Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Myth of the DIY Business Buyer

For several years, one of the major themes in B2B marketing and sales has been the emergence of empowered and independent buyers. Numerous research studies have shown that many business buyers are now using the wealth of easily-accessible information to perform their own research regarding potential purchases, and that they are delaying conversations with vendor sales reps until fairly late in the buying process.

SiriusDecisions says that 67% of the B2B buyer's journey is now done digitally. CEB goes even further and says that a typical B2B customer is 57% through the purchasing process before they engage with a potential supplier's sales rep.

The perceived independence of buyers has driven several profound changes in the practice of B2B marketing. It has provided much of the impetus for the use of inbound marketing and content marketing by B2B companies, and it has led many companies to expand the role of marketing in the demand generation process.

The idea that B2B buyers are self-educating and postponing conversations with sales reps until late in the buying process has become part of the conventional wisdom of B2B marketing. And as a general rule, this view of buyer behavior works reasonably well. Today's buyers are more empowered that ever before, and most business buyers are performing more research on their own.

But this model of buyer behavior was always an oversimplified representation of reality. It was never universally true or completely accurate. For one thing, not all B2B purchases are the same. Some are far more complex, require significantly higher investments, and entail substantially more risk than others. These differences mean that business buyers don't use the same process for all purchases. Plus, B2B buyers are not all alike with it comes to how they prefer to research and evaluate potential purchases.

The reality is that B2B buyer preferences and behaviors aren't as simple as the conventional view would suggest, and recent research is beginning to make the nuances visible. Last year for example, SiriusDecisions published the results of its 2015 B-to-B Buying Study, which was based on the behaviors of 1,000 business executives. The study found that business buyers are interacting with sales reps more than 50% of the time in the earlier stages of the buying process.

The Altify Buyer/Seller Value Index 2016 study also found that most business buyers are engaging with suppliers early in their buying process. This study involved more than 1.200 participants, about 25% of whom were business buyers. Over two-thirds (67%) of the buyer participants said they seek input from potential suppliers before they begin to evaluate solutions. In addition, 19% of the buyer participants said that sales reps add value before a project is identified, and over 20% said that sales reps add value when requirements are being defined.

The bottom line is that many B2B buyers are not as "self-directed" as we may have thought, which means that both marketing and sales must focus on early buyer engagement.

Image courtesy of Meaghan O'Malley via Flickr CC.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Two Key Attributes of Effective Lead Response Practices

First impressions matter a great deal in B2B marketing. The early interactions between a potential buyer and your company can make or break the relationship. So, how you respond to newly-identified leads is vitally important to the success of your demand generation efforts, probably only slightly less important than the quality of the content you produce.

In the course of my work, I consume a great deal of content. I download a lot of content resources, and I attend a lot of webinars. In most cases, I'm required to register to gain access to these resources, which means that I also receive a lot of follow-up e-mails and telephone calls. This has allowed me to experience lead response practices from a buyer's perspective, and from what I've seen, many company have significant room for improvement.

Lead Responses Must Be Appropriate

There are two key attributes of an effective response to a newly-identified lead. First, the response must be appropriate given the potential buyer's expressed or implied level of interest. For example, if a potential buyer signals that he or she wants to communicate with the company, it's entirely appropriate to reach out to the buyer via a telephone call.

On the other hand, if a potential buyer simply accesses a content resource, this doesn't necessarily signal that he or she is ready to have an in-person conversation with a company representative. Companies make a mistake when they respond too aggressively to this type of buyer behavior. In this circumstance, an e-mail offering access to other relevant content resources is likely to be the most effective way to entice the potential buyer to continue his or her engagement with the company.

Lead Responses Should Be Informed

The second key attribute of an effective lead response is that it is informed. By this I mean that the person making the response should take the time to perform a minimal amount of research regarding the potential buyer. When I receive follow-up contacts, what frustrates me most is that it's usually clear that the person making the contact has done nothing to learn about me, or my business, or why I may have been interested in a content resource.

In almost every case, if the company's representative had spent five or ten minutes reviewing my LinkedIn profile and scanning the articles I've published at LinkedIn, he or she would have been able to craft a response that would have been more compelling for me and more valuable for the company.

Some companies may serve such broad markets and generate so many new leads that it's impractical to spend even ten or fifteen minutes researching each new lead. But that's not the case for most B2B companies, and a modest amount of research can dramatically improve the effectiveness of lead responses because it enables you to personalize your responses in a meaningful way.

Illustration courtesy of Eric Snopel via Flickr CC.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Is Account-Based Marketing Really Scalable?

Providers of account-based marketing (ABM) technologies have been touting the ability of their solutions to enable companies to scale their ABM programs. It's easy to understand why solution providers are anxious to show that their technologies will allow ABM to be implemented at scale.

