The advent of social media, empowered buyers, and users bringing their own technology to work has now morphed B2B business models from product to services provision. This expands the sales cycle to a much longer and precarious customer lifecycle: the prospect becomes a buyer; who becomes a customer; and then becomes a potential prospect again for renewal or at least advocacy.
We talked to Peter O’Neill, Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, where he leads research on B2B demand generation and channel marketing, managing a small group of analysts and working with other analysts who serve CMOs and other marketing leaders. His personal background is in international marketing, with a specific emphasis on field marketing strategy/execution coupled with the interaction dynamics between HQ and field marketing.
O’Neill will deliver the keynote address at Eloqua Experience Europe, 5-26 June 2013 at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel in London, where he will highlight why customer experience has become increasingly critical to B2B marketing strategy.
Social media and our digitally-driven on demand culture has drastically changed the way that buyers navigate their purchase process. What are some of the implications of this shift on the marketing and sales processes?
Peter O’Neill: Yes, that is true. At Forrester, we like to talk about the new interaction model of need-match-engage, where the buyers now initiate the interaction and spend a major part of their buyer journey doing their own research before calling in potential suppliers. So B2B marketers have to become great at being found by buyers in their early research phase (the phases we call discover and explore).
Curiously, B2B buyers tell us that 70% of the content they read and study before making a purchase decision is actually found by themselves; as opposed to being given to them by marketing or sales. In a way, successful marketers must learn to “fool” their buyers into consuming their thought-leadership and educational content — while hardly realizing its source. And the most successful marketers will learn how to mix their brand “scent” into that content without appearing to be selling — to the extent that buyers will count it as part of their 70%. Wow! Could this be the re-emergence of “skunk marketing”?
Can you speak to the critical need for B2B marketers to cultivate a greater role in the discovery process?
O’Neill: What is important about the buyers’ discovery phase is that they definitely do not type “ERP” into a search engine. They look for information (via search, communities, discussion forums, websites, blogs) that is based upon their business issues and outcomes. So the most critical need for B2B marketers to understand is that their awareness/discovery content must be in the language of the buyer; it must answer the immediate question being posed and not more (certainly no selling or even gatekeeping contact data gathering); and it should accelerate the buyer along their journey. This is a major challenge for most B2B marketers – they are great a creating content about themselves or their offering but not at creating “outside-in” content.
What are some of the high-level best practices that B2B marketers are employing to deliver optimized customer experiences?
O’Neill: We see the creation of thought leadership content as being particularly effective. But that isn’t so easy to do. The best thought leadership content is where the vendor takes a definite position, communicates a point of view, about that business issue they solve or improve. Some companies do not understand the issue well enough to formulate a point of view that is compelling (and complying to all the demands I mentioned before). But we have documented some thought leadership best practices from vendors such as Caterpillar, GE, and Owen-Illinois. Another effective content strategy at this stage is to curate content in a branded portal – IBM and American Express do this for their SME segment client base providing general business content not specific to their offerings but compelling for the clients.
Advocacy has become increasingly important, as best practice marketers understand how to harness the power of word of mouth. What are some ways that marketers are aiming to formalize the customer to advocacy journey?
O’Neill: When clients ask me how can they pay for, and find resources for all this new content work, I always suggest they close down their traditional customer reference programs and re-use the budget and resources. The laborious process of finding a customer, interviewing them; writing up the case study and then getting (or not getting) legal and PR approval for a publication is non-productive. Nowadays, marketers should find their advocates by deploying listening platforms, continually offering “like” feedback functions on all their interactions (marketing as well as after-sales) and encouraging those customers who are delighted to network their opinions freely.
Join Peter O’Neill and our community of marketing experts at Eloqua Experience Europe, 25-26 June in London. Click here to learn more about the event agenda and registration details.