Today's guest blogger, Bob Thompson, is CEO of CustomerThink Corp., an independent research and publishing firm focused on customer-centric business management, and Founder/Editor-in-Chief of CustomerThink.com, the world's largest community dedicated to customer-centric business.
Imagine going into bank to open up a checking account with a few dollars you've managed to scrape together. But based on your grungy attire it doesn't seem likely (to the banker) that you'll be a valuable customer. You're made to wait an hour, treated rudely, and then told your opening deposit isn't big enough to get an account.
What do you do when you leave that bank? You'll probably tell your friends, post on Facebook or Twitter and in general try to get even like Dave Carroll in United Breaks Guitars.
OK, this a consumer example. How does it relate to B2B marketing? Well, let me share another example—and this one is not hypothetical.
Last year I was looking for forms software to support CustomerThink. As I reported in my "Customer 2.0" buying experience post, I searched for solutions, interacted with various web sites and engaged with some of the vendor reps, by email or phone.
I eventually found the right solution, but that's not where the story ends. To most of the vendors that I engaged with, I was just another not-very-valuable small business buyer. And I was treated accordingly, no doubt thanks to some nifty lead scoring algorithms that have become de rigueur for B2B marketers.
Not faulting them for that, but they probably didn't factor into their scoring that I also post on CustomerThink, an online community with 80K+ visitors per month. Or that I have friends in the publishing business that are also potential buyers. And what do you know, just recently an industry colleague asked me for advice on similar tools, and I was only too happy to share my buying experience privately.
Bottom line: While I may not have been scored as a valuable prospect, I was valuable in other ways—as an influencer.
Lead Scoring is Seller-Centric
Two years ago, my B2B Marketing 2.0 article cited a statistic from CSO Insights that 60% of marketing organizations used some form of lead scoring before passing leads to sales. I'm sure that percentage has gone up considerably since then. The point of lead scoring is to assess the value of the prospect to you—the seller—so you can make the best use of your resources.
The problem with this "left-brained" approach is that it doesn't consider the prospect experience. Poorly implemented, a heavily automated buying process can leave potential buyers cold, and non-buyers feeling like they are "not worthy." Who wants to be treated like a number, or valued only based on the size of the immediate purchase?
This is classic inside-out thinking, the same thing that got CRM into trouble. While being pitched as building loyal relationships, CRM has been much more commonly implemented as a technique to extract value from customers (and prospects) as efficiently as possible. Pretty unbalanced, if you put yourselves in customers' shoes.
Scoring the Prospect Experience
What I'm advocating is that you take a time out from scoring your prospects on their ability to satisfy your immediate business needs. Instead, spend time to really understand how your prospects—all of them—perceive their experience with your brand. From the initial web search to interacting with your web site to engaging with inside or field sales reps, all of these touchpoints form an impression and influence their likelihood to recommend.
Think about it, with the classic "funnel" thinking, only a small fraction of those entering the top of the funnel are likely to become customers. But ALL prospects will form an impression! Why not take the opportunity to turn everyone into an advocate for your business, even if they are not the right fit at this point in time?
Look for opportunities to get prospect feedback. There are a variety of web analytics and web feedback solutions that can give you insight on how well the buying process is working for buyers. You could even hire "mystery prospects" to take on different personas (some valuable, some not), and share the results of how they felt after interactions.
Speaking of personas, it's a powerful technique to get inside the mind of prospects. Tony Zambito, Founder of Goal Centric and an expert in buyer personas, agrees that "in the social age it is even more important to consider the buying experiences of all the potential persona types." Such as:
- User Persona: The actual user of the product or service.
- Buyer Persona: The actual buyer of the product or service (not necessarily the user).
- Influencer Persona: Sometimes referred to as a stakeholder persona, more commonly in a B2B setting.
- Website Persona: Someone (other than buyer or user) given the task of researching products and services.
- Social Consumer or Business Persona: Active social participants.
Building a great B2B brand
There are now a stunning number of companies involved in B2B marketing automation—from vendors to consultants to analysts—all essentially promoting the idea that you can optimize your way to success. But time and time again, studies find that industry leaders and the truly great brands balance inside-out ("what's in it for me?") with outside-in ("how can I serve you better").
According to Kevin Randall, writing in It's a Fact: Strong Brands Drive B2B Markets, brands matter (in part) because they "tap into emotional drivers."
"Brands matter because companies act just like people when it comes to evaluating what products or services to buy. Along with a number of explicit rational criteria, a powerful irrational impulse is always present to influence the purchase decision. A strong brand with an effective positioning strategy speaks to and taps into the totality of these buyer needs."
So the next time you're discussing how to score prospects, think also about how they are scoring you. Delivering a great prospect experience can help you differentiate and become one of those B2B brands that businesspeople talk about like consumers rave about Zappos!