People don’t always tell you what they’re thinking. In personal relationships, we use body language, tone of voice, micro expressions, actions, and other intangibles to infer someone’s perspective, attitude, intent, and desires.
Business relationships rely on some of the same data points but are often distanced from targets and customers by geography, station (status in the food chain of the individual with final say-so) and decision-making protocols like RFP docs, requisition requests, and other confounding red tape.
The separation between key stakeholders and those of us trying to escort them along the buyer journey presents some challenges. Separation may mean not knowing what matters most to a buyer, ending in our failure to deliver. Don’t we wish we better understood what moved decision-makers? Then we’d be more equipped to address those hot buttons.
There are ways we can learn about our prospects and buyers to improve opportunities for consideration and conversion. Let’s take a look at some less obvious and oldie-but-goody ways.
What’s The Complexion Of Your Market?
We can start by taking a few steps back. That saying of missing the forest for the trees? Marketers can get bogged down doing the day-to-day, too. It’s easy to focus too closely on the (often overwhelming number of) tasks at hand, only in the process fail to keep a watchful eye on the market as a whole.
Old School Has Its Merits
Take some time to re-familiarize yourself with trade associations, advocacy groups, policy makers and influentials in your market. If southern California has traditionally been a hotbed of software startups your company targets, a little research will tell you about a bonfire building in the midwest. The Silicon Prairie of Nebraska, Kansas, and Iowa is making news.
More Substance, Less Fluff
Chances are you’ve attended a few conferences over the years, with the useless swag in your bottom desk drawer to prove it. If you’ve routinely attended the top event in your industry, it may be a good idea to check out one or two of the smaller or niche ones. There you may find less commercialism and glad-handing, and more chances to begin meaningful, insightful relationships with others who have moved beyond the social aspect of conferences.
Who Else Knows The Industry Well?
Job fairs with a strong college or university presence may also be worth some time. Some job fairs can provide you with direct access to school counselors and outplacement specialists at esteemed colleges. Those folks are a treasure trove of information about the inner workings of the biggest companies in their respective fields (engineering, legal, biomedical, etc.). Plus, they have great contacts. If you genuinely, carefully, nurture a relationship with them, you may be rewarded with access to their network or with a key introduction.
What Attracts (And Turns Off) The Buyers In Your Field…Today, Right Now?
The next step brings you closer to decision-makers. To understand the factors driving their purchase decisions, it’s important to both watch and listen.
What Do They Do?
Stef Miller, a usability expert with UserTesting, advises that to really understand the information needs of your prospects (and the online tasks they seek to complete), you’ll need to watch them behave in the element. That can mean viewing browsing sessions of users interacting with your website. UserTesting is commonly used to inform software product design, but can inexpensively provide insight into what users learn or fail to learn from your company’s website. Since the web plays a pivotal role in a business buyer’s decision journey, UserTesting’s bird’s-eye view is valuable asset.
Tools like CrazyEgg and ClickTale are other resources for learning what information your site visitors seek and what compels them to stay. Through eye tracking and mouse behavior, these tools capture data that can help you optimize your customer’s web experience. Optimized experiences simply convert better because the buyer feels they’ve found a match, a company that understands them.
What Do They Say?
Earlier, I wrote people don’t always share what they’re really thinking, or do as they say. And that can be true. Sometimes, though, the right environs and context can help thaw a prospect or key contact enough to make some fact-finding easier. Stands to reason, doesn’t it, that a cocktail or enticing lunch can loosen a jaw the way a scripted voice mail or drip email can’t?
So get out of your office or cube and over to some networking events. There’s a MeetUp for just about every profession or interest. Professional organizations like the American Advertising Federation offer access to many local events without requiring full membership. At some of those you’ll find marketing staff for the very companies you’re targeting. If you’re able to strike up a conversation, you could learn quite a bit about internal goings-on, failures the last firm committed (avoid those!), and other useful nuggets.
For those wanting to stay online, SurveyMonkey offers SurveyMonkey Audience, a project-based service for gathering feedback, collecting competitor intelligence, and determining brand awareness.
Learn From Your Customers
It can sting to part ways when a contract expires. A revenue loss may have your sales and marketing team scrambling to backfill the client defection. But before that happens, exercise a little humility and respectfully inquire with all levels of the organization.
The simple question, “How could we have served you better?” may reveal weaknesses you didn’t know you had. This knowledge of the buyer experience can be power when you begin to move forward more intelligently.
Geonetric, a national eHealth company, believes when trying to get to know your customers and their needs, it’s best to sit down and collaborate. Each year Geonetric holds an annual symposium for its clients – an organized, co-learning event where Geonetric subject matter experts and client consultants work directly with clients to talk over what’s next, what issues they’re facing now, and where senior leadership wants to improve.
At the end of nearly 3 days full of discussion, learning, and entertainment, among Geonetric’s many benefits are increased sense of community and bond, insight into clients “real world” problems, and a wealth of product feedback to pour into their agile development process.
Round Out Your Knowledge
Fill in your customer picture with some institutional data, too. Publicly available resources like Google Trends will give you a bird’s eye view on search query volume for a variety of subjects. Knowledge of what people are looking for can be part of the mix that informs your company’s next decisions. The Small Business Association lists plenty of ways to tap into demographic information at the federal and state level, as well as economic indicators that may prove useful in your overall planning.
Pew Research provides data and learned opinions into a lot of technology-related areas, with a bent toward the relationship between technology and our society. Data.gov is a deep well of information, free courtesy of the US government. Set aside a bunch of time to investigate these rich resources.
Here I’ve barely scratched the surface of ways, both analog and modern, in which marketers can stay abreast with their B2B buyers needs and interests, and learn more about them. What are your methods for seeing both the forest and the trees?