I recall meeting with a senior marketing and sales leader, not that long ago, in which I was trying to gain an understanding of his company’s target audience for content marketing purposes. Their sales process was long and complex, and the decision to use their services was made by a buying team rather than a single decision-maker. Of course, this is not unusual for highly technical services and multi-year contracts.
When I asked, “can you describe your ideal customer and the target audience you have in mind?” He brusquely responded, “anyone willing to buy from us!” Not surprisingly, the meeting didn’t last long, and the content marketing plan didn’t happen because we couldn’t get past the critical first step. Thankfully this is not common, but most of the B2B organizations I speak with admit that they’d like to better understand their buyers and that doing so would enable better sales outcomes.
I recently spoke with Erin Moore, from Trew Marketing, an organization that understands buyers. More accurately stated, the folks at Trew are experts in gaining a deep understanding of buyers to drive effective inbound marketing activities. Each year they conduct extensive research, in partnership with GlobalSpec, on the content, online search, and buying preferences of engineers and technical buyers around the world.1
For Erin and her clients, the road to sales success begins with in-depth customer persona development. Shortcutting this all-important first step nearly always results in poor results when trying to attract and sustain the attention of prospects throughout long, complex buyers’ journeys.
Defining the Buyer’s Journey
The best way to gain an appreciation for the complex B2B buyer’s journey, according to Moore, “is by understanding that buyers are trying to solve problems.” With this outcome as a backdrop, the buyer’s journey can vary because not all buyers are the same. Buyers after all have the ultimate responsibility for the issues they face and how, when, or whether, they will seek a solution.
For many sellers, the buyers journey begins when they become aware of a prospect, based on the information they have access to. However, for buyers, the journey begins much earlier as they anonymously search for and access digital content. Digital content consumed by buyers, before they become known to sellers, can nevertheless tell a story of the buyer’s journey, says Moore. Understanding this story will help B2B organizations determine the content needed for this, anonymously traveled, stage of the buyer’s journey, and that’s why target audience persona development is so important.
Like most B2B marketing practitioners, Moore begins the persona development process by gaining an understanding of the seller organization, their products and services, and who they are as a company. Also included is their target audience by market segment, demographics, and size of company. For many B2B organizations, answering these starter questions is where the effort ends, but Moore is just getting started.
Moore finds the methods and terminology used for account-based marketing (ABM) strategies to be useful when building out buyer personas for everyone involved in making purchasing decisions. For example, she likes to identify members of the buying team as champion, influencer, end-user, blocker, decision-maker, and there are descriptors too. Each member of the buying team has a role.
Moore also emphasizes that the buyer’s journey is not linear and buying team members don’t all begin and end their journey together. Rather, they will begin and end at different times, pause, new members will join, some will leave, some, like the decision-maker, may arrive later in the journey. This framework often doesn’t fit neatly into traditional B2B sales processes.
Good Understanding Requires Good Questions
We B2B marketing professionals like to use the term persona development, but my conversation with Moore reminds me that buyer persona understanding is probably a better description. And for Moore, deep understanding of buyers is enabled by asking ourselves the right questions. She applies the following questions for each member of the buying team.
What are their core goals?
What are their core challenges?
What can we do to help them?
Where do they get their information and in what form?
What are they seeking? This may be different than how the seller can help them because each member of the buying team may not have clarity or agreement with the others on their challenge or the solution they are seeking.
How risk averse are they? Large, complex B2B purchasing decisions are often accompanied by significant change and risk. Moore half-jokingly says that “no one is fired for going with one of the large, well-known brands, but there is inherent risk when considering a lesser-known vendor.”
How should I engage this person?
Moore also reminds me that no single person in the seller organization can answer all these questions adequately. It requires a team comprised of people from all levels of the marketing and sales, product or service managers, and perhaps an executive with a strategic view. Collectively, they should have the answers.
So, what do we do with this information?
The answers to the persona questions creates a rich body of information for each member of the buying team. And it informs three key features of an effective B2B marketing and sales program that Moore describes: the buyer’s journey, the content plan, and actionable prompts for the seller.
First, it depicts a typical buyer’s journey for each member of the buying team. Can you imagine equipping your marketing and sales team with a roadmap for a typical team of 7-8 buyers to include the stage that is done anonymously? This can be an invaluable tool that “helps align the critical actions of the marketing and sales teams”, says Moore.
Second, it informs the messaging and content plan. Moore reminds me that “buyers are human beings” with preferences and they access digital content based on those preferences. That’s why content marketing libraries must be robust, offering content that is helpful throughout the buyer’s journey and in formats preferred by each member of the buying team.
Third, it helps create waypoints and prompts for the seller to take specific actions based on where the buyer is in their journey. I really like this third feature that requires a bit of analytical reasoning from the seller organization.2 For example, a prospect accesses a thought leadership article and the marketing team follows-up with another article on the same topic, perhaps a video, and then a couple of case studies. As the reader moves through this content sequence, Moore says, “their actions determine when they become a sales lead and are ready to speak directly with sales.”
Moore sums it all up this way, marketing technology coupled with buyer data can enable more precise activities, help predict outcomes more accurately, and lead to better results overall. She describes it as a “single source of truth shared by both marketing and sales” and it all begins with detailed buyer persona development for the entire buying team.
Erin Moore serves as an account director at TREW Marketing, bringing a strategic mindset and technical skillset to clients across the design, embedded, measurement and automation, and software industries. She's worked with more than 40 technical, B2B companies to develop and execute effective marketing campaigns, designed to meet company goals while speaking to their personas’ needs. Her focus areas at TREW include sales enablement strategy, content planning, and website redesign strategy.
TREW Marketing, headquartered in Austin, Texas, is a full-service content marketing firm serving B2B companies in North America that target highly technical buyers. With deep experience in the design, embedded, measurement and automation, and software industries, TREW Marketing provides branding, marketing strategy, content development, and digital marketing services to help customers efficiently and effectively achieve business goals. For more information, please visit www.trewmarketing.com.