As B2B marketers, we tend to rely on market research, industry reports, sales and partner feedback in order to shape our marketing strategy and mix. While all of them are valid approaches to understanding customer behavior, in my experience, marketers need to spend time in person with customers in order to validate our operating hypothesis and keep in touch with emerging trends.
At Cisco Connect India in Goa, I had the opportunity to listen to our customers and host a roundtable on marketing to B2B Technology buyers. We came together with a cross section of senior technology leaders to discuss the buying process, the role of marketing, and the best approaches to engaging customers that will drive a superior customer experience (CX).
Some of the notable themes and key takeaways, in no particular order, were as follows:
- Helping customers navigate the hype cycle: As marketers, we love to talk up the latest technology trends. While creating awareness is important, we need to help customer demystify complex technologies. We need to balance marketing the “What” (e.g. Cloud, AI, ML, Blockchain etc.) with approaches that help customer cross the chasm and drive early adoption by focusing on the how, when and where. How do these cool technologies fit in with business requirements? Or fill up gaps in customer infrastructure? Or are they just science projects? Vendors that help answer these questions and simplify the complex will have an edge over others.
- Driving CX requires abstracting organizational complexity: Vendors typically focus a lot on optimizing campaigns, online activities, contact centers, offline events, sales programs, partner enablement and outreach etc. However most of these approaches are done in silos. Delivering superior customer experience will require marketing, sales and partner teams to come together and optimize across domains with a more horizontal, customer-centric mindset to reduce friction across customer journey.
- Personalize interactions both in-depth and at scale: Today, technology vendors have access to staggering amounts of customer data. Yet we are only just starting to use it to drive meaningful and personalized customer experiences. Customers need us to leverage insights to personalize the customer experience both at scale (browsing, searching, shopping) and in our deep sales engagement (profiling, understating project drivers, business case development, telemetry, usage etc). Personalization done right will separate vendors who compete on speeds/feeds and price vs those that are truly strategic partners.
- Search + credible content + powerful stories = engagement: The oft repeated industry belief that a majority of buying journey is now done digitally is true, and search is where it all starts. But for search to make an impact, it needs to drive to credible content that tells stories resonating with the buyer persona, journey and pain points. Analyst reports, videos (especially how-to content), thought leadership research, customer references, genuine hard offers… are all examples of high quality content that drive engagement.
- Help customers sell internally: Trends like digital transformation, DevOps and Cybersecurity have brought many new influencers both within and outside of IT, as well as increased board oversight of IT strategy. IT leaders need help selling technology solutions to this diverse set of stakeholders. Marketers need to think about how we can help customers navigate the complex internal landscape. How can we translate and up-level technology messaging to align with broader business pain points, strategy and opportunities?
- Evolve event platforms: Traditionally, events have been a large focus of B2B marketing organizations. Given the themes above, we fundamentally need to rethink events and move away from broad, one size fits all, standalone events. We need to start thinking of events as pit stops in our customer journey, aligned to industry verticals or solution areas, powered and scaled by digital, and sized to the objectives that attendees need to drive.
The feedback I received validated much of what we have been discussing as a marketing fraternity. At the same time, it raised compelling questions on the speed of our transformation and the need for marketing to take a cross functional leadership role in designing delightful customer experiences — and ultimately delivering marketing that matters.