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.

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