Exploring Buyer Behavior With Santa Clara University MBA Students

B2B marketing is about positioning products or services to companies that can help solve business problems, right?

Not entirely.  Good B2B marketing is about selling to people, not companies. People who run these companies have needs, wants, and motivations just like anybody does — and B2B marketers must understand, message, and cater to those motivations to engage buyers and develop qualified leads that feed the revenue generation engine of the company — sales, both direct and indirect.

Tonight I shared this insight, and a few others, with with Professor Ravi Shanmugam’s Marketing 551: Marketing Analysis and Decision Making class at Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business. We talked about business buyer behavior and why great marketers need to know their audience intimately. Previously, I put the slides on Slideshare – which you can find there with a few minor changes. From my perspective at the front of the room, here are some of the points that caught the class’s interest the most:

1) Unlike consumers, whose motivations can be fickle and subject to emotionally charged (and sometimes irrational) factors, B2B buyer motivations are more straight-forward. B2B buyers want to purchase products — or hire other companies — help them solve problems, make them appear competent to management, peers, and other executives, increase their prospects for future employment, and — ultimately — increase their wealth from this success. Sure there are other factors, like power and recognition, that factor into the B2B buyer psyche, but keeping the boss happy rates right at the top.

2) B2B buying is a group effort; there is never only one “persona” that you have to understand — and communicate to — in your marketing activity.  Figuring out these key personas and the role each plays in the buying process is difficult.  New advances in marketing analytics — and the emerging ability to mine social channels and profiles — makes this easier, but it’s still a lot of hard work to get buyer profiling right.

3) B2B marketers can get caught up in the execution treadmill and tend to focus more on tactics and metrics than audience and business outcome. Simple tools, like the POST methodology and behavioral modeling (like Forrester’s Social Technographics), can keep business marketers from losing sight of marketing’s real purpose — to help build demand ahead of the pipeline and help to scale the sales organization.

4) Current customers can help to inform buyer behavior as well as acquire and influence new buyers. Case studies, customer testimonial, and affinity marketing all help to demonstrate that B2B sellers understand customer needs, can help to solve key problems, and do so in as a business partner, not just as a supplier.

As I did in October, I asked the class to share their reactions to what I presented by commenting on this blog post.  (Professor Shanmugam offered extra credit if they complied with this request!) Compared to the last cohort, these students appeared to me to have more experience with sales and marketing. A couple mentioned that they currently work in sales. They asked great questions about whether segmentation applies in account-based sales management (it does!) and what I see as the key differences between the role of the CMO and the CSO (Chief Sales Officer) in revenue generation.  Please read the comments to see whether my views resonated with these future MBA graduates and how my talk reflected their own experiences.

35 Responses to “Exploring Buyer Behavior With Santa Clara University MBA Students”

  1. To Choose Where You Play in the Market: Know Your Buyers Well « B2B Marketing POSTs by Laura Ramos Says:

    […] During the past couple of years, I have had the wonderful opportunity to guest lecture at my alma mater, Santa Clara University, to new classes of MBA students. This is something I do twice a year at most, and I love to give back to the business school that kick-started my career in marketing.  My topic is Buyer Behavior and why it matters in B2B focused organizations, where keeping a direct sales force — or channel partners — happy and productive often becomes the primary focus of the marketing organization. […]

  2. Laura Ramos Says:

    Dear Gaurav,
    Congratulations on being the first of your class to comment on the blog post this year. Thank you, too, for reviewing the online lecture. I am sorry that I could not be with you on the planned date, but I was called away on business to attend our Healthcare Forum in Denver.

    In B2B marketing, tradeshows and PR are still a very important part of the marketing mix. Both have evolved in the past 20 years — in keeping pace with the changing online world. Tradeshows have become more targeted — the large Comdex-like shows have given way to smaller, more targeted venues. Continuing education and learning are more important than visiting exhibitor booths and participating in the festivities. Attendees have less time to spend and want to spend it wisely. Ways to particpate virtually have also grown in popularity for those unable or unwilling to travel. The rise of social media has changed PR. PR professionals need to be more targeted in who they approach. It’s not enough to write a press release, blast it out on the wire, and hope the world picks it up. You have to know who you want to engage with and, through the social release, provide them with the materials, links, videos, images, etc. that help the influence write about, extend and transmit your story to a larger audience. So, in both cases, success comes with more more targeted and intimate approaches since the amount of competing media continues to increase.

