To Choose Where You Play in the Market: Know Your Buyers Well

What do MBAs need to know about Buyer Behavior?

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.

Tomorrow night, I will attempt to impart words of wisdom to Professor Ravi Shanmugam’s next class of unsuspecting scholars.  As always, I will ask them to share their reactions to my presentation by commenting on this blog post. Most Santa Clara MBA students are employed full-time at top Silicon Valley firms and many hail from technical or engineering backgrounds.

Which will make for interesting discussion, since my comments tomorrow evening will focus a bit more on the healthcare industry. I plan to talk about how — in my new role this year heading up industry marketing across Xerox – we are making online, social, traditional and (frankly) unexpected moves in this industry.  Unlike high tech, this is an industry where Xerox is better known for supplying copiers used at the nurses’ station or admissions desk than for solutions we bring to hospitals, insurance companies, government agencies and employers to help them simplify how each manages the health of its respective populations.

Segmentation, personas, and behavior profiling continue to be the tools that good marketers use to understand how and communicate why buyers purchase from technology suppliers. Increasingly, these tools also help marketing executives determine where to head in a strategic direction (e.g.  grow current solutions versus invest in new ones), define how an organization uniquely creates value and plan how – through market execution – to deliver that value to customers.

Today, I think many B2B marketers stop at segmentation and targeting when they answer the question “what type of buyer should we attract?” The temptation to put buyers in broad, all-encompassing categories is difficult to resist.  Marketers want their message heard by more people than fewer.  The irony is that less truly becomes more in many B2B marketing opportunities.

Better marketers (and their sales counterparts) understand the detailed, specific issues buyers face in their respective markets. They understand what motivates buyers and why one buyer’s needs are distinct from another.  This understanding makes it easier to engage prospects in meaningful conversation about how your products and services can help them. Demonstrating that you are part of a community focused on solving key business problems (not just trying to sell stuff) is also important to creating belief in buyers that it is worth the time to have a conversation with you. Personas are a primary tool to help you move from technology supplier to industry insider. Relentless study about who buyers are and what causes them to buy keeps these personas current and useful as tools.

This is the essence of the advice I hope to convey to this class of soon-to-be-MBAs.  I will see how successful I am at achieving this goal based on the comments I receive to this post.  Won’t you join me in reading their comments and seeing how I did?  Expand the comments link below and join the conversation.

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