately better business performance in the market and against the competition — all of which we reviewed in the first post of this series.
 E. K. Strong, Jr. The Psychology of Selling and Advertising. New York 1925, p 349 and p 9.
- B2B Customer Centricity: Why it’s vital for needs-based segmentation
- B2B Customer Centricity: Why competitor differentiation matters
- B2B Customer Centricity: Moving from lip-service to full service
Mark Eardley (@mdeardley) advises B2B companies on how to govern their marketing to attract and retain profitable customers; several of his clients have grown to become market leaders. He and Charlie Stewart have written Business-to-Business Marketing: A Step-by-Step Guide (Penguin Random House), which offers practical, actionable advice on how to make marketing make money. His monthly “Back2Basics” column covers how B2B companies and their agencies should manage their marketing.
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