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Want to Engage B2B Buyers? Shift Your Focus From Customer Acquisition to Customer Development

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B2B customers have become more independent buyers in the procurement process as a result of their increasing access to information, research, and peer-recommendations. In fact, this modern buyer is something of an enigma to B2B vendors.

Traditional lead generation efforts, such as trade show and publication advertising, direct mail, and email, are decreasing in effectiveness. Lead generation through social marketing has received much hype yet case studies demonstrating real bottom-line impact are still few and far between. How does one capture their attention (and wallet-share) in an environment where competition has surpassed competitive vendors to include the increasing availability of information and perception driven by customers and non-customers alike?

Sales teams and marketing organizations are experimenting with lead generation tactics in an attempt to drive both greater volumes and conversion of leads. However, innovation (and results) within a B2B’s sales process will not occur by morphing existing lead generation practices because the problem does not lie with the tactic but the department the business looks to for lead generation.

Engaging the modern B2B buyer is no longer about sales campaigns; it’s about re-channeling your business’ sales focus, efforts, and budget from external to internal practices. Real ingenuity and results will come when the business shifts their sales efforts from customer acquisition to customer development.

Traditional Lead Generation Continues to Challenge B2B CMOs


The challenges of generating high-quality leads, as well as high volumes of leads, continue to be the main challenge of B2B CMOs. Further, there has been a decline in the tactical effectiveness from overall quality and quantity of leads generated according to B2B marketers surveyed recently. In fact, many tactics declined by 50% or more in reported effectiveness per a recent 2012 B2B Benchmark Report.

That study highlights the fact that one of the key barriers is the lack of internal resources in staffing, budgeting, or time. The next largest challenge reported is the business’ lack of ability to stop executing lead generation tactics to think and plan strategically.

These findings fuel my argument that shifting resources from customer acquisition to customer development will reap the greatest reward in today’s marketplace. Gartner Group reports that just a 1% increase in a B2B’s client retention rate could represent an average 8% increase in the business’ profits. And at the end of the day, isn’t greater profits what we’re ultimately trying to achieve?

Rethinking the Lead Generation Source


I will admit that marketing teams are---and will be---challenged to wrestle resources and budget from traditional sales departments and tactics in a sluggish economy. However, doing more of the same garners just that: more of the same, which (as the study highlights) is more dissatisfaction with lead conversion.

At this year’s MarketingProfs B2B Forum in Boston, I will be debating Jeff Wilson, my partner at Sensei Marketing, on this very issue. Unlike Jeff, I believe that focusing on customer development strategies is the innovation required to drive greater sales results for B2B organizations.

During this debate, I will demonstrate how developing the value of your existing customers, through improved customer experience and management will generate the following.

1. Increased Quantity of Leads
Moving existing customers from being just satisfied to becoming an advocate will drive greater new customer leads by populating the marketplace with positive peer-recommendations and case studies---something buyers are increasing seeking before even speaking to sales teams.

2. Greater Conversion of Leads
Monitoring and measuring the customer experience with both the products purchased and the service received across the entire customer life cycle generates the insights needed to sharpen the strategies, tactics, and messages needed to improve conversion rates with prospective customers.

3. Increased Profits
A better understanding of the relationship between the efforts to maintain a satisfied customer and the profit generated from those same customers, provides the required insight and analytics that will filter and pre-qualify prospects, thus allowing the sales team to focus those limited resources on those customers most likely to drive greater profit.

Having debated Jeff often, I’m certain he will present equally valid arguments for investing greater budget and resources into overt customer acquisition strategies. Yet, I’m confident I’ll emerge the victor in this debate.

Join us at the MarketingProfs B2B event on October 3 to 5, 2012 and judge for yourself.


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Chief CX Strategist, Sensei Inc. Sam Fiorella is credited with over 2,000 interactive campaigns, including B2B enterprise marketing strategies for such businesses as AXA Equitable, Kraft, AOL, Hitachi, Baldwin & Lyon's Insurance, Duetche Bank and Cbyeond Telecommunications. He was recently named one of the "Top 100 Social Media Influencers" by Social Tech Review and "Top 35 Social Media Connectors" by Business2Community.

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  • by Matt Tue Oct 2, 2012 via blog

    Sam, you are spot on. While traditional tactics still have effectiveness and a certain comfort level, the power of choice is in the customer's hands now more than ever. A simple Google search can tell you all you need to know about a brand nowadays (Good or bad), and customers utilize these avenues to make decisions. Advocates are the bread and butter to this new generation of enlightened consumers, and the variety of mediums that advocates can sing the praises of your brand are there for the marketer to harness.

    Great piece. I'm attending a webinar with Forrester research tomorrow http://bit.ly/VPjaWb all about the "Age of the Customer," that you might find interesting.

  • by Karl Wirth Tue Oct 2, 2012 via blog

    Sam, you mentioned a Gartner report that said "a 1% increase in a B2B’s client retention rate could represent an average 8% increase in the business’ profits." Would you be able to post in the comments a link to that report (even if we will be required to pay for it at Gartner to buy it)? My company, Apptegic, provides a customer retention solution. I would love to use this quote.

  • by Jason Lombard Tue Oct 2, 2012 via blog

    Thanks for the great read, Sam. I guess I'm struggling to see how there could be much opposition to your point. Years of sales experience have shown (me, at least) that it's always easier to sell an additional on-point product or service to a current customer than it is to try and reach a new one. I'm not saying that you shouldn't do ANY customer acquisition, but I think that most marketers are "on to the next one" too quickly.

    The sales cycle for a current customer is typically much shorter for me, since the trust-factor has already been developed. This means that concurrent jobs are much more profitable as I'm not spending as much time pre-sale. I find that I generally get a little more leash within the projects as well because of my familiarity with the customer's business. Just my two cents.

  • by @samfiorella Tue Oct 2, 2012 via blog

    Well, I'm sure my partner and opponent at this Friday's live debate will have something to say about this! :) And I agree with you.

  • by @samfiorella Tue Oct 2, 2012 via blog

    Thanks for joining the discussion. Link is on route via email. Cheers,

  • by @samfiorella Tue Oct 2, 2012 via blog

    Thanks for sharing the info Matt. Regarding your comment, too many B2B firms are stuck on the technology and gimmicks of "Social Media" to understand the underlying shift in customer thinking and how that should dictate future marketing strategies - online AND off. This Friday's debate at MarketingProfs B2B forum will definitely include this discussion.

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