B2B Marketers Have A Blind Spot: The Buyer Journey

Last month, I was immersed in face-to-face dialogue with senior B2B marketing leaders from well-known companies who were attending Forrester Forums and FLB events, and one thing was blatantly clear. These leaders are so focused on their initiatives, campaigns, and programs that they have lost sight of the thing that matters most: the customer.

In one setting, I led a discussion group about big data. Rather than debate what big data really means and how it can be captured, I focused on how it could be used. I asked the members to think about the different touchpoints their firm has with customers at each stage of the customer life cycle and how the experience delivered at each of those touchpoints could be better informed by the new types of data that are available today. Most struggled with it, because they are not used to thinking about interactions from the customers’ perspective. Instead, they think of it as actions by their marketing and sales teams.

Next, I had the opportunity to sit down for two days of one-on-one meetings with senior marketing leaders who were attending Forrester’s Customer Experience Forum. Naturally, they were asking about the B2B customer experience, so I asked each one how their company goes about capturing information about how their customers buy. The answer was the same: We don’t have much of that information today.

I’ve written before about how B2B marketing is going through an essential transformation. Historically, our focus has been on events, PR, and collateral. Now, our CEOs and board are demanding that we’re directly driving revenue growth. This requires a whole new set of skills and activities across marketing and sales teams: content marketing, inbound marketing, lead-to-revenue management, revenue-cycle analytics, account-based marketing and selling, to name a few. At the core of any of these activities, and an absolute requirement of doing them well, is a deep understanding of your buyer journeys. Otherwise, you’re shooting in the dark.

You need to recognize that the B2B buying process is not one big decision; it is a series of micro-decisions. And the company that wins the business is the company that is there to answer those questions and provide fresh insights that influence how the buyers think about the problem so that the buyers can confidently advance their journey.

Take, for example, the very early stages of your customers’ problem-solving cycle, when they first realize they have a problem. They aren’t in a buying cycle yet. Instead, they are trying to understand their problem; determine how high a priority it is to fix, compared with everything else going on; who in the organization has to be brought in to change the status quo; how other companies have solved this problem; and if it's worth solving at this time.

How well do you know what questions your customers are asking at this stage? What insights are they seeking? What state of turmoil are they in? Where are they going to get information? What motivates them to move to the next step? If you’re not confident that you have the answers, you’ve got a blind spot.


Early stage blind spot solutions?

Great post as usual. I put the customer front and center in all the development of messaging, content and programs. In the early stage, the best way to connect to the customer isn't through problems or products, but through articulating a Viewpoint that matches the customers world view and relates it to your high level value. Customer View -> shared Viewpoint is the best way to get permission to be part of that early buying discussion and influence it positively. Despite what many claim, content is NOT KING, CONTEXT IS!!! If you create a shared context or Viewpoint, you are the one partnering with the customer to solve his problems from the get go...I've written about this extensively and my ebook that covers this just was published today. Here's a link to a blog on Viewpoint: http://first-productmarketing.blogspot.com/2012/02/finding-your-viewpoin... as well as a link to my ebook: http://www.cloudbook.net/resources/stories/velocity-marketing

I'd be interested if you are planning any research in this area...


Big data, marketing metrics and customer view

@Jeff - you're raising a few excellent points:

1) The Marketing team is now measurable and accountable. This is a drastic change that was made possible due to the shift to online marketing and selling. However, many, if not most, marketing organizations are not there yet. A lot of the marketers I talk to have not yet put in place end-to-end (lead to close) reporting and analysis - this will have to change - not only as we're asked to prove our value, but also because how else do you determine the optimal marketing mix?...

2) Taking the customer point of view is hard but critical. This is a challenge to marketers not only because it's a fundamental shift of mind set, but also because most marketers have a hard time putting themselves in their customers' shoes. If you're marketing to techies and do not come from a tech background, how can you think like your customer? (in this respect I'm lucky - heading marketing for Leadspace means I get to market to marketers :) )

3) Big data is today's hype, but the question is how we put the data to good use. Making sense of customer touch points is a great use case. Finding buying signals in mountains of social media data is another. Marketing organizations that don't take a serious look at big data today, will be left behind tomorrow...


Customer-centric Business Behavior

I am a strong supporter of Customer-centric business behavior. I have in my collection The Profit Zone, Tipping Point and other paradigm shifting business books. Thank your this article. Although, I am increasing my interaction with Hubspot, I agree that the Customer is pivot point to which the Executive team as well as the C-suite should form a close circumference around rather than use strategies to circumvent into profits.

Alicia J. Alexander

Jeff - thanks for shedding

Jeff - thanks for shedding light on this very important requirement for any marketing, sales or customer experience professional. Every time I enter a new industry, I spend time learning how the customers interact and move in a bit of a different but similar model. I use awareness to education to engagement to order & fulfillment to advocacy. The resulting map must be flexible but should capture the most important points and milestones. And of course, once we address it, we test and measure and look for new gaps. We use a mix of online tools and offline research. It's has helped me in my career increase engagement, conversions and sales every step of the way. Cheers, Matt

Good article. There is a much

Good article. There is a much bigger blind spot.

B2B decisions are almost never made by one person, acting alone.

Good sales people put a lot of work in early on to find the true seat of power, the motivation for the project and the business relationships - who will support it, who will block it and why.

Yet most marketers talk at and don't even try to discover the bigger picture.

That is the key reason why most "marketing makes leads for sales" operations fail.

Buyer journey is dead

Okay Jeff, I'll be the outlier here. Mapping the buyer journey is a waste of time. Unless you're dealing with an exceptionally sophisticated buyer who's bought the same thing, many times, over a very long time, buyers really don't know how to properly evaluate one supplier over another. The Challenger Sales model bears this out.

Also, I couldn't disagree more with your statement, "Historically, our focus has been on events, PR, and collateral. Now, our CEOs and board are demanding that we’re directly driving revenue growth." I've been at it for 30+ years and I can't recall an instance when my CEO didn't demand that marketing was driving revenue growth. It seems that you're saying accountability is a "new thing."