Kay Kienast, CMO
Buying groups are becoming a primary focus for B2B marketing and sales organizations. More than 60 percent of B2B purchases are made by these multi-functional teams within buying organizations, according to Sirius Decisions, and that number seemingly grows with each new market research report.
Coupled with market-wide intent monitoring and analysis, buying group modeling gives B2B marketers powerful insights into the collective purchase journey of targets in their Account-Based Marketing (ABM) and other revenue marketing strategies.
Still, when it comes to winning new customers, the age-old wisdom holds true: The best B2B marketing is still done one on one.
So how can marketers translate purchase intent intelligence about buying groups and accounts into powerful, personalized messaging for each contact – particularly when the contact’s personal purchase journey may be very different from their organization’s collective progress toward a buy decision?
In this post, I’ll discuss how to structure your purchase intent keyword monitoring strategy to align with customer journey stages. You’ll also see how to use these insights to craft engaging messaging for each individual within a buying group.
The Basics of Buying Groups
First, let’s discuss the basics of buying groups and how they work together to drive B2B purchase decisions.
Buying groups – or “demand units,” as Sirius Decisions has branded them – typically include six or more people, all of whom play different roles in the purchase decision. These buying groups tend to include a C-level or procurement officer who holds budget authority, as well as operational managers.
Within buying groups, these individuals tend to take on specific roles, each of which is reflected in the intent signal activity they create. For example, a “champion” buying group member will show consistent levels of high activity throughout the purchase process. An “influencer” will likely show bursts of purchase intent as the account is about to move ahead in its collective purchase journey.
And – this is an essential point – buying group members do their research independently. The terms and topics they search on typically reflect their interest in the process, based on B2B persona. Buying group members then collaborate to make collective decisions about how to move forward.
Understanding these patterns is essential in accurately assessing an account’s current status in your ABM and named account strategies. We here at True Influence are firm believers in the methodology and have built buying group modeling and intent monitoring into our True Influence Marketing Cloud platform. Our tools allow you to track purchase intent activity at the buying group, account and individual contact levels – a critical range of functionality that I’ll discuss in more detail later in this post.
Common Uses of Buying Group Intent
One of the most common applications of buying group intent monitoring is to qualify and prioritize accounts in ABM and other strategies.
In fact, tracking buying group intent is far more valuable than broad intent level monitoring at the account level. There can be any number of people researching your product category at a company who simply have no input into purchase decisions. In a recent post, our Chief Revenue Officer, Peter Larkin, said that he takes account-wide bursts in intent activity “with a grain of salt” when prioritizing accounts.
Peter offers several helpful bits of advice on how to evaluate buying group purchase intent for sales prioritization. On many levels, it boils down to who within the group is expressing intent – a C-level decision maker is likely to do a lot of conceptual research very early in the purchase journey, while influencers are likely to be most active at key plateaus in the process. Understanding these role dynamics is essential in account prioritization. You can’t just push every account to sales because you see an aggregate spike in intent.
I’ll add that it’s also vital to understand the type of intent being expressed by each individual in the buying group. And that’s why a carefully researched and structured intent monitoring strategy is essential.
Putting Purchase Intent Into Context
The phrases and terms people use in their research tells you as much about their stage in the purchase journey as the intensity of their purchase intent activity.
As customers learn more about their decision, the way they talk about their research changes. If you put in the effort to carefully analyze the customer journey, you can align your monitored keywords to the key phases that buyers actually use.
Understanding these nuances lets you evaluate buying group purchase intent far more effectively, and allows you to precisely tailor your messaging to each individual in the group, based on their personal buying journey.
Always remember that the typical customer discovery process begins with the awareness that, “Hey, I have a business problem. What things can help me solve it?” The answer can be software and services. It can be people. It can be a business process. But it all begins with the recognition that I have a problem, and I need to find out how other organizations are dealing with these same issues.
Discovery/Top of funnel
In the earliest stages of the purchase journey, a key issue for most decision-makers is simply determining what to call the problem they are having. Is it related to a market category of products and services? How do we even talk about it?
So the purchase intent topics you see here are very broad and general, and often don’t meet the standard terminology that your team uses to describe your own offerings. Nonetheless, you need to monitor for the prevailing terms being used to search for information. (In many ways, it’s the same approach you use to develop SEO/SEM strategies for content marketing.)
By this time, buying group researchers have more clearly identified their problem and understand some of the phrases around it, and that there are tools and human best practices that can be applied to address it.
