Buyer Journey Insights for Sales Enablement Content
The Sales Enablement Society conference in Dallas last week brought together sales enablement professionals and platform vendors from around the world. From Robert Racine (VP of Global Sales Enablement at Wipro) to industry analysts, sales professionals and marketers were exchanging ideas and perspective on how to improve buyer engagement.
Insights from the Sales Enablement Society Conference
I was fortunate to be paired with Jeff Ernst (ex-Forrester Research VP) as a speaker in two different sessions to tackle the challenge of buyer engagement. One of the statistics we discussed is the CEB research indicating that the average B2B buyer is 57% through their buyer journey before contacting a vendor sales person. While Forrester Research had published stats as high as 90% back in 2012, the recent CEB data is generally accepted as accurate. A key distinction to note is that this is a weighted average across multiple B2B segments and brands are encouraged to map their unique buyer journey to reveal when buyers engage with sales reps.
In an open audience discussion, a universal theme emerged whereby both sales and marketing professionals cited a need to “get in early” during the buyer journey as a key goal, but it has become increasingly difficult because B2B buyers generally do not trust vendor content. What we are seeing is that the content marketing hype of the past decade (e.g. “marketers are now publishers”) overlooks a fatal flaw: publisher are experts at matching content to reader interest, while marketers are experts at talking about their products/services. The result has been a flood of branded content into the marketplace that simply doesn’t get read by B2B buyers (hence, the crazy statistics of up to 90% of B2B content budgets being wasted each year).
Because B2B buyers lack trust in vendor content, they turn to vendors later in their buyer journey – typically after they have self-diagnosed their problem and formed an opinion of the solution they need to solve the problem. In cases where the buyer incorrectly diagnoses their problem, they end up pursuing the wrong solution (and subsequent solution vendors). Meanwhile, the vendors that truly could have helped the buyer are left out of the “short list” RFP cycle.
Customer Stories are the Key to Buyer Journey Engagement
Jeff Ernst shared some valuable insights from his 400+ customer interviews while at Forrester Research. B2B buyers have fears, questions and doubts throughout their buyer journey and they turn to industry peers and professional relationships for insight as to how to resolve them. If vendors want to be part of the buyer’s consideration set then they must empower their customers to tell unscripted stories about their experience with the brand.
This is different from the traditional approach of case studies and testimonials in two ways: (i) the stories are unscripted, and (ii) the narratives do not include a vendor endorsement. The stories (best captured in video or audio) are best told by “front line” (Manager-level) employees who actually implement and use the vendor solution. The stories must focus on the real-world fears, questions and doubts the customers had when evaluating vendors, selecting a vendor, on-boarding, and using the vendor solution. The approach is simple: ask customers to answer a single question (in their own words) that addresses a fear, question or doubt that the buyer has. Where do you find the list of fears, questions and doubts? In well-constructed buyer personas.
Rethinking B2B Message Strategy and Content Marketing
This shift in thinking is critical because I believe marketers have been mislead by the onslaught of content marketing platforms, books, and well-meaning thought leaders: marketers should not strive to become publishers, marketers should strive to become film directors. The human brain processes visual imagery 60,000 times faster than text so it follows that video (and to a lesser degree, audio) creates an emotional connection and credibility that is far more powerful than white papers and case studies for overcoming buyer fears, questions and doubts. The ability of a vendor to “direct” customers stories in an authentic way is the new normal for building trust with buyers and enabling sales professionals to “get in early” in the buyer journey.
At the end of 2015, Jeff Ernst left Forrester Research to launch Slap Five – a software platform that capture unscripted voice-of-customer (VoC) stories for use in demand generation and sales enablement. Similar to Jeff, I stepped away from a CMO advisory role in 2017 to launch B2B Content Agency to help brands shift from self-serving solution narratives to buyer-centric insights to shorten sales cycles.
If your brand is struggling to create engagement for demand generation, sales enablement, or post-purchase customer experience – consider rethinking your messaging and content approach.