    Regarding sales leads, it is very difficult for sales to get initial prospects, particularly in B2B. Firms that say they can provide you with 100s of “B2B leads” are exaggerating or offering contacts that — while they may have a business address — may not have any purchasing power or authority. Successful marketing organizations focus on generating “qualified” leads. Marketing’s job is to identify the right contacts, attract them to your message and offerings, introduce them to your company, educate them about how others solved similar business problems and position your company in the best light as a business partner and problem solver. When the leads respond by saying “yes, tell me more” — or by reaching out in the first place (and asking for a phone call or email on your Web site, for example) — then the lead becomes “qualified” and is ready for sales to take over. Striking the right balance about when to make this hand off is unique to every company and must be worked out between marketing and sales. Because it can take 8 or more touches before a lead is developed, “nurtured”, and qualified, it is most cost effective to do this through targeted marketing communication than direct sales calls or visits. Look at the lead management or lead management automation tags on my blog if you’d like to read more on this topic.

    Good luck with the rest of Prof. Ravi’s class and your journey to becoming a future MBA. — Laura

  3. Gaurav Singh Says:

    Hi Laura
    I attended your class online . I am student of MKTG 551 Spring 2012. I will like to thank you for you insights and analysis of B2B marketing which is really different from B2C marketing.
    You said in your lecture that trade shows and PR events were much more prevalent 20 years back and have diminishes a little bit. My questions is if it has diminished then is it still the major medium of B2B marketing.
    My employer who is in software applications provider runs a slogan “We make world run better” and also conducts the trade events every year where all exciting products are shared with partners and other customers.

    My question here is how difficult is for sales people to get the initial lead to prospective B2B consumers. I understand that web blogs and facebook,twitter etc were mentioned .But for getting the first attention of the consumer is very difficult unless we have his dedicated time and can share our value propostion in an elevator speech format.

    What are those mediums where initiall breakthrough can be achieved to any B2B marketer .If you can share your insights that will be helpful
    Thanks and Regards

  4. Jaya Bhatia Says:

    Laura, thank you for your very informative presentation on buyer behavior. I have no experience in dealing with the sales and marketing side of the product. Your presentation and this marketing class are providing me new insights in what really goes in the buyer’s mind and how to market the buyer’s requirements.
    You explained that B2B is not about marketing to business but about marketing to people which was a very insightful concept. In your experience, what is the best way to handle scenarios where in there are conflicting requirements for a product within an organization. How does the B2B marketer market his product to satisfy conflicting requirements of multiple teams within an organization? Does behavioral modeling provide success here?

  5. Laura Ramos Says:

    Karl, my technical undergraduate degree helped me, I think, be a better analytical marketer. Analytics — the ability to understand customer data, program results, and translate that into impact on the business — are very important qualities to good B2B marketers, as we discussed in class.

  6. Laura Ramos Says:

    Tom, while narrative elements like how many children and interests are memorable, you tend to find them emphasized more in the B2C persona than the B2B one. Understanding the persona’s desires, motivations, concerns, and key daily business activiites are more relevant details to the B2B persona.

  7. Laura Ramos Says:

    Benjamin – persona development continues to be more art than science at this point. Consulting companies that specialize in customer research may also perform persona development for a fee. Most marketers take this approach because this expertise is difficult to develop internally.

  8. Benjamin Zuffi Says:

    Greetings Laura,

    Thank you for coming out to our class to discuss your experiences in the B2B marketing arena with our class. I found the marketing personas aspect of your presentation to be very interesting and quite candidly, a little unnerving. While building a profile of a consumer or business provides marketers with very specific models of the attitudes and behaviors of specific customers, I have concerns that at some point this type of profiling will become pin-point accurate and border on privacy issues that marketing strategies did not intend.

    Is there any active research focusing on what is considered bearable limits towards building these personas? With technological advances moving so rapidly, it seems that it’s only a matter of time until this becomes a reality.

    Thanks again,
    Benjamin Zuffi

  9. Tom Kunkel Says:

    Hello Laura,

    I finally had a chance to watch the B2B Marketing lecture video. It was very insightful and I enjoyed the POST and persona topics. In our sales organization, we follow the Wilson sales process which includes relating, discovering, advocating and supporting. More often than not, the typical sales person starts promoting a solution right away before understanding the customer’s persona in order to solve their problems- goals, attitudes and buying behaviors. The best successes in sales are when a person truly understands an organizations’ structure, business and relating to the decision makers (through relationships and filling a need by find the “gap”). When defining a persona, how much information is too much (i.e. kid’s names, birthdays, interest in sports, etc.)? Obviously, knowing and sharing too much information on a person may have a negative effect (i.e. having a potential buyer close down and the relationship digressing).

