by Dacia Coffey
Republished from Forbes, Jun 7, 2018
Have you seen the strange gap separating sales from marketing in the business-to-business (B2B) world? I have, and it’s not pretty. On one side lives an authentic and resonant sales call; on the other side lives flat marketing copy.
Why does this happen?
We humans simply overcomplicate things, especially when selling a technical product or service. We shove bullets of detail to prove our worthiness and, in the process, suffocate audience curiosity. To make matter worse, many B2B organizations are flat out missing the mark in aligning what their buyers consider important.
In a McKinsey B2B branding survey of more than 1,400 global executives, there was a huge gap between what companies considered important for brand imaging versus what actually influenced buyers’ perceptions of brand strength.
What are the secrets of using marketing to open the door to sales success? How can we use the secrets of sales superstars to unlock B2B marketing success as a sales enabler?
I have found that there are five keys to harnessing the passion, innovation and knowledge of an organization to appropriately translate it into a marketing strategy that catalyzes and supports revenue growth.
1. Reduce Cognitive Load
In B2B marketing, the product and service are often quite technical, and the audience highly knowledgeable. Thus, many B2B decisions naturally have high cognitive load.
Cognitive load refers to the amount of mental effort necessary to solve a problem. When input exceeds the brain’s processing capacity, decision making actually slows down and can increase the likelihood of errors.
With this in mind, a data dump of features and benefits will likely hinder your sales engagement. Limiting the flow of product information to only the data necessary for each step of the sale can facilitate a faster sales cycle.
2. Branding Determines Your Fate
The human brain is insanely efficient. Every second, countless bits of information are pouring into the brain via our five senses. The brain filters all of this by searching for relevance, sending important data to the conscious brain and ignoring the rest.
In an effort to navigate complex decisions with the least amount of effort, our brains employ shortcuts called heuristics to ease the cognitive load. Examples include social proof, intuitive judgment, familiarity, stereotyping and confirmation bias.
For B2B marketing and sales, this means the first impressions of a decision maker will define the outcome. Cognitive psychology tells us that we decide first and then find proof to support our decision. From my perspective, investing in the brand image of your company is of critical importance in positioning, yet branding is often undervalued in the B2B world. As the old saying goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
3. Messaging Is King
Nothing gets the brain’s attention unless it already has existing importance. People tune into messages that help them solve a problem or help them get what they want; everything else tends to be background noise.
Great messaging tells a transformation story. It paints a picture of where the buyer is now (pain) and contrasts it with where they could be (desire). As Zig Ziglar famously said, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.”
4. Know Your Audience
In order to resonate on a personal level in your messaging, you must first have insight into what your buyers want and what they struggle with. What pains and desires are they using to filter information overload?
Most B2B companies who miss the mark on messaging typically suffer from two oversights. First, they don’t have clarity around who in the market actually makes or breaks their success, and second, they didn’t take the time to truly understand buying agendas and triggers. In marketing lingo, they haven’t documented their buyer personas.
Knowing your audience is the cornerstone of sales-enabling marketing. You need the attention of living, breathing, busy humans, who have a myriad of things vying for their attention. If you don’t know what their world looks like with intimate detail, you cannot hope to resonate with them in a way that transforms your growth.
B2B sales are made one deal at a time. Your marketing message should mirror this level of personalization. In my experience, three or four buyer personas usually account for more than three-quarters of a company’s revenue. But don’t take my word for it. According to an industry benchmark study, 71% of companies that exceed revenue and lead goals have documented personas, and high-performing companies are 2.3 times more likely to research the drivers of their buyers than their competitors.
5. Build An Effective Marketing Plan
John Wanamaker, a forefather of modern marketing and a master at getting people’s attention, was famously quoted as saying, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The trouble is, I don’t know which half.” Even with today’s technology advances, many companies still feel the same as Wanamaker did in the 1800s.
A truly effective marketing plan answers the question, “What needs to be true to achieve our vision, mission and goals?” This boils down to answers to the following questions:
• Who are you targeting (buyer personas)?
• What do they value and need?
• How do we align with that?
• How do we distribute this message in the most effective and efficient manner possible?
• What will key performance indicators (KPIs) show us if it’s working?
Often, I see marketing plans that are actually compilations of ideas and data without insight. Listing tactics — trades shows, emails, social media — in a document doesn’t explain why you believe these tactics will work. Your marketing plan should identify the decision-making criteria that guide your tactics, execution and effectiveness.