The first challenge you face when marketing more complex solutions is to define exactly who is the prospect. If your solution doesn’t fall neatly within the responsibility of a specific job title then you need to investigate who has responsibility (i.e. who has the role) for managing and purchasing your kind of solution. For smaller businesses a few phone calls will usually yield the answer. But for larger enterprises, calling to ask questions about who’s responsible for what, when you don’t already have a relationship, may set off alarm bells and the (information) shutters can come down fast.
This can make building the personas for the key decision makers you’re trying to influence more challenging. And certainly it makes the tasks of contact list creation and then engagement, much more so. According to Forrester Research nearly 2/3 of B2B marketers in a recent survey identified engaging key decision makers as their top challenge.
Let’s take the case of marketing automation software as an example. According to Sirius Decisions, the adoption of marketing automation technology is expected to increase by 50% by 2015. So if you are competing in this market how will you drive demand for your particular solution? In a fiercely competitive market, how do you get prospects ready to buy your marketing-automation solutions? Which key decision maker personas will you target with your thought leadership content as the first step to driving engagement?
It’s highly likely that the CMO will play a strong role in any purchase decision but what about the VP of Sales, the CIO even the CFO. And who is the person most likely to initiate the thought process about automation? The CEO or someone in Marketing or Sales Operations? Does it differ by market segment, by industry? How do we go about defining the prospect personas for each and determining what challenges they face?
Beyond obviously mining an organization’s website for whatever information we can glean, including identifying key individuals within the corporate hierarchy, what we really need to uncover is how marketing operates in each target segment before talking automation. Marketing for financial services companies differs greatly from marketing in high-tech organizations. B2B is different from B2C and so on. Who will drive the automation decision and what their specific challenges are can also depend on the “culture” of the organization. For example, is there an engineering-oriented culture, a marketing-driven culture or does sales management call the shots? In a tight economy or a highly competitive segment, finance may have the upper hand.
Obviously messaging to marketing when finance controls much of the investment budget will lead to a longer sales cycle and probably, lower conversion rates. Other factors can come into play too. Are there a lot of changes occurring in the segment? Rapid product innovation? Acquisitions? Expansions? Is it an emerging market or a mature one? All these things can provide clues as to who might have the strongest interest in your solution and what their challenges may be.
Checking out key competitors from your target account segments in the news and on social media can help greatly. But in order to really understand who the decision makers are and what motivates them, what their needs are, their behaviors, where they seek their information, what they value, etc –requires more in depth research. Guessing or using a one-size fits all approach is certainly not optimal. And with the thought leadership component of content marketing becoming ever more important, defining who your key prospects are, by segment, company and role/persona, is ever more important.
So as you start to plan your 2013 marketing strategy and budget allocation, give a thought to how you will do better at defining your prospects going forward. Getting it right will affect the success of your entire marketing program. Customer or prospect research is not always the answer, but in many cases it is the best way to find out who, within a set of target accounts, you should focus on and what their immediate concerns and interests are.
Once you have that information, the next step will be to find the best way to engage them. Here too, well-crafted personas are crucial but the research process can often provide a first step. We’ll cover that in our next post.
How do you go about defining your prospects and developing their business personas?