    Thanks again for taking time to give this lecture at your alma mater. This is my first marketing class and it really has helped me better understanding the marketing team’s role in supporting the sales department and direction of an organization.



  10. Sreeram Says:

    Hi Laura,

    The class was very informative discussing the 4-step POST marketing strategy and fundamentals of understanding B2B buyer behavior. Thank you.

    I have a scenario based question. Assume that a B2B marketer is working on a possible multi-year contract with a multinational company (the buyer). Over time the B2B marketer has come up with the list of decision maker(s) within the buyer organization and has developed detailed personal profiles on their thought process, objectives, and motivations. The B2B marketer is confident that his product is well positioned and knows what to say to the buyers.

    Assuming that either of the two scenarios mentioned below develops in the marketplace, which could affect how the buyer’s organization makes decisions. How should the B2B marketer react? Does he have to start over the process of understanding the (new) buyer persona?
    1. There is an economic slowdown. The sales cycles could be longer. Decision makers may change requiring more approvals
    2. Due to M&A activity the buyer company is bought over. Decision makers may change. Decisions making during Interim period after M&A, when the acquiring company works out the redundancy and synergy, might be less predictable. Also the buyer’s competitive landscape might have changed.


  11. Karl Hennig Says:

    Hi Laura, thank you for visiting the class. Has your technical undergraduate degree been useful in your marketing career? I also have a technical B.S., so I am curious how you have leveraged it (if you have).

    Thank you.

  12. Santhana Says:

    Hi Laura,
    Thank you very much for taking your time for the presentation at LSB. I really enjoyed the lecture. In the 4 step POST process for B2B marketing strategy, the key is to understand people, without which the whole strategy could fail. In the first step of the POST process, where the marketer understands the people and develops personas, one needs to first identify the key decision makers in the company for purchasing a particular product or service. In a large company, the organizational structure could make this task difficult. In addition, organizational politics could affect the decision making as well. I think factors such as these could make the B2B marketing situation different from that of B2C, even though only people are involved in decision making in both cases. Could you please share your insights on how a B2B marketer could tackle these in developing personas?

  13. Padma Nagaraja Says:

    Hi Laura

    Like most others in the class, this is my first class in marketing and it has been a good exposure to basics of marketing. I understand that the kind of research you do into buyer behavior having a dedicated team is probably not feasible/affordable for small or start up companies. What specific advise do you have for such companies?

    I enjoyed your lecture, your enthusiasm and your connection to the subject. Thanks


  14. Syed Abidi Says:

    Thank for the speech on B2B marketing. Unfortunately, I could not attend the class but watched your presentation and it was informative. I have one quick question, for a company which is mainly involved in B2B for example Intel, however also want to build a brand value for the end consumer, should employ different strategy for there B2B and B2C marketting. What are some of the benefits or challenges for utlizing one or multiple approaches for different consumers?

  15. Darren Ng Says:

    Thanks for your presentation on B2B marketing! I enjoyed the content as well as your engaging speaking style. I was the student who asked about ROI on different B2B marketing tactics. I am still thinking about this question and your comments on understanding who you’re trying to market to are still resonating with me. In health care (my industry), the customer is highly segmented and can vary significantly from hospital to hospital. In addition the health care industry tends to be a little bit slower in adopting new technology, making marketing to them a challenge. Any thoughts on how to attack this problem would be great!

  16. Joshua Chan Says:

    Hi Laura,

    I really enjoyed your presentation on Thursday. A thought that occurred to me after the class was that B2B marketers seem to be slow to adopt mobile marketing as a part of their strategy of reaching key individuals. I would imagine that this platform has synergy with the mining that goes on in social channels, as you mentioned in your slides. Any thoughts on potential hurdles that B2B marketers have to overcome in the mobile space that B2C doesn’t worry about as much?



