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Editorial

Are You Asking the Right Questions in B2B Marketing?

7 minute read
Marcia Trask avatar
You want to deliver content that will make a difference to buyers … not send out more carefully groomed product content “selfies.”

The classic American television show, The Dating Game, was a hit in the early 1970’s based on a simple format. A bachelorette would question three bachelors (who were hidden from her view) and at the end of the questioning period, she would choose one to accompany her on a date. With limited information and time, the bachelorette had to ask good questions to learn what she could about the bachelors, as she would make her choice based solely on their responses.

While pop culture has moved on to embrace a whole new genre of reality TV shows, the concept of asking thought-provoking questions to learn more about people remains a classic approach. One that’s time has now come to the world of B2B marketing.

It’s All About the Buyer Now

Let’s start with some fundamental facts. The B2B purchase process has changed dramatically over the past decade. Though this change was happening gradually prior to 2019, it jumped exponentially between 2019 and 2020. B2B buying behavior has changed to be increasingly self-service and digital.

Next, your target “buyer” today is often a group of people rather than an individual. Forrester found 63% of purchase decisions in 2021 involved more than four people. In 2017, the number was just 47%. Not only are more buyers involved, they require more interactions and information as they research purchase options. According to Forrester, the average individual B2B buyer made 17 touches in 2019. Now that same buyer averages 27 touches. That’s an incredible 58% jump.

The final thing to remember is, the typical B2B buyer isn’t in the buying process every day of every year. You may have them in your pipeline and then wait months or years — depending on the lifecycle of your product — before they’re ready to research their options.

To net these changes out, B2B marketers must support buyers who are looking for products and solutions that meet their specific needs; who are working in larger purchasing groups; who are looking for information on multiple channels; who spend more time on independent research (and less time with sales); and who are actively in-market for new products for a limited time.

Related Article: Why B2B Marketing's a Long Game, Not a Hit-and-Run SaaS Play

Making a Marketing Shift

Despite all the significant changes to buyer behavior, the B2B marketing approach has remained essentially the same. Overwhelmingly, B2B marketing campaigns continue to promote an organization’s solution offerings rather than addressing fundamental buyer needs. Few companies articulate why buyers should purchase their offerings, or what the benefits or specific use cases for the offerings are.

In the current purchasing climate, this is a big miss. Marketers need to pay attention to buyers, empathize with their problems or opportunities, speak their language, understand the underlying business or technical needs to be addressed and articulate how their solutions provide value to the purchasing organizations.

However, we can’t be too hard on our fellow B2B marketers as they struggle to shift to the new purchase realities. Marketers have been steadily trained over the years by their employers to focus on company offerings (e.g., our wonderful products), internal organization structures (e.g., our great business units) and company initiatives (e.g., our transformational shift to the cloud) rather than focus on who their buyers are and what business issues they need to address.

But the time to change is now. B2B buyers expect no less. To help marketers build better, buyer-focused campaigns, here is a list of the five fundamental campaign planning questions that B2B marketers need to answer.

Related Article: Are You Suffering from Account Blindness in B2B Marketing?

The 5 Key Questions

1. To whom do you sell?

Instead of starting with product or solution offerings, marketers need to start with the buyer. Can you clearly identify your buying audience? Do you know who your key buyer personas are? Do your buyers change based on different product offerings or market segments? When answering these questions, don’t make assumptions. Talk to sales to really understand who is involved in closed deals. For example, your executives may desire to sell into the C-Suite (and be pushing marketing and sales to make this happen), but most sales are really happening at the director level.

Learning Opportunities

2. Why do they buy?

This is the critical (and often most difficult) question to answer. Marketers need to be clear on their buyers’ initiatives, challenges and primary needs. They need to understand how buyers describe the problems or opportunities they are working on. What do buyers search for? Does this language change by buyer persona or market segment? Marketers must understand the difference between the company’s solution features and benefits (our products do this) vs. the buyer need (the business or technical problem they are trying to solve). To address these questions, it’s vital to spend time with product marketing and do your homework on buyer needs and differences in buyer behavior based on market segments.

3. Who makes the decision?

As the data tells us, B2B purchase decisions are increasing made in teams. Marketers must understand the concept of buying groups and the role(s) their buyer personas play in it. Is your buyer persona the champion ­— the key sponsor for a particular purchase? Are they the decision maker — the one with final budget authority for the purchase? Or is your persona an influencer, the trusted source that plays a behind-the-scenes advisory role at critical junctures in the purchase process? Are you speaking to all the personas involved in the buying group? If not, are you arming your champion to speak on your behalf and gain support for the purchase? It’s crucial to understand the role that your buyer persona plays as part of the buying group as this will have a significant impact on the messaging and content to be created for the campaign.

4. How do you reach them?

To answer this question, don’t just think about standard marketing channels such as email or webinars. Ask yourself what influences your buyers’ decisions (peers, prior experience with your company or solutions, third-party research) and where your buyer personas go for information (online content, industry research, associations, company salespeople). Get an understanding of this buyer behavior before you make decisions about the desired marketing mix for your campaigns. Marketing teams that go through this thought process often discover that they have typically over-rotated on certain tactics (e.g., trade shows) and under-utilized other channels (e.g., content syndication).

5. What do you deliver?

You may define the ideal marketing mix to reach your personas, but are you telling them a compelling and relevant story? Think about the content and offers that you deliver to your buyers. Does the content resonate with them? Does it address their business needs? Does it “speak” their language? Will your offers help progress a buyer to the next stage of the buyers’ journey or help an existing customer move further along the customer lifecycle? If the answer is no, then it’s time to do research with product marketing and existing customer advocates to understand the information that matters. You want to deliver content that will make a difference to buyers…not send out more carefully groomed product content “selfies.”

Conclusion: B2B Marketing Takes Work

Answering these key questions takes some work. But it’s worth the effort.

Once you can confidentially answer these questions, you will have the knowledge to build next-level marketing campaigns that will truly captivate your buyers. In other words, in the “dating game” of B2B marketing, you’re the one going on the date…and having the chance to build a long-term business relationship.

About the author

Marcia Trask

Marcia Trask has 30+ years of experience in B2B marketing as a practitioner, consultant and industry analyst. Her areas of expertise include strategic marketing planning, content strategy, campaign development, performance measurement, technology implementation, change management, and marketing and sales alignment/enablement.