The senior VP of marketing at a successful global technology company recently held her fiscal year 2016 planning meeting at a rustic, isolated hotel in the mountains, keeping the focus on business, not pleasure, for her senior global marketing team.

Her intention was to center all of their B2B marketing efforts on performance rather than activities, outcomes rather than deliverables.

As the team settled in for the first session, her VP of US marketing asked: "What should we use as guidelines for making decisions about priorities?"

After that question, the rest of the agenda was shelved, and they spent the entire day trying to create a consistent framework to help make the choices for every decision based on the performance and outcomes strategy.

What are those guidelines for making choices and setting priorities in your marketing organization?

To achieve success in 2016, these are the most important questions for marketers to ask:

  1. What are the reasons our sales teams lose deals they should have won?
  2. What key value do we deliver that sets us apart from the competition?
  3. What are the driving motivators behind the decisions that our customers make?

1. Why do we lose?

At a marketing conference recently, I asked the attendees (marketing directors and higher-ups from large companies) to tell the rest of the audience what the No. 1 reason was for sales losses at their company—specifically, deals that they should have won, not deals for which they did not have a good solution. A surprising number of marketing leaders didn't know the answer.

Because so many prospects are progressing so far along the purchasing journey by themselves, well before a sales team member becomes involved, answering that question is not just a sales-enablement function. If prospects are drawing the wrong conclusions about our solutions, or not understanding our competitive differentiation, addressing those issues early on in their information-gathering processes is critical to establishing a solid foundation for sales success later.

In fact, if we don't build the appropriate positioning and thought leadership before the customer is in buying mode, it may be impossible for the sales team to win after the customer does become engaged, even if our solution is the best value for that customer.

Often, we learn more from our failures or disappointments than we do from our successes. We should therefore be asking those customers who did not buy from our company to help explain their decisions—so that we can build a B2B marketing strategy to avoid losing such deals in the future.

What may be surprising is that many of the answers will likely be related to a lack of understanding of our differentiated value.

2. What is our differentiated value?

When we put ourselves in the customers' shoes and honestly evaluate how our solution will affect their business, we create a transparent way to communicate with prospects and customers.

Rather than telling them what features are different, we should be able to tell stories describing the outcomes that our solutions deliver and how customers will experience those outcomes. Will our use of innovative technologies result in equipment that lasts longer, with fewer service calls and less downtime? If so, the value we may deliver is all about uptime and reliability, not the technology our engineers have innovated.

By leading with the customer experience that sets us apart, our differentiated value can be internalized by the prospects in a way that is much more powerful than when we describe "how" we are able to deliver that unique result. Think about focusing your key value statements on your solution's ability to meet real needs of the customers that your competitors simply cannot meet (or don't meet nearly as well.) It's not that you have five more widgets, or advanced process technology—it's that the customer will experience a significantly better outcome along a decision dimension that matters to them (perhaps because of those widgets or process technologies.)

In 2016, we need to be focused not on what's different about our solution but why it matters to the customer. That's the real value.

But even if we have clearly articulated our differentiated value, is that a guarantee that customers will buy? Not unless our unique value aligns with issues that matter to our customers

3. What motivates the customer?

Behavioral psychology research has proven that when we make decisions (even business decisions) we are influenced by both analytical and emotional factors. What seems surprising to most people is the dominant level of influence that emotion plays in almost every decision.

Organizational culture can set the "emotional" tone in a way that people in the organization behave in a consistent manner and are driven by the same emotional drivers. But even if there are common organizational and cultural themes, the people involved will have their own drivers as well.

In fact, every person in the organization has three levels of decision motivators when making important business decisions:

  1. What's best for the company?
  2. What's best for my career?
  3. What's best for me, individually?

When a marketer helps answer those questions (both from the perspective of analytical and emotional decision drivers), the individuals in the decision process become much more predisposed to select the marketer's solution.

Whether there are conscious or subconscious affiliations, a preference for your company's solutions can be aligned with each of those drivers because you can make very specific appeals to the rational (e.g., ROI) and the emotional (e.g., innovative or trend-setting) motivational dimensions.

Knowing, for example, that the customers' decision-making is based on highly conservative values (perhaps because of a highly regulated industry or a specific corporate culture of risk-aversion) can facilitate a focused set of value propositions highlighting the stability of the solution, or the security of the data, etc.

When customers are driven by a need to continually reduce time-to-market, for example, the key value propositions highlighting the speed with which your solution can be updated to account for the customers' changes will be most effective.

Aligning actual solutions benefits (not just the marketing messages) with the true dimensions that define customer motivators will resonate with your audience and drive adoption and retention.

* * *

As you plan your B2B marketing for 2016, think about prioritizing your budget and take time to answer and address...

  • Why prospects didn't buy (in those cases when we believe that they should have)
  • What the real value is that separates us from all other alternatives
  • What actually motivates customers when making their decisions

You will see that the relationships between the answers will be the keys to your 2016 marketing success.

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The Three Most Important B2B Marketing Questions for 2016

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image of Gavin Finn

Gavin Finn is president and CEO of Kaon Interactive, a provider of interactive 3D marketing and sales applications that help B2B marketers and salespeople consistently demonstrate and differentiate products.

LinkedIn: Gavin Finn