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Five key things that the CMO should understand about the B2B customer

Updated: Aug 14, 2019

Although some may think that this is a no-brainer topic, it is amazing how little it is discussed, or even thought about by some Chief Marketing Officers. But knowing the complexity of the B2B customer could be the most important thing for a CMO to be successful.

The key to both B2C and B2B marketing is to have a very deep understanding of the customer. When you begin to dig into questions about the customer, the differences between business and consumer customers become profound.

For example, in B2B marketing, questions like these should come up; If the goal is a decision, what is a decision? What exactly is a lead? Who is the customer?

I have found it useful to try to answer those and many other questions by understanding everything about the customer's company and the people and processes in it; what they are doing, what issues that they have, and how they work. By understanding some key things about B2B customers, a CMO is better equipped to reach more of the right customers. It also enables the CMO to keep efforts aligned with others in their company, and most importantly, bring in sales.

CMOs often drive change. When the CMO has resistance to change, the CMO's customer knowledge is their shield.

Here are five things that the B2B CMO should know about their targeted customers.

1. Understand the differences between a B2B and a B2C customer

For a sales leader, there is hardly anything worse than a CMO who thinks that a B2B customer and a B2C customer are the same.

There are some similarities between B2B and B2C marketing. For example, both C and B marketers should be passionate about branding. You want to be first in mind. Both use many of the same metrics and engage with different owned, earned, or paid channels.

It is a common mistake made by CMOs to ignore some distinct differences. This is not meant to discount the similarities between B2B and B2C. However, there are certain key differences between the two.

Here is a short overview, in B2B:

  • Every customer engagement with you is being done in the context of an account.

  • The account is the customer.

  • Your customer contact people may leave the company, but you are still doing business with the account. Of course, the interactions with each contact are (very) important and you want to drive great individual customer experience. But the account is the focal point.

  • The decider is likely not the user. The person ordering may have nothing to do with your product or service other than ordering. You may not need to explain details of your product to the person ordering.

  • The customer can have buying assessment and approval processes that involve several people.

  • In B2B, all “clicks” are not equal.

A white paper download from the COO from a large pharma company should not get the same treatment of a student doing research. Especially, when the COO is working on a game-changing project. (real story).

A customer CFO may receive a link to your website from someone else in their company with information that would help the CFO make his/her approval to buy. That link and webpage webpage may be the only contact that you ever have with the CFO.

2. You can have a lot of "personas" for one decision

You normally have a lot of different personas for each sale.

Consumer Persona vs. Account Personas

B2B marketing engages with one of many possible personas that may play a vital role in buying your product. In other words, you are dealing with one to many different people who all are working in the context of a business, or an account, with different roles.

When developing a content strategy, understanding the role of the various customer contacts is vital to successfully grow your business. In a way, it is like thinking like a salesperson.

A good salesperson would adapt their conversation to the person with which they are meeting. In a face-to-face meeting, you would not be able to add value to the financial buyer by going into a lot of highly technical detail. You would adapt your message to fit who you are meeting.

The same goes for B2B marketing.

According to Gartner, there is an average of 6.8 customer contacts involved in business decisions.

3. Understand that you have two buyer's journeys; an account journey and a contact journey

Account Journey

Both the account (as a whole) and the individual customer contacts journey with you. The account journey is an overriding journey. If your strategy is to land and expand, or you have renewals, re-ordering, you may need that first-order or agreement to start the buying relationship. Once you establish the account as a customer, then you want to help the customer succeed with your product or service. If that is successful, not only do you want to keep the business, you want to develop advocates that will promote you to others. Your marketing messaging changes at every stage.

There are several models showing the different stages of an account relationship. No matter the model, what is important is to know the customer perspective and align that with your perspective. Here is an example of an account journey framework:

Exhibit 2: Account Journey framework

In Exhibit 2, you can also notice “channels” in the middle of the arrow. The purpose of this is to align your communication channels where you can provide content and engagement to gain customer awareness, assist the customer in deciding, helping them succeed with your product or service, and winning them over as an advocate.

Many marketers are just focused on acquiring new customers and do not seem to realize that existing customer communication is also important. It costs five to seven times more to find a new customer than to keep an existing one.

Persona Journey

Inside of the account journey framework, individual customer engagements will change over the account journey stages. For example, before there is a decision, you will have a journey for a person that wants to source and evaluate your product. At the same time, you may have a financial buyer that just needs to determine the economic viability of the evaluation. Then you may have a different journey of a customer department head adopting, on-boarding, and using your product.

The account journey triggers a personal journey.

