We all agree: the world of business has become increasingly complicated, with a constant flow of new technologies, changing regulations and disruptive competitors. As marketers, we feel the burden of engaging with the inhabitants of this complex, convoluted and often highly confusing world. How can we navigate the business buyer journey from awareness to consideration to decision?
Occam’s Razor tells us that, all things being equal, the simplest answer is usually the correct one. Here are three career lessons I learned about the power of simple that might just help us all cope.
Simple Can Forge a Strong Connection
My first step — on what would prove to be the path to a marketing career — was as a mathematician and programmer. I found myself so fascinated with the business impact of user requirements that I spent more time engaging with my customers than I did coding. I would discover what motivated them and adjust my requirements to suit.
By spending time with my customers so early in my career, I gained an appreciation for what we marketers now call “buyer personas.”
As representations of ideal target customers, buyer personas should be based on market research and real data about existing customers. Conventional wisdom and expert marketing advisories tell us that the more detailed the persona, the better. That is, of course, true to some extent, but actual experience has taught me that we can get lost in the details, and that simplicity is actually better.
So, where to focus?
For inspiration, turn to author Simon Sinek who, in his iconic book, admonishes us to "Start With Why," and goes on to explore how great leaders inspire everyone to take action by beginning with the things that motivate others.
What worked for me as a programmer still works for me as a marketer: Making a strong connection by understanding the “why” of the requirements.
Lesson Learned: To forge a strong connection with the buyer during the awareness stage and beyond, simply focus on the WHY — the buyer’s motivation.
Simple Can Create Profound Change
Next in the buyer journey is the consideration or solution stage, where the buyer defines the problem and researches options to solve it. Next on my pathway to marketing was a stint in process improvement. It was a time when Six Sigma was being embraced to solve process problems.
At GE, I applied Six Sigma as a tool to remove product and service defects and drive costs out of the business. Reducing variation and mistakes made all the sense in the world when building airplane engines, medical equipment and nuclear subs. As time passed, though, Six Sigma fell prey to the weight of its own complexity.
As I wrote in an earlier column titled “The Best Way to Improve Business Performance”:
“I found that too many of the [Six Sigma] improvements, including those I was personally involved in, focused on isolated processes — even fragments — and were too disconnected from the overall improvement that might be achieved by looking more holistically at a business from the eyes of the customer.”
So over the years Six Sigma was combined with or replaced by the Lean and Agile methodologies. I embraced Lean and Agile because of their focus on simplifying — removing anything that has no added value in the eyes of the customer — and adding value by increasing the frequency of contact with real customers, therefore testing and avoiding incorrect assumptions as early as possible.
Through my process improvement experiences, I learned that it is the simple improvement solutions that focus on the customer (the buyer in this case) that hold the capacity for profound change.
Lesson Learned: The key to winning in the consideration stage is to market a simple effective solution described in context of WHO — who will benefit from it.
Simple Can Drive Smart Decisions
Simple is not only a powerful force in marketing, it is equally powerful in forging business relationships. When buyers reach the selection stage of their journeys, the ease of doing business becomes a critical factor in their decisions. I learned this lesson firsthand when my path to marketing took a bit of a sideways turn.
I was running a computer operation at the time, and we were selecting new data storage devices to support a critical program. We were choosing between two vendors. Here’s how it played out:
Both vendors offered good solid technology for the computer center. The initial purchase costs were also comparable for both options, though Option 1 was slightly higher. I chose Option 1.
What was the deciding factor?
The vendor for Option 1 offered me a far more flexible maintenance, trade-in and upgrade agreement. I had requested this approach because our future company plans might well include splitting the computer center into multiple locations — or not. Only one of the vendors really listened to my concern over possible future scenarios and considered how to help me achieve my business goals.
Lesson Learned: When buyers are deciding on a technology selection, focus on the HOW — how this technology and the vendor providing it will make business simpler and easier to conduct.
Simple is as Simple Does
In the movie Forrest Gump, the title character, when asked if he is stupid, invariably replies that his momma always says, "Stupid is as stupid does." Forrest's saying means that stupidity is not just a surface thing derived from how a person appears to be. Rather, stupidity is an essential matter, one of deeds not appearances.
In the buyer journey, “Simple is as simple does.” Simple helps to find the essence of buyer personas in the awareness stage, to focus on motivation and why they care. Simple cuts through marketing speak in the consideration stage, reminding us to focus on who will benefit from the solution. And simple is how buyers might well be guided to their decisions, choosing solutions and vendor partners that make it easier to conduct business.
Consider then, perhaps the biggest challenge for marketers along the buyer journey — in addition to WHY, WHO and HOW is the question of “WHERE,” because:
"90 percent of B2B buyers say when they are ready they will find you." — Cascade Insights
If simple is an essential matter then, as marketers, our job is to be where our buyers are, to make it simpler for buyers to ultimately find us all along their journeys from awareness to consideration to selection.