  17. Gio Rivas Says:

    Laura, interesting topic! Thanks for sharing with us this intelligent insight. I have a comment on buyer motivation and a two-part question on Persona. In addition to all the reasons you mentioned, in my experience, buyer motivation is also driven by the desire or need to offer a specific product or service to customers. This is another factor that comes into play in many established companies when seeking to enhance their product portfolio and company’s value proposition.
    In regards to Persona, the two examples showed in the slide focus on qualitative features of decision makers. I wonder a) if there are any quantitative features relevant about decision makers; and, b) at what point these features become a requirement (versus just a guidance) in order to considered someone among the “five” targeted decision marker.

  18. Manoj Abraham Says:

    Thanks for the informative presentation. I have couple of questions
    1.) Is there a industry standard on the percentage of sale cost that should be spend on B2B marketing
    2.) I work at Cisco Service Provider BU , our customers are typically large SP’s like ATT. I have noticed that typically there are multiple people(5-10) involved in customer decision making each focusing on different aspects ( like value, technology , price etc). How is this situation approached in B2B marketing?

  19. Agnes Jacquet Says:


    Thanks for sharing your experience. What struck me the most are the similarities between B2C and B2B marketing – the buyer behavior steps, segmentation, positioning etc.. Even the use of “personas” (in my company we actually use the concept of personas to understand consumers). Also, with the use of diverse social media, our professional and personal identities intertwine. It all comes down to people and their motivations.


  20. Debasree Banerjee Says:

    It was very inspiring to hear your lecture on B2B marketing. The way you explained the synergies and differences between B2C and B2B marketing was very insightful. In B2B scenario, how important is the role of product management as opposed to product marketing? In some companies these two roles are merged together. Do you think large companies should have separate positions for these two roles?

  21. Stephen Harrison Says:

    I enjoyed Laura’s presentation on B2B marketing because it tied together current marketing approaches with marketing theory. I found it interesting how much traditional methods of marketing have rapidly declined due to the internet. It is no surprise in both B2B and B2C marketing, reaching the target audience through eChannels is much more effective.

  22. Brian Choquette Says:

    I was surprised to learn how detailed the description of each persona could become. It ranged from the expected goals and frustrations of the individual, all the way to how many years they had been with a company and general reassurances that they would likely need to hear when discussing the product or service. This type of focused marketing approach, would seem to me, to be highly effective when applied correctly. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us Laura.

  23. Vishwas Shetiya Says:

    Hello Laura,

    Watched the B2B Marketing Video Lecture. It was very fruitful.

    Had a few questions:

    1. Is Business to Business Marketing more challenging when the businesses (companies) do not belong to same country ( not headquartered in same country). Can you share something from your experience.

    2. In the persona section there is a sample description for Carl the coordinator. I see that in the personal Information section his Marital status is mentioned. Why is this information relevant here ? Instead I feel that personal information can name the school’s he has graduated from so that the company can find an appropriate person to deal with Carl [ Say an alumni from the same school if available]. Later, personal details can be collected such as anniversary dates, birthday etc. which may help to maintain the relationship with the customer .


  24. Laura Ramos Says:

    Justin, it depends on what your are selling and how many different “types” are involved in the purchase process. Five is a good average that I have seen, but the number could be higher or lower. For example, when I worked at Forrester Research, Forrester had 19 different “personas” that represented the key business roles for whom the analysts wrote research. The “CMO” was one of several marketing-oriented roles. I also worked with a large network technology provider as a client and they focused on 3 major personas – the “executive decision maker”, the “business analyst” and the “technologist”.

  25. Laura Ramos Says:

    You are welcome, Hua. Yes partnerships are vitally important to B2B marketing and B2B company growth. Xerox uses many partners including resellers, agents (who can sell Xerox products as well as those from other companies), and alliance/technology partners (who build solutions using our technology.) Partner strategies can be similar to direct channel selling (through a sales force) or quite different. I think they both require marketing to understand who the ultimate end-user is so that marketing can enable the sales force (direct) or partner channels (indirect) to carry the right message to that buyer.

  26. Laura Ramos Says:

    Spencer, thanks for the comment. That’s a tough question to answer without knowing in which stage of its lifecycle the small company is operating. If it’s a startup, I would say that marketing needs to focus on building awareness with a very specific, targeted audience to help sales find those first, very important sales that will help to validate your product/service and act as reference for future business.

  27. Laura Ramos Says:

    Nikhil, thanks for the comment. I think you have to really understand how your buyers use social media to inform their purchase decisions to know how social media fit in your go-to-market plans. Consumer products can benefit from unexpected positive word-of-mouth that social media can help to spread. Negative sentiment can also spread this way quickly — just look at what buyers say about AT&T and iPhone coverage on Twitter. But with B2B, high-consideration products/services, this type of online social activity may not reach an audience that relies more on peer decision making from trusted advisors. These decision makers are more likely to pick up the phone or call a meeting rather than check out what others think about another company on social networks.

