Sometimes, I think we all share the same grand delusion---the belief that our marketing struggle is against competitors who constantly try and steal customers, opportunities, and market share from us and that leads to a long, endless war of attrition. It's a war fought trench by trench in what seems a fruitless effort to influence potential customers to buy from us instead of the rival company.
After over a decade of working with global enterprise companies, I have been able to work with them to identify five key failures that not only reinforce this belief system but severely disable our ability to adapt or change to a rapidly changing market and customer.
Failure 1: Minimizing the Importance of Peer and Customer Recommendations
In an era of hyper-connectivity, our biggest failure as B2B marketers very well could be our ignorance of how connected the world has become. It has been a silent, fast, and powerful shift enabling customers to “lift the veil” on you as a potential supplier and partner---without you every knowing what was said and how it has influenced their decisions.
Understanding and harnessing the power of these “influencer undercurrents” is critical now more than ever to building confidence in your brand before you even directly touch a customer the first time.
Failure 2: Myopic Focus on Big Data
Big data. This term has been a growing concern of mine with the rapid advance of social analytics, which in my opinion is like sorting through a trash bin for a half-eaten slice of pizza. You have reached a point of diminishing returns when our understanding of the customer becomes so needlessly complex that we miss some of the simplest insights that drive sustainable customer acquisition: Keep it simple for me and make me feel good about my decision.
Laser focus on the scientific dissection of the customer destroys our instinct about how to engage and interact with people. Data needs to be balanced by humanity within the customer acquisition life cycle to be of any use.
Failure 3: Corporate Hubris
We’ve all been forced to sit through a dinner or meeting with an absolutely obnoxious bastard who goes on and on about how great they are. Do we ever look forward to seeing them again? Do we avoid them? Do we speak poorly of them to others? Many corporations market the same way---a relentless egotistical barrage of how great they are and how lucky you will be if you only decide to become a customer.
This circles back and compounds the affects of our first failure: People talk about us. Do you really know what people are saying? Are your survey questions safe because you don’t want the truth?
Failure 4: Friction Between Buying and Selling Process
To explain this, I turn to Issac Newton’s Third Law of Motion, which states when a body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction. Buying and selling processes in enterprise markets are very similar. When we exert, even the most thought-out sales process on a potential customer, they push back with equal force with a thought-out buying process. The result? A direct negative impact on our ability to convert leads and reduce sales cycles.
Failure 5: Poor Hand-off to Internal Partners
So many great starts to customer relationships have failed in the hand off. Why? Marketing has a different perspectives on the customer relationship than other internal partners, including sales, customer service, finance, and so on---a factor that fundamentally changes the customer experience from relationship to transaction, from a person to a quota and from engagement on their terms to pressured timelines and rigid sales process.
How Do We Overcome This?
My esteemed colleague Sam Fiorella would have you believe it is better to invest in customer development---that to improve loyalty, improve share of wallet, and increase net promoter scores is the answer to your customer acquisition woes. While this advice is well-intentioned, it is sure to hobble even the most proficient marketing organization as you now divide your attention and diminishing resources between both acquisition and development.
I would put forward that the key is to rethink not what we are doing in customer acquisition, but how we are acquiring customers. By taking customer acquisition from a data-driven transactional science to an enlightened art form of customer engagement, we avoid the need to invest in customer development and can leave that to the rest of the organization. I mean, don’t we as marketers have enough accountability already?
You will be judge and jury at this year’s MarketingProfs B2B Forum in Boston on October 4 and 5 as I teach Sam that customer development is a viable strategy only when you fail at customer acquisition.