B2B marketing is all about the content today. Creating content that’s more relevant to prospects, that captures their imagination, provides a clear value proposition, and drives them to engage with your company. But research suggests that more than half of B2B marketing organizations admit they don’t truly understand their customers. Wait, what? WE know our customers, you say. WE have tons of data from inbound marketing, WE see which web content is most engaging, and WE use that to inform new content creation. WE can engage them on social and get feedback there. Our salespeople talk to them all of the time, and so do our customer success team. Yes. All true. And you still don’t understand customers. Here’s why:

  • You have lots of information, but it hasn’t been put into an actionable form. You have amassed a trove of customer information, scattered about your organization in various forms. But has anyone taken the time to assemble it into something useful? Has anyone reviewed it all to reconcile conflicting information? If you say you understand your customer, but don’t have a meaningful set of agreed-upon ideas of what motivates them, what their needs are, and how your solution addresses them, then you don’t know your customer at all. You need a clear understanding of your value proposition, and the values you share with your customer. The value proposition must have consensus within your organization, or there will be a disconnect between content that’s created and the message that comes from your sales team. This is the basis for creating clear personas of the various decision makers within an organization, which will dictate the type of content you need to create for each.
  • You might understand customers, but you don’t understand prospects. There’s a big difference here, that should be obvious to everyone, but it’s amazing how few companies speak with prospects in a structured, consistent fashion. Customers are already sold on your product. They are using it, and have lots of experience with it. As a result, they are removed from the buying experience, maybe even several years removed. In that time your product has changed, and so has your customer. In some cases, the people involved with making the purchase decision may no longer be there. If you want to understand the dynamics of purchasing, existing customers may not be the best source of information. You need to find people who aren’t already sold on your product and speak to them to get unbiased opinions and insights into your reputation, your value proposition, your competition, your solution and your content. The occasional observation from a sales rep about what prospects want/need doesn’t cut it. You need a consistent approach to obtaining insights from a reasonable sample of prospects, and you need to share those insights with your organization to make them actionable.
  • You might understand the what, but not the why. A campaign may be underperforming. A new webinar may not be driving leads. The data can tell you that. But it can’t tell you why. There is amazing technology to help you dissect how people interact with your landing pages, where they look, where they click, scroll and more. And that’s great data. But it requires you to draw inferences about that activity that may or may not be true. You know what they engaged with, but you don’t know why. “Why” insights are much more valuable. As marketers, understanding not just what happened but why it happened.  If the main reason that a piece of content isn’t performing is that it’s deemed irrelevant, you want to know why.  Is the whole topic too well-trodden?  Is there a different approach/topic that better addresses the issue?  Is it more appropriate for someone else in the organization?  What might make it better or more relevant.  No heatmap reveals this directly, the way a conversation can.  You can follow up on statements and assertions to get to the core of someone’s beliefs/needs/interests, and use that insight to create better, more intriguing content.  I’m not in any way suggesting that the vast data you get from analytics – or any other source, isn’t valuable.  But it’s not sufficient.  You need both the data and the qualitiative insights to really know your customers and prospects.

To be clear, when I say talk to customers, I mean have actual conversations  (ideally face-to-face) with them on a regular basis. Not an occasional email blast about a specific question, or the annual customer survey.  Structured conversations, like in-depth interviews or old-fashioned focus groups can probe about issues in ways none of the ad-hoc chats with sales or analysis of data, or even surveys can.  You get more rich detail and better insight that will inform your content and strategy. If you need more incentive to do research, consider this: 70% of companies who missed revenue and lead goals did not conduct qualitative persona interviews. (Cintell, 2016)  Know thy customer has never been more true.

We’d argue talking with prospects and customers is as important, if not more so, for early/emerging businesses than for companies in more established industries.  Emerging companies are making big bets early on that have to be successful. Get it wrong about your customer early on, and then compounding the mistake by creating content based on that misunderstanding, can set you back, and cost you dearly.  Early failures can doom a startup. Bigger companies can afford to miss occasionally. And yet, our experience shows us that most early stage companies are the most likely to skimp on customer research. They view it as a luxury – something that’s too expensive or too difficult to pull off. The opposite is true. Understanding your prospect will give you the best odds of succeeding, to seize a very brief window of opportunity, before someone else does.

We’d love to hear your thoughts. Why don’t more B2B companies do prospect research?

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