  28. Laura Ramos Says:

    Dyana, I’m glad I was able to help invigorate your interest in B2B marketing. Understanding prospect/buyer motivations is key in all marketing whether B2B, B2C or nonprofit. I think your understanding of how important this understanding is when working in the nonprofit world would provide valuable experience in helping B2B companies shape their communications around buyers needs, not the company’s.

  29. Dyana Mathis Says:


    I really appreciated your presentation and found it to be very helpful in understanding B2B marketing in general. Your point at the beginning of the class about B2B marketing still focusing around people really stood out to me. I think it is easy to forget about the individual motivations within a company or organization. My background has been in non-profit management where my experiences have shown this to be not only true but invaluable insight in working with organizations as a whole. This has made me interested in the future trends for B2B marketing as far as the tools and models that are used in order to better evaluate B2B marketing tactics. As you stated, the changes in information sharing and networking will be a strong factor in shaping the marketing world and its B2B marketing techniques. At the risk of sounding over complimetary, your presentation has sparked my interest in this area. Thank you for your enthusiasm and sharing your expertise!


  30. Nikhil Says:

    Hello Laura,
    I really liked your presentation yesterday. It was very interesting to note that what a marketing team needs to do so that the sales team can go ahead and sell the product. Without marketing, the sales team doesn’t have much to do.

    Being a full time student, this is my first encounter with a marketing course, and for that reason, anything to do with marketing. I know that marketing the product, in the “right” way is the most important thing any organization needs to do. And this was very much evident from yesterdays lecture. It seems there is just so much that marketers need to do to get the attention of prospective customers, and still, there is no fixed method that they can implement. Obviously, the method marketers might use to attract customers depends on the customer and the work they are doing. However, due to the growing importance of social media, no matter what industry a company is in, there usually is a team dedicated only to the social networking sites. Doesn’t this obviously make Internet marketing an obvious focus for marketers to gain customer base?

    Also, I would like to thank you for your valuable time, and giving us an insight into the techniques that marketers need to use.


  31. Jason Hansen Says:

    I realized after hearing Laura speak that I often fall into the trap of being too focused on my product and not enough on the person. I need to do a better job of creating a persona for the buyer and determine if they are looking for a business partner or merely a technology provider and approach them accordingly. I also got her message that the product (or service) that solves the problem and is perceived as a safe decision is the one that generally wins over the buyer and makes the participants on both sides of the transaction look good. Win/Win!

  32. Spencer hsu Says:

    Great discussion yesterday at SCU. One comment and then question I had was that marketing is such a large field with so many resources required to do something well. If you were in a small company with very limited resources, what marketing strategies would you suggest for a B2B service type of environment?

  33. Hua Pan Says:

    Hi, Laura:

    Thank you very much for taking your time to give us a speech on B2B marketing. I have no experience with marketing before and both your speech and Professor Ravi Shanmugam’s Marketing 551 have greatly broadened my knowledge.

    My company sells products through partnership, which is B2B marketing, right? Does Xereox use partner to sell the products too? Is this partnership B2B marketing strategy different from general B2B marketing strategy? My company has partnership reward program to encourage our partners to sale more of our products and their loyalty. After having attended your B2B marketing presentation, I am interested in exploring my company’s B2B marketing strategy by talking with our marketing staff.

  34. Justin Winokur Says:

    Laura, I’m one of the students you spoke to last night. I’ve been VERY excited about using personas to help me in my B2B marketing efforts. Is there a maximum number of personas that one should consider when using the POST method? I’ve identified five I’d like my company to target and I’m wondering if that number is too high, too low, or just right?

  35. Frank Carrizo Says:

    Laura, thank you for your extremely informative presentation. I’m not in the sales and marketing side of business, I’m in Tech Support currently. But your presentation highlighted something for me which I am starting to realize in all aspects of business. This ‘know your audience’ mentality could really be applied to any endeavor whether it be internal or external, customer-facing or even within your own team. This idea that whatever you are promoting, a product, process, or document, that it should really speak to the receiver of the pitch. Now this is easier said than done when the audience has goals which aren’t perfectly aligned. And finally, I used to work for Xerox too, so go Xerox!

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