Developing B2B marketing strategy has historically been an in-house exercise that relies on a lot of assumptions about what customers want, and doesn’t include meaningful customer feedback. If I’m a customer, the thought of a sales and marketing team sitting around a table determining what’s meaningful to me represents a major lapse in the sales process.
The problem with this is two-fold. Let me elaborate.
It’s Not Always Easy to Know What Customers Want
It’s not that marketers and sales professionals don’t have any idea what customers want; it’s that the knowledge they have was gathered in an environment that is not conducive to uncovering true client needs.
Most marketers only have surface-level information about clients. At trade shows, they might get some direct exposure, but these conversations are rarely intimate enough for the customer to feel comfortable sharing meaningful information. Marketers also gather information from their sales force. The problem with this is that this is filtered, second-hand information, and may represent the interest or bias of that rep. The final avenue is research, which more than likely will yield information that is high-level and does not dive to the true needs of the client.
I can speak to this first hand, having spent the first three years of my career as a content marketer trying desperately to uncover information that would help me produce more meaningful content. It wasn’t until I shifted to a new role and got into the room with my sales team and their clients that I realized how little I actually knew about the customers I was writing about.
On the other side of the coin, sales professionals like to think that they are the true pulse of the client. Without diving into the clichéd sales vs. marketing argument, my experience has taught me otherwise. Sales professionals are excellent at building client relationships and identifying client needs, it’s just that the “identified needs” are too often shaped by what the rep is selling.
The problem is that reps are under too much revenue pressure to consider the big picture and how that should shape strategy. Between meetings and travel, they don’t have the time to sit back and look at all their clients’ needs and build a solution around that. Clients that have a challenging set of needs are often de-prioritized in favour of new opportunities that can generate revenue quickly.
Between marketers not having enough information, and sales reps being too focused on the prize, it’s easy to see how B2B marketing strategy can become a one-way street, and eventually lead to a disengaged customer base that believes your company doesn’t truly understand them.
Using Customer Feedback to Help Shape Strategy
At my company, we have the challenge of developing the market (and budget) for our services. Clients may know they have a problem, but often don’t know about our solutions and how they can solve that problem. While it seems like a no-brainer to be selling a solution to a problem you know exists, convincing a client of this and having them carve out dollars within their tight budget is a completely separate thing.
Recently, we ran into the situation where we were well-developed (read: running out of new leads) in our primary market and needed to expand revenues within a new target demographic. After a few feeble attempts to gather quick information we thought would help us sell to this new market, we finally decided to study the market to figure out three simple, yet critical things.
- What challenges do these customers have? Is there a trend?
- What is meaningful to these customers? Can we help in these areas?
- What solutions do they actually want?
I was fortunate enough to get the challenge of studying this market, and reporting back to my executive sponsor with the findings, along with a strategy on how we might market and sell to this demographic effectively. While this was by no means easy (It meant my first foray into a direct sales meeting… with no training), it was an extremely valuable experience for a traditional marketer and helped shine the light on some improvements we could make in our sales and research process.
It also provided us invaluable insights that could help make our marketing more impactful with clients. What they told us could change the way we communicated with them to make their experience more meaningful.
By asking those three questions (along with many others that would help answer them), I felt that we were finally on the right track to developing a strategy that would lead to long-term success in this new market. While there were ups-and-downs throughout, along with the feeling that we were uncovering more challenges than we were solving, we ended up gaining crucial data and insight that would help shape our strategy, and learned a few very important lessons that went beyond the initial research scope:
- We can’t tell our customers what they want.
- We need to take an evidence-based approach to sales and marketing
- We need to integrate client feedback into our sales and marketing
In the next series of posts, I am going to take you through my story of gathering customer feedback for sales and marketing strategy, as well as explore the elements that will help your company integrate client feedback into its strategy. While I learned a lot doing this, the part that stuck with me was that the legacy approach to sales and marketing strategy is no longer acceptable – customer involvement is crucial for success.