Marketers often talk to a handful of sales or customer service reps to learn about their customers. Or, they look at some data analytics pulled from their website. The result? They end up creating exactly the type of content that Doug Kessler warned about in his popular SlideShare presentation, “Crap: the single biggest threat to B2B content marketing” (if you haven’t read it yet, do it!)
I’ve heard that it’s too hard, or too expensive, or too time-consuming. Or that there is too much pressure to get something out of the door, and that marketers would rather sacrifice quality than have to go back and negotiate timelines with their internal peers.
Many marketers also think that because they have "deep" industry knowledge, they can move their marketing needle in the right direction on the basis of assumption and instinct. But the truth is, companies, needs and options are always changing, and so are the decision-makers.
Trends in the B2B Landscape
To practice marketing that’s effective and creates value for customers, marketers must keep pace with the way B2B purchase decisions happen today.
A previous study also shows that the number of people involved in the decision-making likely spans across several different roles. This means that your marketing and sales content must reach and resonate with a diverse audience. While your company may have historically focused on selling to one department or role (IT Directors, for example), the value you provide must be clear to the other departments and levels involved in making a decision, such as Finance, Operations and Marketing.
Further, research shows that B2B buyers are seeking higher quality content from vendors along the entire buying journey. In a survey by Demand Gen Report and ON24, 66% B2B buyers said that content would be stronger if the vendor uses more data and research, while 60% of them crave more insights from industry thought leaders.
The question is: How do you produce the kind of high-quality content that B2B buyers and decision-makers want to see?
If there’s one thing that can help you create great content and positive impact, it is having a solid understanding of your potential buyer. You can only create something that resonates with them if you know the problems they are facing and how they make decisions.
Consider this chart from LinkedIn’s B2B Buyer’s Journey report. It shows that B2B Buyers aren’t even willing to engage with your company or brand until you’ve demonstrated that you understand what they’re looking for.
It all boils down to one thing—one crucial step that B2B marketers are skipping. It’s customer research.
If you’re making this mistake, it’s time to mend it. Imagine if you knew exactly what your customers needed from you to say “yes” to your product or service. How many hours would be freed up in your day if you no longer spent your time creating content that doesn’t get used? You’d be able to generate more revenue and greater impact.
That said, I’ll share three tips to make your customer research more effective.
How to Gain a Deeper Customer Understanding
1. Get into an outside-in mindset
It all starts here.
Why? Because too often, the reason I see companies skipping the research step is that they think they already know the answers. They make a lot of assumptions—what pain points the customer has, what motivates them to make a purchase, where they go for information and the reasons they ultimately go with one vendor over another. 9 times out of 10 they develop an incomplete picture.
Think about how many hours you spend in meetings each week talking about your company, your product, your messaging, your campaigns, and so on. Most B2B organizations are so “inside-out” focused that the question “what’s in it for our customers?” often gets neglected. So cultivate that wonder-like state of a child and become interested in everything about your customers. Does a child feel dumb for asking why the world works a certain way? Nope. They are too busy exploring and learning.
Somewhere along the way, we lose this sense of curiosity—even though we intuitively know that we could never possibly learn everything that there is to know. After all, there are 130 billion books out there, and 7 billion people with different points of view.
When you get into the outside-in mode, you’ll be surprised at how much you never knew before!
2. Ask the right questions
If you want insightful answers, you have to ask insightful questions. If you ask surface-level questions, then you’ll get surface-level answers.
This requires some preparation. If you show up to talk to a customer and you don’t have a list of well-thought-out questions, the conversation could go in many different directions.
My advice? Think like a journalist.
Any good reporter knows that if they want a great scoop, they have to dig deep by using WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY and HOW questions. And not just one level deep – I’m talking about asking why again and again until you get the real answer.
This is where third-party research firms can be helpful. In my experience working with clients, I’ve found that their customers are much more willing to open up and share their thoughts when talking to our firm - a neutral third party. Their answers are more candid and less guarded because they aren’t worried about offending or insulting anyone that they work with on a regular basis such as the salesperson, product manager, or customer service rep. This leads to greater insights.
3. Share what you’ve learned
What you learn from conducting (real) customer research shouldn’t just be kept in a folder on your laptop. It’s meant to be shared across the organization and used to make decisions.
Think of all the departments involved in successfully delivering products and services to your customers.
Here’s why: 1> Product management - You’ve likely heard about and experienced some of the epic product fails that were the result of not truly understanding what customers want. Crystal Pepsi. McLean burger. Oakley Thump. Laserdisc. And hundreds more. Knowing what your customers truly want could save you from such disasters.
2> Marketing - Now that 67% of the buying process is done digitally marketers are responsible for ensuring that the content they produce and publish is both relevant and available to buyers as they conduct their online searches.
3> Sales - B2B buyers expect salespeople to show up informed about their industry, the challenges they are facing and offer unique insights to fix it. Yet, only 34% of B2B buyers say that sales reps are helpful, and only 1 in 3 believe vendors are well-informed.
4> Operations - Once the deal is sold, your onboarding, customer service, project management, and billing teams need to ensure that the product is delivered/ installed correctly while communicating directly with the customer throughout the entire process. 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience.
It’s true that customer research requires time, patience, and a lot of effort. But it’s all worth it because it’s that one step that can make a world of difference for B2B marketers that want to make strong, impactful, and authentic connections with potential customers.