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Understanding the B2B Buyer

There are deep and abiding differences between marketing in B2C and doing so in B2B. I plan to continue to explore these differences in future blog posts, but for today I want to focus on an issue I consider to be absolutely critical, but often neglected, for B2B marketers – a rich and rigorous understanding of your customer.

In B2C, this is a tablestake. You don’t develop an advertising campaign, a new product, open a new location, without a lot of customer data. Enormous amounts. You know what brand of peanut butter is in their pantry, and what kind of car they drive. You know how many children they have at home, and what Dad watches on TV. It’s how decisions are made, because the up-front costs for any B2C marketing initiatives are high, and the ability to adapt and tailor to the individual buyer is limited.

Juxtapose this with B2B marketing. New solutions, campaigns, etc. are frequently developed based on very limited data. Often there’s customer input, but it may be just a handful of customers talking to your sales reps, who bring the ideas back to the firm and advocate strongly for “market demand”. If there’s a real understanding of the customer, often it’s only in the context of how that customer interacts with your reps and solutions. You don’t really know them as business people – you know them as prospects.

So what’s the problem? B2B often doesn’t have the upfront marketing expense that B2C does. The real marketing happens when the sales rep sits down with the client, and they’re able to tailor and adapt the solution and messaging in the moment. The problem is this – if you (you the company, you the marketer) don’t have a rich understanding of the entire professional context for your buyer and your solutions, you’re wasting time and money.

Studies are showing that buyers are putting off sales reps until they’re more than halfway through the purchase process. This means they’re getting information that used to be delivered and molded by a highly-trained, highly-compensated sales person from somewhere else. Where? Word of mouth, your web site (and those of your competitors), and Google.

Consider it this way – do you know with certainty what questions your target buyers are asking of their colleagues and the Internet? Do you understand the natural language of your buyer? Do you know what they consider to be trusted sources of information? Do you know why they’re looking for outside help, and what they’re comfortable using a partner for and what they’re not?

These are just some basic questions, and my experience is that many B2B marketers can’t point to any objective data that demonstrates an understanding of these foundational questions. We work from assumptions, largely built on the experience of our sales reps. Do your customers call your solution the same thing you do? They might when they’re with your sales reps, but that means little. In order to really understand how to reach your buyer (or let them reach you), you must, on purpose, do research with your buyers so that you know who they are and how they think.