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Understanding Your Customers

The essence of marketing is delivering the right message to the right person at the right time. I love this definition because it is simple yet powerful. In today’s complex and ever-changing markets, this truth remains constant. Now, notice how the definition starts with the customer (i.e., “right person”). Let’s begin there.

Buyers are Relying More on Digital Resources 

Today, B2B buyers are conducting more of their own research online. In fact, according to a 2018 study by CSO Insights, “More than 70 percent of buyers fully define their needs on their own before engaging with a sales representative.” Compounding this trend, buyers are reaching out to potential suppliers later in their buying process and spending less time with them.

According to a prominent Gartner study from 2019, “When B2B buyers are considering a purchase‚ they spend only 17% of that time meeting with potential suppliers.” The study also dictates, “When buyers are comparing multiple suppliers‚ the amount of time spent with any one sales rep maybe only 5% or 6%.” In markets with highly engineered products and critical components with high cost of failure, buyers are spending even more time in research mode. Indeed, customers are spending more time online, and the implication is positive for those suppliers with rich virtual buying experiences.


The Buying Process is Becoming More Complex

Industrial markets tend to be characterized by complex buying processes. Now more than ever, the research burden to support a purchase decision can be considerable. In larger organizations, functional silos, matrix authority structures, and buying committees all contribute a complicated procurement process. 

It is important to recognize that customers are consuming more information throughout their procurement process. By the time suppliers start contacting vendors, they are likely to have developed strong preferences for certain brands based predominantly on digital material and their online experiences. 


Must-Have Customer Experience

As we have seen, buyers are spending more time researching online, and their procurement process is increasingly complex. Those companies who provide a rich online experience will achieve a meaningful competitive advantage over their rivals. 

While building an Amazon-level User Experience (UX) is out of reach for most small and mid-sized industrial suppliers, incorporating the most important elements is within reach for most businesses with even a modest marketing budget. These include:

  • Relevant, self-service content that your customers need and rely on.  
  • Well organized product and company information.
  • Creditable customer reviews, testimonials, and use-cases. 
  • [To strive for] A fully online customer experience, from product selection/configuration and quotation, to purchase order and invoice, to order tracking and account management.

Defining Your Target Customer

Your marketing should always center on your customers. More specifically, your marketing activities should target your ideal customers while at the same time repelling potential customers who would be a poor fit for your company. 

Best Practice: To fully define your ideal target customer, consider hosting a cross-functional workshop to solicit the views and perspectives from across your organization. Below are several profile frameworks to draw from as you begin your discovery process. 

  • Firmographic Profile:
  • Revenue 
  • Employees 
  • Physical footprint
  • Industry segment 
  • Ownership structure 
  • Growth profile 
  • Major investments 
  • Competitive advantage 
  • Other… (as relevant to your business)  

These firmographic details will provide a detailed definition of the type of company you are targeting. You will eventually use these as search criteria for finding more of your ideal target customers.

Another framework to consider defines the stakeholders. 

Apollo’s Stakeholder-Based Profile
  • Approver: The project cannot proceed without their consent.
  • Sponsor: Someone capable of driving the decision-making process and aligning the other decision makers around their preferred option.
  • Contributor: A key member of the core decision group, with a significant contribution to make to the final decision process.
  • Gatekeeper: Someone who has the potential to veto or delay the decision - typically on technical, commercial or legal grounds (e.g., IT, procurement or legal).
  • Influencer: Someone whose opinions are sought by the core decision group but who is not part of that group.

Your company’s sales and business development teams will be able to provide a rich perspective on these roles within their target accounts. Take the time to unpack narratives around how they interact with and influence these stakeholders to win new business. Ultimately, these insights will form the core of the marketing content your company will develop and promote. 

Gartner’s Buying Journey Framework:
  • Problem Identification: We need to do something. 
  • Solution Exploration: What’s out there to solve our problem?
  • Requirements Building: What exactly do we need the purchase to do? 
  • Supplier Selection: Does this do what we want it to do? 
  • Validation: We think we know the right answer, but we need to be sure.

Lastly, take the time to map out your customer’s buying journey. While every industry is unique, detailing their procurement process, coupled with defining the involvement of stakeholders, will lead you to valuable insights. 

Lastly, don’t overlook the front-line worker who may have influence and a strong perspective. Consider a supplier of industrial air compressors. The workers who actually interact with the compressors, such as plant maintenance or quality assurance personnel, will be the ones with strong preferences, and their views are almost certainly considered even if they are not actively participating on the buyer committee or involved directly in procurement. Your content strategy (discussed in Step 3) should consider these stakeholders as well.


Suggested Reading: The New Fundamentals of Industrial Marketing

This blog is an excerpt from from my book, The New Fundamentals of Industrial Marketing. For more in-depth look at customer profiles, and for tools and strategies to build your opportunity pipeline, grab your copy here.

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