Brad Bortone

Customer Relations: Bringing power back to Marketing during the B2B buying process

“Marketing is broken…”

In an event packed with quotable, Tweetable comments from marketing experts, the above, from Kristin Zhivago’s keynote, “The Buyer’s Funnel and Your Political Power: Joined at the Hip,” may have been my favorite sound byte from the East Coast swing of B2B Summit 2011.

(Though I also loved her idea of “drinking from the fire hose of truth,” but I digress…)

According to Zhivago, customers’ wants and needs are unknown, and as such, Marketing is making assumptions on how to market to different segments. We’re expected to communicate with customers, but are often removed from the conversation by Sales. Essentially, the customer relationship is regularly outsourced to Sales, relinquishing control of our most crucial job function. Think about it, if your CEO asked, “What does the customer want?” would she ask you or someone in Sales?

And the answer to that question has never been more crucial. Thanks to the continually growing importance of easily accessible information on the Internet to buyer decisions, customers have been forced into a position of power, and are more in charge of the buying process than ever before, leaving companies to struggle with this shift in power.

More than 80% of customer questions are answered before talking to a salesperson. Their information needs are being met by other customers, not company authorities.

In short, if you can’t answer customers’ questions both internally and with your marketing, you’re abandoning your position of authority in your organization and undercutting all of your marketing efforts.

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Account for changes in buyer behavior

In order to coordinate your efforts with true buyer behavior, marketers need to do things correctly from the customer’s experience. By making good on marketing promises, we stand a greater chance that customers will recommend us to peers for getting answers to any and all of their questions.

How to do this? Simple – be there for your customers. If they’re talking to a friend, be sure you’re listening. If they visit your website and read, make sure you provide strong, educational content.

And for the love of everything good and green, if customers ask questions, be sure to answer.

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Learn about your customers

But don’t just answer, ask as well. According to Zhivago, “Whatever you think your customer believes to be important is likely wrong.”

A major problem with marketing today is that many of us resort to guessing about our customers’ likes, dislikes and needs. This is a problem. We need to take advantage of the tools at our disposal, such as social media, SEO, and blogs, to learn about the customer.

If we start paying attention to how they are using social resources, which search terms are most utilized, and with what frequency they use social media, we can dramatically reduce the amount of guesswork involved in customer communication.

While evidence-based marketers tend to be data hungry, data can’t answer all of these questions.

For example, determining search terms. If you’re just looking at your top inbound keywords in an analytics platform, you’re not seeing the entire picture. Was that the first keyword they typed in, or the third because they couldn’t find what they were looking for the first two times? (And how much can you improve your results by catching them the first time?)

Thankfully, current customers will teach you how to sell to new customers, by revealing:

  • Why they bought
  • How they bought
  • Concerns
  • How you satisfied those concerns
  • What they now tell others
  • What they typed into Google
  • Trends and challenges (your opportunities)
  • Weakness of competitors

By taking advantage of this information, marketers will be better able to assess customers’ buying processes; provide more accurate, thorough answers to pressing questions; be prepared to escort them through the funnel; and create a more synchronous relationship with Sales by better communicating with them throughout.

When accomplished, this streamlining creates a more customer-centric environment, which, in turn, brings power and control over the buying process back to marketing, helping to fix a broken marketing process, once and for all.

You can meet Kristin and see her keynote at the West Coast swing of B2B Summit 2011, October 24-25, in San Francisco.

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Related Resources:

Guided by Buyers: 4 tactics to create a customer-centric sales and marketing strategy

What is B2B?: Discovering what the customer wants by understanding your Buyer’s Funnel

The Data vs. Creativity Debate: Is successful marketing driven by analytics or art?

B2B Marketing: Embracing customer centricity

MarketingSherpa 2011 B2B Marketing Benchmark Report

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B2B Marketing



  1. October 18th, 2011 at 10:44 | #1

    Great post, Brad…Marketers have an important role in understanding customers better as you so aptly point out – we also have a responsibility to help understand customer value as well. Sharing a link to a white paper here that talks about not just being customer-centric, but understanding customer value – hope you find it interesting…it is one of the ways marketing brings extra value to the B2B buying process:
    http://www.pb.com/docs/US/pdf/SIS/ccmsoftware/wp_custcentrictelecom.pdf

  2. Emily Carter
    October 18th, 2011 at 15:41 | #2

    Brad, great post. I think it’s important for marketers today to use the social tools to their advantage and INTERACT with the consumer. Being able to communicate with them is a great way to find out more about them and to also prove to them that you are there for them as a company. Providing valuable content is another way to do that, which is why we try to fill our blog and social media sites chock full of interesting and informative content here at Grass Roots Marketing. (www.grmwebsite.com) Thanks for the great info!

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