A lot of brands say that they put the customer at the center of their organizations, but most marketers know that they’re not living up to that promise. According to a 2019 survey by B2B International, delivering excellent customer experiences and connecting with customers emotionally represent two of the top challenges among today’s B2B marketers. Only 29 percent of those B2B marketers believe their organization makes a significant impact on the customer experience. Meanwhile, only 36 percent believe their organization demonstrates a solid understanding of customer needs, pain points, and desires.
B2B buyer expectations are falling more in-line with consumer-side expectations every day.
This is a problem. B2B buyer expectations are falling more in-line with consumer-side expectations every day. And B2B buyers expect brands to understand who they are, what they are looking for and where they are in their buying processes—and they expect the brands to serve up personalized content accordingly.
This expectation represents a sea change. B2B messaging has historically been about putting products, rather than the customer, at the center of the conversation. B2B marketers forget that their prospects don’t actually want to buy a product. They want to solve the problem. So relevant messaging and solutions should be presented around that problem. For many brands, this is difficult, because they’re neglecting parts of the customer journey where customer-centricity is most vital.
The Missing Pieces of Awareness and Loyalty
B2B buyers seek different types of information throughout their decision-making process, and marketers need to offer content that aligns to the full journey—starting with awareness and continuing through post-purchase. Unfortunately, B2B marketers are mostly missing the mark at the beginning and end of these journeys because they tend to focus the bulk of their efforts on marketing-qualified leads. But what happens when not enough prospects come in at the top of the funnel to maintain a robust prospect list?
According to a survey by Edelman and LinkedIn, thought leadership has a great impact on sales. In fact, 89 percent of business decision-makers say thought leadership increases their perception of brand capabilities at the awareness stage. When prospective buyers first search for a solution to a problem, they often don’t know they need a product at all—and certainly don’t know which product. It’s critical for thought leadership and search strategies to focus on business pain points rather than product features.
In addition to neglecting the role of awareness within the B2B marketing funnel, many B2B brand communication threads drop off after purchase—but this is the most important time to keep in touch with customers. If B2B marketers want to increase customer lifetime value and cultivate future investments, they need to stay in touch with buyers to help them justify their recent investments, build brand loyalty and ensure proper adoption of the solution. This type of loyalty cultivation is table stakes in today’s B2C playbook.
The Data Required for the Pivot
To make the shift from a product-focused Marketing strategy to one driven by customer needs, B2B marketers need to equip themselves with the right intelligence. In recent years, B2B marketers have relied on firmographic data—standard classifications that help drive segmentation such as industry, job title, company size, and location. However, advances in data and segmentation now enable marketers to go much deeper. Brands need to tap into insights beyond basic buyer profiles to reveal deeper psychological purchase motivations like behavioral insights and information around content engagement and historical Marketing interactions.
Tapping into search data to understand how customers find your products and solutions is a great way to start improving user experience and driving prospects to content that aligns with their specific pain points at scale. Marketers should also leverage insights of their own Sales teams, which have direct contact with customers and can share their understandings of customer pain points and most-requested materials.
When B2B marketers shift from product-focused messaging to solution-focused messaging, the results speak for themselves. Here at Merkle, we recently helped a technology manufacturing client execute such a shift, and the brand quickly saw an increase in marketing response and engagement rates of more than 60 percent.
It’s a mistake to think the pivot to solution-focused messaging is driven by technology adoption alone. Technology enables this shift but without a deeper strategic shift internally—one that truly puts the customer at the center of the conversation—all the new technology solutions in the world will fail to have a measurable impact on the results that matter most.