B2B Market Strategy Can’t Be a Guessing Game
You can’t get back time.
If your company heads down the wrong strategic path for even three to four months, you’ve already dug yourself a massive competitive hole. And in B2B sales and marketing, you’ll be lucky if it doesn’t turn out to be a grave.
This may sound a bit dramatic, but it’s undeniably true. You are not going to beat your competitors if you have to reset your entire plan because it was based on incomplete information, or just some wild shot in the dark. So, it’s absolutely vital to base your strategic plans on serious market research. Not hunches – real data collected from your Sales team, Marketing campaign performance, market-wide intelligence, customer feedback, and industry analysts.
So why, then, did Dun & Bradstreet and Forrester Research find that nearly half of B2B marketers rely on intuition, not data, in all phases of their marketing programs – including program activation?
There’s always the usual suspects. Research is a lot of work, and even the most important decisions tend to be made in a hurry. The Forrester report I just referenced notes that vital customer data remains trapped in silos scattered across the company, making it next to impossible to use in a meaningful way for decision support. And then there is the dreaded Sales-Marketing Misalignment, which seems to undercut almost everything we do in B2B commerce.
It’s frustrating, but in many ways this is a problem of our own creation. And it’s something we can fix with a little discipline, focus, and investment of that most precious resource – time.
Here are some tactics I recommend for creating and optimizing real market research in your strategic planning. We are using these approaches here at True Influence and are finding that they are enormously powerful in helping us guide our growth and meet customer expectations.
#1: Never Stop Doing Customer Research
Successful B2B marketers are about 2½ times more likely to conduct market research quarterly, when compared to their less successful counterparts. That’s according to the 2019 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks report from MarketingProfs.
With such clear-cut benefits, why do so many B2B sellers not commit to in-depth quarterly analysis? Per usual, it boils down to time and effort. Dun & Bradstreet notes that even identifying customers who meet your target personas is a real challenge in B2B. You can’t just throw up surveys based on gender, age, or other B2C criteria and learn anything about the folks who hold the reins on multi-million B2B dollar budgets. It’s a lot of work even finding these prospects.
You spend a lot of money building and enhancing a rich contact database, both through inhouse efforts and in partnership with a demand generation partner like True Influence. That’s why it’s vital to tap into every interaction with potential customers, either with your sales or marketing teams.
Which leads me to…
#2: Sales and Marketing have to communicate – consistently
I’m cautiously optimistic that this hurdle can be cleared with a little planning, because marketing pros actually do want to talk to their colleagues in sales.
In fact, the 2019 MarketingProf survey found that feedback from sales teams is the leading source for B2B Marketers to use in audience research, at 74 percent of total respondents. That narrowly beats out website analytics (73 percent) and is well ahead of other more hard-wired tactics, including database research (more on that a little later).
This makes perfect sense – when a senior B2B sales rep makes a call, they are interviewing a direct match to your ideal customer profile about business challenges, developments in the market, and what they really need from a solution. This is literally thousands of dollars of field market research that can’t be replicated in email or even on the phone.
The key, I believe, is that communication has to be consistent. During my own time in sales, I found that sometimes marketers are eager for sales feedback; sometimes their heads are down. Again, everybody is busy.
At True Influence, we’ve written about how B2B strategic prospecting begins with a clear action plan that defines customer personas, coverage areas, and responsibilities for both sales and marketing. I’d suggest that these responsibilities include a regular checkup (say, quarterly) on market trends that sales sees in the field, and how marketing can take advantage of them.
This does not need to be an onsite meeting – that’s why we have phone teleconferencing and document-sharing. But it does need to be a regular, consistent process.
#3: Use your database
Only 45 percent of respondents in the MarketingProfs survey said they use their database for market research. This is despite the fact that V12 reports marketers cited using data as the basis for their decisions as their primary goal.
That, my friends, is a disconnect.
There’s the usual suspects – the Forrester report noted the pernicious problem of data being trapped in various silos across the enterprise, while marketers continue to complain that vendor tools lack the needed analytics to make data useful to them. These are valid points, but you have to work through them.
Knowing what messaging and value points resonate with your ideal customer personas is essential to both marketing content and product development. You are gathering this data daily. Use it.
#4: Talk Directly to Your Best Customers
The Content Marketing Institute reports that only 42 percent of marketers actually talk to customers in conducting market research. Perhaps not coincidentally, that’s the same percentage who said they conduct routine customer interviews or advisory panels.
At True Influence, we’ve established a customer advisory board, and it is proving invaluable towards helping us define our strategic course. We asked a dozen or so leaders at both established and up-and-coming companies to participate. Most are current True Influence customers, but a few are from companies we hope to work with in the future.
Feedback from these leaders help us validate market research we gather from other sources. They either confirm we are headed in the right direction, or let us know we need to change our trajectory.
We’ve held two web conferences with the advisory panel and a face-to-face meeting with them, which was hosted by a leading industry analyst. I’ve honestly been surprised at how vocal advisory panel members have been about their needs and expectations.
It’s an investment more B2B sellers should make.
#5: Always Be on the Lookout for New Sources of Intelligence
However well you think you know your target audience, there are always prospects out there who are under your radar. Your sales team may hear about them through the grapevine, or you may bump into them at a trade show. Or you can actively look for these new potential customers.
At a bare minimum, your team should stay on top of leading industry publications and analysts’ notes. Here at True Influence, we are huge believers in the power of intent signal monitoring to help identify in-market accounts and accurately size the total active market for your solution.
Again, the information is out there. You just have to find it, and then you have to use it.
Data-driven Market Research is a Must
Market research is the foundation for every strategic decision your B2B sales and marketing organization makes. You can’t afford to play a guessing game. A disciplined, data-driven approach to market research by your sales and marketing teams will ensure your strategy is in synch with your customers’ needs.