A recent Korn/Ferry survey* of senior marketers found that, overwhelmingly, customer engagement is their top concern. Given the changes in buyer behavior brought on by the proliferation of the internet and mobile technologies, this is not surprising. The sheer volume of easily accessible, readily available information has empowered buyers to educate themselves, significantly diminishing the role of today’s sales teams. Breaking through that sheer volume of information to engage prospects is becoming a seemingly herculean task. Couple this with research results** indicating that a healthy proportion of sales (35-50%) go to the vendor who responds first, and the urgency to engage prospects earlier in their haphazard, choose-your-own-adventure buyer’s journey, becomes even more exigent.
The question B2B marketers are trying to answer is: how do you avoid falling into the commoditization trap of being compared to your competitors strictly on product and service options, while driving earlier and more compelling engagement? Success entails gaining insight into customer challenges and having compelling and robust solutions at the ready.
Building buyer personas – get into your prospect’s head
Buyer personas provide a new lens through which to view your prospect’s world – but from their perspective, not yours. Personas are archetypes, representing the different key decision makers within your target market. To be clear, personas don’t equate to customer profiles – rather, they’re about understanding who your varied buyers are, including their challenges, values, goals, attitudes, motivations, influences, and such. Developing your strategy and messaging from this persona-centric perspective, allows you to craft content in a vernacular which resonates and engages. As Adele Revella says in her Buyer Persona Manifesto***, “instead of talking at the buyer, blurting out a ‘me-me-me’ narrative with absolutely no consideration of his real concerns, marketers can get straight to the heart of the matter.”
Integral to developing effective personas, is the understanding of key influences – what Revella calls the “Five Rings of Insight.” In order to comprehend more fully what motivates and shapes your buyer’s behavior – and to more effectively craft your strategy and corresponding content and positioning – you’ll need to flesh out the following criteria:
- Priority initiatives
- Success factors
- Perceived barriers
- Buying process
- Decision criteria
Developing a disruptive content strategy
With these understandings in hand, the next step to fostering customer engagement is a content strategy targeted at your buyers and influencers which addresses their challenges. Yet in order to rise above the noise of your competitors and differentiate yourself from their typical (i.e. commoditized) solutions, your content must challenge the conventional mindset of your target market. In effect, you need to disrupt their normal thought process by providing them with a compelling new perspective and insight from which to consider your value proposition.
In so doing, however, your content plan must recognize that atypical approaches will require more proof points and support along your buyer’s journey. Engagement depends on content:
- Being relevant to the issues which the reader is struggling with, and buyer-centric in nature
- Offering some unique and interesting insight, backed up by data
- Continuing to elucidate on the topic by providing progressively more solution-oriented materials and ideas, leading towards a conversion point from inquisitive to marketing qualified lead – e.g., a demo, a free trial, a case study etc., available in a variety of formats to suit the different learning styles of prospects
The proof point for your success in achieving customer engagement is a sales meeting, but one where sales is fully briefed with customer intel and has a solid understanding of the insight that drove your prospect’s interest, as well as the unique role that your company is offering to play in providing a solution.
What approaches are you using to foster prospect engagement at the early stages of the buyer’s journey? How do they enable sales to participate will prospects are still investigating possible solutions?
* The Korn/Ferry Marketing Pulse Survey article in BtoB Magazine – Study: Customer engagement top concern of CMOs, July
** 30 Thought-Provoking Lead Nurturing Stats You Can’t Ignore, HubSpot Blog Post, January 2012