HubSpot CEO and founder Brian Halligan informed and entertained a packed house during his keynote at the recent Inbound 2019 conference. His theme was familiar, and one with which I fully concur: ‘How you sell is how you win.’
Using a variety of examples, Halligan drove home the point that it is the experience disrupters - typically not the market leaders - that succeed across a variety of market segments. This theme is a departure from the conventional wisdom that technology disrupters (think Google, Apple, Tesla, and so on) are the only companies that will dominate their segments.
Halligan’s core message is that companies need to hone and perfect their understanding of the buyer’s experience. Only then can they build and align around strategies across product development, sales and marketing.
We couldn’t agree more. Consider this quote from a CIO we interviewed, reflecting his angst over getting his B2B buying decision right the first time. “If you choose a solution that falls flat on its face, you're outta luck. You can't go to the board and ask for a million dollars to stand up this solution that's going to do all this work and then, 12 months later, say ‘Well, it really doesn't deliver as promised and we're not getting our value out of it.’ And the chances that the board is going to say, ‘Oh, well, here's another million. Go find something else,’ are pretty slim.”
Halligan’s prescriptions for market success rely on a healthy dose of data to personalize the sales process for every buyer. But each of the examples he cited were B2C markets that include millions of customers, and each of those buyer’s journeys are transacted on some type of digital platform. This makes it relatively easy for a savvy provider -- think Netflix and its excellent use of mass data collection -- to monitor, analyze and personalize the buyer experience.
When buyers are making low consideration buying decisions, the consequences of making the wrong choice are minimized and the buying decision is less complex. Not so for the CIO who can’t go back to his board with bad news – the B2B buyer needs to undertake considerable research and fact-finding at each step in a complex journey. Even more critically, the most insightful aspects of his decision and experience are offline. You can’t use technology to know what buyers are thinking when they meet with their peers or buying committee, and perfecting the buyer’s experience will probably require change across your organization.
So how can you know with great confidence what goes into that complex decision-making process? How can you gather the most critical insights from buyers who have already gritted their way through the purchase process - to craft a sales-product-marketing strategy that disrupts the buyer’s usual confused if not tortured buying experience?
Consider the plight of another of our buyer interviewees here. “We're bombarded with information coming from all directions, from the business side, from our IT team, operations team, from the industry. In my organization, it's really up to me to filter that information and make sure that we address the key ones. Everything else would just be white noise, because we have limited resources, right? We cannot address every single thing. We have to do what makes sense for us.”
Ask yourself, “How would I help this buyer out?” Think Kevin Costner standing in a cornfield in Field of Dreams when a deep voice from above booms, ‘EASE HIS PAIN!’ Start by understanding that what is needed to help your organization win buyers like these cannot be gleaned from mountains of data designed to ‘personalize’ the buyer’s experience. Marketing automation feeds won’t reveal a thing about why buyers believe it’s OK to choose a competitor or buy nothing at all.
Nor will the buyer insights needed come from the sales department based on their one-on-one experiences with buyers, because buyers won’t disclose the most important information for fear of putting their bargaining position at risk.
There is one proven way to align sales, marketing and product development efforts with the bona fide needs of your buyers, and that is through in-depth interviews with actual buyers. Guided by skilled interviewers and focusing on a recent evaluation of a solution in your category, buyers will reveal precisely what they thought as they considered whether to buy and which solution was best for their needs. They will tell you what they wanted and didn’t get from their buying experience.
It is hard enough for B2B marketers to personalize content for multiple buyer personas. It is a fool’s errand for these same companies to try to amass mountains of online data to personalize an approach to each buyer. The job is to create a library of content that builds confidence in the decision to purchase from your company. Fortunately, when done right, B2B buyer personas reveal that many buyers have very similar needs for information.
You cannot write a different blog post for every buyer! You cannot build a content and messaging strategy one buyer at a time. Rather you need to build a unified, core message strategy around the needs of markets full of buyers.
Start understanding the key differences between what your buyers want from their buying experiences. Stories related by recent buyers will provide the guidance your organization needs, explaining what about their buying experience worked and which part of your company’s strategic effort is making a difference.
You’ll also discover what didn’t work in that buyer experience so you can make an informed decision about investments that will persuade buyers to choose you. Who knows? You may even bust through the noise and clutter and smoke screens of your competitors and emerge as a true experience disrupter.