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Five Surefire Ways to Fail at B2B Customer Acquisition

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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.


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Jeff is Chief CX Architect at Sensei Inc. He has led marketing strategy implementation and software development for Symantec, Home Depot, Hewlett Packard, and other enterprise firms. As the founder of Sensei Marketing, he currently provides marketing consulting services for C-Suite executives. Jeff's proud to be a social heretic, unapologetically challenging the status quo in his staunch advocacy of customer-focused design.

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  • by @samfiorella Wed Oct 3, 2012 via blog

    Those are big words Jeff. And yes, the audience will be the judge at our debate this Friday at MarketingProfs B2B debate.

    You know the debate where the audience will hear how most buying decisions today are made before meeting with the salesman, that revenues from existing customers are more profitable than from new acquisitions and that new leads are more likely to be qualified - and thus more easily converted and cost-effective - than those from a general sales funnel?

    Yes, the debate where the audience will agree with me that times "are-a-changing" and new strategies are required to adapt.

    See you Friday.

  • by Jeff Wilson Thu Oct 4, 2012 via blog

    As I've said many times my friend, customer development is a fall back for those who cannot do customer acquisition right...

  • by Saurabh Khetrapal Fri Oct 5, 2012 via blog

    "a factor that fundamentally changes the customer experience from relationship to transaction"

    A great point, especially when you are dealing with partners. The first touch point sets up an expectation among your customers and that expectation needs to stay met every step of the process no matter who they are dealing with.

  • by Jeff Wilson Tue Oct 9, 2012 via blog

    Hi Saurabh,

    Thanks for the comment. I agree that particularly in partner channel type B2B industries, the customer experience becomes highly complex and much more difficult to manage. How do we stay connected and build a meaningful relationship with an end client who may love our product but despise who sold it to them?

    It makes a good case for looking at customer ecosystems surrounding our brand and the end customer who actually uses the product. The good thing in this scenario is it helps partners better understand and manage expectations to their customers while allowing end customers to better hold our partner accountable to higher expectations.

    An interesting challenge to say the least.

    Cheers and thanks for continuing the thinking on this!

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