Here, searches become more specific. Purchase intent activity begins to look more like category language.
This is where your messaging should define how the customer should think about the problem. This is also where you set the bar on how your product or solution will ultimately rise to the top as the best choice.
Researchers now know what the problem is, and they know the potential solutions. They know who the vendors are, what the products are called, and what the differentiating features are. You’ll see this specificity in the purchase intent topics being explored, including product features and technical specifications.
Intensity of purchase intent activity around these kinds of topics indicates that it’s likely time to move the account to sales. Candidly, if you haven’t already engaged, it’s probably too late for classic nurturing at this point – best to go ahead and accelerate the account directly to sales outreach.
And remember, there’s simply no reason to send an account to sales for action if it is expressing intent only at the early stage of the buying journey, even if that intent activity is fairly intense within a buying group.
An Example of Purchase Intent in Context
Let’s say a company has a customer communications problem. Customers are complaining, but the company actually has solutions for them – customers simply don’t know what they are. And, it’s important to note, we are talking about core customers here, not prospects.
There’s a wide range of possible solutions:
- Maybe the company needs tools to better communicate with existing customers.
- Maybe it needs better tools for the customer support team.
- Maybe it needs to make more information available to self-directed customers through a content-rich self-service portal. (Research from analysts firm Gartner suggests that buying groups now do so much research that they spend 15 percent of their time just collating their findings.)
- Or maybe the company needs to go back to basics and develop better communication processes for the entire company.
Like I said, lots of possibilities.
Let’s say the company determines that it simply is not communicating with customers with enough clarity and consistency. It needs a tool that allows it to communicate with customers, above and beyond its blog, and it needs this communication to be highly targeted based on demographic and geographic factors, as well as explicit behaviors exhibited by individuals.
One of the easiest and most effective ways to tackle these issues is with what marketers would call “marketing automation.” But our hypothetical company doesn’t know that yet.
At the top of the customer journey, buying group members will likely be doing research around terms like “email communications platforms” or even “answering customer complaints” – very broad, general issues that often describe the problem, more than a solution.
As the customer journey progresses, the company will discover the category of marketing automation – tools that let you automate communications and send customers to personalized landing pages with very specific pieces of information.
So now the company knows what to call the category that is likely to meet its needs, as well as some of best practices and general benefits.
As the company nears the end of the customer journey, it knows the brand names: Eloqua, Marketo, Hubspot. Now, how are these brands differentiated? Searches will include terms like “workflow integrations” and “intent data within the platform.”
The more knowledgeable the buyer, the closer they are to buying.
Connecting with Individuals Within Buying Groups
When you map your purchase intent data terms to reflect the likely customer journey stage of individuals within buying groups, you can do a much better job of crafting messaging that’s directly tied to user behavior.
Note that I said “user,” not group. Executing your strategy demands you deliver content that will resonate with individuals, based on their role within the buying group and their personal interest in the purchase.
If you see activity in the high-funnel layer of your intent map, you need to be focused on general education and brand awareness creation. And the content you send to each buying group member needs to be tailored to their role in the process. Purchase decision-makers want to get a broad, organizational view on the problem they are looking to fix; technical managers want more information that’s a little more down-in-weeds about daily headaches.
Positioning and voice that speaks to the contact’s point of view is essential in the messaging you create.
Complicating this (nobody said it was going to be easy) is the fact that individual buying group members often are at different phases of the purchase journey, since research is done independently.
If you’re lucky, you will have engaged the entire account from the earliest stages and educated all the players consistently — but that’s not likely to happen. Individuals begin their personal journey at different times, and even that process is seldom linear. New vendors enter the picture and attempt to redefine the category, complicating the conversation and establishing new bars for success.
And then it’s back to go. All you can do is monitor and adjust.
Always remembers — the buyer is in control, not the seller, and you have to meet customers where they are, not where you want them to be, with the content they need.
Motivate the Individual to Win the Buying Group
In this post, I’ve discussed how understanding the context of purchase intent data created by B2B buying group members is essential for creating messaging that moves them along their personal customer journey. In turn, these demand unit members collaborate to move their organization closer to a purchase decision. The process can be complex and requires planning, but the result is a 360-degree view of your prospect’s customer journey that will help you win new business.
If you’d like to talk about understanding your buying groups, just call — 1-888-301-4758. You might also want to watch this webinar with Sirius Decisions and Imprivata on Buying Group Blindness.