Will the real B2B customer please stand up?

We’re marketers. We know B2B buyers. We’ve got our personas and we’re not afraid to use them.

It should go without saying that all B2B content should be created with a specific customer in mind (or at the very least, a closely defined target group). To do this, we need to have a pretty strong grip on exactly who we’re talking to and what they’re currently wrestling with. And this means going beyond the ‘IT director in enterprise organisations running an on-premise ERP’ territory.

So far, so good.


Real insight or total make believe?

Having watched this process from the outside over too many years to own up to, it appears that too many marketers and their agencies are guilty of a little too much projection. They “know" customers because they’re sure these are people just like them. So they ascribe them traits and motivations they think the customer should have. Traits and motivations that are more than a little influenced by a marketing view of the world.

In doing so, they create a strange hybrid creature that is one part customer (based on real experience and accumulated hearsay) and one part wishful thinking. 

So to go back to our aforementioned IT director…

He's now fleshed out with a name (Paul), is time poor, always fighting fires, and he’s been wrestling with the high cost of supporting his current ERP solution together with a range of integration and inflexibility issues. What’s more, Paul's under pressure from the c-suite to add more strategic value to the business. In fact, he thinks of little else.

Fortunately, our latest cloud-based solution solves all these problems.

How convenient.

Ignoring the real world of real people 

Now, the above may be true – I don’t know, I just made it up – but all too often, what passes for deep customer insight simply fails to give us anything we can use to develop more effective content and communications. Worse, it can give a distorted picture that means we end up focusing on X at the expense of the real issue, Y.

Sadly, the real issue is often the trickier one to address. For example, the real issue for IT director Paul may be the level of strategic consultancy he needs to make ERP work for real users facing real challenges. What he needs is to find someone with practical, accessible know-how that works on the ground. Yet our pen-portrait completely ignores this (maybe because it’s one of our weak points). 

Ultimately, without real insight based on real customers in real situations, we’re simply placing broad bets based on the general norms in the industry. Worse than this, we start to skew reality. For example, when Exact Target looked at the differences between marketers and consumers, they found some interesting differences. Let’s take Twitter:

  • While 61% of marketers follow brands on Twitter, only 12% of consumers do
  • 15% of marketers prefer to interact with companies on Twitter, only 3% of consumers do
  • And 12% of marketers think they should invest more in Twitter, while only 5% of consumers share that view

Unless we find ways of avoiding this kind of marketing bias and wish fulfilment, we’ll end up creating the same generalist content and communications as everyone else. (Not that anyone will know because it will sink without trace.)

Getting real, real quick

While primary research would deliver the insight we need, chances are you’re worried about the time and money it would take. So what about a couple of simple hacks?.

Start by talking to sales (or the channel). Ask them...

  • What are the key business objectives that kick off the sales process for the customer?
  • Why do salespeople win sales? Why do they lose them? (No, it’s not all about price – ask again)
  • What questions do customers always ask? What do they never talk about?
  • What’s the biggest objection sales has to overcome?

Talk to some customers. Ask them...

  • What was the main business challenge they wanted the product to help them solve?
  • What other solutions did they consider? Why did they choose you?
  • Who else was involved? How?
  • What would have made the process easier or faster?

Finally, look at specialist communities to see what people are asking or complaining about. (For tech pros struggling with ERP implementation, Spiceworks or IT Toolbox would be good places to start.) 

From this, we should be able to create a rough and ready portrait that outlines: who we’re talking to, what they really care about for their business, their key concerns around the product, and why they might select us over the opposition.

Of course, it’s not perfect but it sure beats the hell out of IT Director, Paul (sorry Paul).