Reshaping the B2B Buyer Experience

Posted on by Sanjay Castelino

B2B-people-planning-marketing-relationship-300The B2B buyer experience is more complex than ever before. But in some ways, it’s never been easier to be a marketer. We can automate social media posts, ad campaigns, content initiatives and other programs in hopes of turning behaviors into formulas that can be replicated over and over.

Let a bunch of servers crunch data and you can, presumably, add new customers just by writing a check. Scott Brinker has done an admirable job highlighting the scope of this market—nearly 4,000 technology solutions to date—all promising to make marketing departments more effective.

Need to launch a new app? Spin up Microsoft or Amazon cloud computing resources. Need customer support? Call an outsourcing team. We’ve oversimplified the B2B buying process to such a degree marketers have become convinced it’s as easy to buy good leads as it is to spin up whatever they need in the cloud. That’s nonsense of course, but it’s done every day.

But it’s actually worse than that. As B2B buyers become more self-directed, mathematicians and marketers are working hand in hand to further automate the lead generation process, surmising it’s possible to engineer predictable clicks and generate a guaranteed volume of leads, all the while forgetting that behind the clicks are human beings. When did marketers forsake trust for volume and clicks? When did lead generation become so clinical? Where’s the human touch in all of this—and what is the impact on the B2B buyer experience?

Bob is really annoyed

Let’s say you’re a marketer for a B2B technology firm and the mathematical models behind your systems suggest you reach out to prospects who have engaged with content on your site at least once in the last year. So, you give it a shot—the machine is always right, right?—and start sending emails. Prospect Bob clicks.

Who’s Bob? He’s the IT director and he has a problem your technology may be able to help him solve. Or at least that’s how it appears. You’ve got Bob interested. Now what?

Mathematical wisdom and lots of practice says to show him a landing page in hopes he’ll fill out a form with all his contact details, specifically a phone number. Maybe you’ll provide some value—another piece of content perhaps—but in reality B2B marketers are normally after those valuable contact details. Bob will fill out the form, offer his first-born to the marketing overlords, and get a phone call 30 minutes later from an eager sales rep just doing their job.

While this linear example might not seem particularly offensive, this plays out over and over with Bob, his peers, and other B2B buyers. There may be hundreds of brands simultaneously running this default engagement play. The repetition is annoying and it’s poisoning the well.

Here’s the problem. If marketing and lead generation systems are largely automated and volume-driven, we’re asking Bob to do the work to engage with us instead of meeting him on his terms. We become a drag, a time sink, a necessary evil, a phone call which all but guarantees Bob won’t do business with us again unless he has no other choice. These are the sorts of leads you get with clinical MarTech-driven practices that emphasize volume over connection, automation over a handshake.

Get More Personal

Instead of aiming for volume, find the right customer whose problem we can solve and then connect when it makes sense to do so. Here are three more specific tips for balancing the benefits of martech with the human touch your customers want:

  1. Treat technology as a means, not a method. Algorithms and formulas become the method when they block humans from engaging with each other. Instead, make them data collectors who help reach and engage customers and prospects in-context. Listen to the conversations happening about your brand and the topics you care about, build relationships with your buyers, and empower them to share your story as they support their peers. I’m always surprised how willing buyers are to take part in marketing activities and how, like you, they just want to help.
  1. No more marketing from the mountaintop. We’ve been taught to think of marketing as influencing people to do things they may not do otherwise. What if, instead, marketing was about making connections, building relationships, and building brand loyalty and advocacy? We know B2B buyers rely on each other—not marketing departments—for the insight they need to be successful. We should embrace that and tailor our programs to prioritize long-term relationships, not short-term thinking.
  1. Make your marketing fun. Stiff marketing sucks, and customers with particularly big problems are looking for just a little inspiration when searching for solutions. They’d rather enjoy the process. Help them. Use humorous animations for tutorial videos. Add GIFs to your blog posts. Hire funny writers for your weekly newsletter. Bob should smile every time he engages with your brand.

This should be easy. We’re wired to be human, after all, so it should be natural to inject more of our humanity into our tools and processes. Not to engage but to help Bob see his own problems in context, and then put him in touch with those who’ve been there before. We’ll empathize instead of preach. And most of all, we’ll have fun while we help.

Bob isn’t just a visitor or a customer. He’s a friend in need, and our approach, our technology, and even our temperament should be all about adding value to his day, not ours.

Sanjay Castelino is vice president of Marketing at Spiceworks.

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