When you look at each personal journey in isolation, what you are trying to achieve will look a lot like a B2C journey.

Exhibit 3: What you are trying to achieve with personal engagement is a lot like B2C

The individual journey with you can be a rocky one. It bounces between logic and emotion. The account situation may trigger the interaction with you, but the person interacting has wants and needs.

Much like B2C, a B2B marketer needs to be in tune with the persona that they are targeting at each stage of the account journey. Knowing demographics and psychographics are important, but so is understanding the persona's positioning on the account that you are targeting.

This means that you need to do you quantitative and qualitative research on the individual persona. When doing your research make sure you ask questions around the difficulty of decision making, interrelationships (as much as possible), and capability and desire for change.

4. Understanding the customer decision to be made

Typically, the larger and higher value the decision, the more complex and higher effort that needs to be expended for both the buyer and the seller.

Many B2B marketers like to focus on just the transactional or self-service customers because, 1) they are easier to attribute marketing’s role in the sale, 2) they are easier to measure, 3) they can be boosted by volume generating activities, 3) they don’t always need a salesperson to get involved.

This is all good. But marketers are learning that they are leaving the valuable business behind if they do not also have a focus on the larger, more complicated buyers.

B2B Customers make different types of decisions with varying degrees of complexity. Although the list of decision types could be long and depend on the industry of the buyer and the business model of the seller, the following are examples of four types of decisions in three different levels of complexity:

Exhibit 4: Complexity of customer decisions by type of decision
  1. Transactional (can take minutes): some companies delegate small purchase decisions to a department (often with a credit card). These decisions are under the policy radar and normally be done in immediately.

  2. Self-Service (minutes/hours): This is where an effort has been made to reduce the buying complexity specifically for the customer. This can be to allow ordering based on an agreement (see number 3) or have special offers for a specific market. The purpose is to reduce time and complexity in ordering.

  3. Relational - Agreement (can take months): To reduce complexity for repeated purchases, companies will negotiate terms of future purchases. Since these negotiations cannot take place with all vendors, specific vendors will be selected for the license to sell to the customer. Framework or supplier agreements are examples of a license to sell. A positive decision does not necessarily mean that the customer will buy (although you can assume so). This is only granting you "permission" where the complex process is negotiated upfront, leading to many self-service buys.

  4. Relational - Large single purchase (can take months or longer): this is a large buy or a single source negotiation for a definite quantity or volume. Large single purchases are usually a competition between any number of potential suppliers.

When companies engage with you online or otherwise, the dialog can be significantly different depending on the type of decision that can be made by the customer. When you understand your buyer’s journey it is important to understand the decision(s) to be made, by whom, why, and what they need to make the decision.

The marketer's mission is to make this as simple as possible for the customer.

5. Customers are becoming channel-agnostic , and many marketing teams handle that poorly.

"I am a procurement manager of widgets looking for a new source. I see your stand at Widgetfest 2020 (event) and am intrigued. I give you my business card and tell you that it is ok to contact me. You get the business card data into your prospect database. You send me an email thanking me for the visit and include a link to a white paper that you think might be of interest. I send your link to my Widget Evaluator who downloads the white paper. The white paper doesn’t include what the evaluator needs, so the evaluator “Googles” your widget model. Instead of seeing your widget in the Google search results, they see a link to a YouTube video of your competitor. The evaluator clicks on that video of your competitor watches the video, then clicks on the link to the competitor’s website, then…"

Just in this simple example, your customer has engaged with; 1) an event, 2) an email, 3) a white paper download, 4) Google search, 5) a YouTube video, and 6) a website. And it continues.

Customers do not differentiate between sales and marketing

When assessing the buyer’s journey for a “Relational Decision”, you will find that the customer will engage with both marketing channels and sales channels throughout their journey.

Contacts on the account will decide where when and how to engage. The implication is that there is no solid handover from sales and marketing. But each has its purpose. The customer decides on their engagement channel.

Exhibit 5: Traditional digital lead generation for sales is not how customers work

What many companies are learning is that marketing generating leads and throwing them over the fence at sales does not match up with how customers work. Customers do not see a dividing-line between sales and marketing. They see your company holistically.

Customers have gone beyond engaging with multi or omni-channels, they are becoming channel-agnostic. Even when the customer is engaging with a salesperson, they will still use marketing channels and information to aid their decision-making. This not only pushes marketers to keep consistency in their marketing messages, but it also pushes both marketing and sales to completely align with each other. Messages must remain consistent!

Exhibit 6: Marketing augments sales efforts throughout the customer decision making process

More on this in an upcoming post called, "Time to Rethink Lead Generation"

Happy selling!