Research has shown that ABM can deliver a higher ROI than any other marketing approach. However, the traditional approach to ABM - which was pioneered by ITSMA in the early 2000's - was (and is) extremely resource intensive. As a result, most companies that adopted ABM only used it with a small number of high-value accounts. If technology can enable companies to scale ABM and use it with a larger number of customers or prospects, that technology will be very attractive to B2B marketers.

So, can the right technological capabilities enable companies to successfully scale ABM programs? To answer this question, we first need to identify what activities are required to execute a successful ABM effort. Engagio recently developed a framework that describes six processes that are required for a successful ABM program.

  1. Select target accounts
  2. Identify the relevant contacts or "buyers" at each target account
  3. Conduct research to gain deep insights regarding each target account
  4. Develop account-relevant messages and content
  5. Deliver account-specific interactions
  6. Orchestrate account-focused "plays"
All six of these processes are required for a successful ABM program, and they are linked and interdependent. This means that in order to scale an ABM program, you must be able to scale all of these processes. Or, to state the point differently, you can scale your ABM program only to the extent that you can scale each of these individual processes.

The important question is, to what extent can technology enable you to scale each of these processes? Clearly, technology can provide varying degrees of support for all six processes. For example, many ABM solutions have predictive analytics capabilities that can streamline the account selection process, and there are several sources of data for identifying relevant contacts at each target account. Likewise, technology can be used to automate the interactions and plays referred to in items 5 and 6 in the above list. So, technology can be used to scale four of the six essential ABM processes.

The two remaining processes - conducting research to gain deep account insights, and developing account-relevant messages and content - are a different story. Both of these processes require a substantial amount of human judgment and creativity. Therefore, these processes cannot be scaled significantly using technology alone.

The bottom line is that the original approach to ABM - what I like to call "pure" ABM - remains difficult to scale, even with the latest technology tools. Today, B2B companies are using ABM-inspired marketing techniques with larger groups of accounts, and these emerging practices have lead many ABM thought leaders, including ITSMA, to identify three types or tiers of account-based marketing.

It this new framework, Strategic ABM is the term used for the traditional ("one-to-one") approach to account-based marketing. ABM Lite refers to a "one-to-few" approach that focuses on groups of accounts that share similar business attributes and needs. Programmatic ABM is a "one-to-many" approach that emphasizes the use of new technologies to apply ABM-inspired marketing techniques to a large group of accounts. In terms of scalability, ABM Lite programs are more scalable that Strategic ABM programs, and Programmatic ABM programs are highly scalable with the right technology tools.

Image courtesy of via Flickr CC.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Content Personalization Comes of Age

For the past several years, experts have been urging B2B marketers to use marketing content that is tailored or personalized for specific audiences. Most astute marketers now recognize that personalized content increases relevance and boosts marketing effectiveness.

A new research study by Demand Metric provides an interesting snapshot of the state of content personalization in B2B companies. The 2016 Content Personalization Benchmark Report was based on a survey fielded in February 2016 that produced 186 qualified responses. Almost half (49%) of the survey respondents had marketing job titles, and almost all of the respondents (91%) were affiliated with B2B or B2B2C companies.

Demand Metric found that the use of personalized content is widespread. Sixty-one percent of survey respondents said they personalize at least some of their marketing content. The survey also revealed, however, that content personalization is relatively new in most B2B companies. More than half of the survey respondents said they have been personalizing content for less than two years.

As might be expected, users of personalized content have a high opinion of its effectiveness. In the Demand Metric survey, 80% of the respondents who use personalized content said that it is "more effective" or "much more effective" than content that isn't personalized.

The Demand Metric research also suggests that personalized content improves overall content marketing performance. When study participants were asked to rate the effectiveness of their content marketing efforts, 56% of the respondents who use personalized content said that their content marketing is "effective" or "very effective." Only 29% of the respondents who are not using personalized content rated their content marketing programs as effective or very effective.

Demand Metric also examined how much content is personalized and found that among survey respondents who use personalized content, the average amount of content that's personalized is just over 50%. However, the survey also revealed that there is wide variation in how much content companies are personalizing. Nearly two out of ten survey respondents (17%) said they personalize more than 80% of their content, while 20% of the respondents said they personalize 20% or less of their content.

The Demand Metric study also provides important insights regarding the types of personalization that companies are using. As the following diagram illustrates, there are six degrees or levels of content personalization, ranging from generic content (no personalization) to content that is tailored or personalized for an individual lead.

Demand Metric found that companies are using all types or levels of personalized content, as the following table shows.

In the Demand Metric survey, about half of the respondents who personalize content said they use three or more of these types of personalized content, and the three types that are most often used simultaneously are segment-specific, persona-specific, and account-specific.