In this week’s episode of the State of Sales Enablement, we spoke with Abby Sorensen. Abby is at the heart of the discussion of modern B2B buyer-centric marketing.
She got her start in the business world running events like car shows, hunting and fishing shows, home and garden shows, and other companies looking to jump into the B2B world and start learning about experiential marketing.
Ironically, Abby spent a lot of time writing and talking about how events are not the most efficient way to market to the modern consumer. While her background is in events, she has always loved to write. She’s been an editor for a few different B2B markets, and has recently started combining her love for both editing and marketing.
Her publication Follow Your Buyer provides B2B marketers, specifically those working with sales teams, information about the changing market and the buyer journey. The name couldn’t be more literal: when people ask Abby what she’s up to at work, she likes to say,
“Oh, just following buyers.”
They don't want to force buyers into their process. They don't want to stock their buyers. They don't want to annoy their buyers. They want to follow their buyers, and that's how they end up leading them to the purchase decisions.
The Pandemic Effect on Buyer-Centric Marketing
From Abby’s perspective, the pandemic accelerated a change that had started four or five years ago. Events were struggling, not necessarily from the perspective of the vendors and suppliers who were attending them, as they were more popular than ever for that side. The decline started with the buyers. The buyer strain has been increasingly digital, long before COVID-19 became part of our vocabulary.
It's not that there isn't a place for events anymore, and there will most likely be a comeback once the globe has made it to the other side of Covid. More specifically, Abby believes once the pandemic is behind us, we'll see a return to more niche, more personal, smaller scale conferences, instead of massive trade show floors.
There are a couple of reasons for the decline in event popularity.
First, the cost of events got really crazy. Suddenly, it cost $10,000 to sponsor a sticker on a wall, or a happy hour cost your entire marketing budget for the year. As the cost fell out of sync with sponsoring events, it just became a race to the bottom.
It’s impossible to keep up with the biggest players in the space, who could afford the biggest booth and the most sponsorships and the best parties, which meant three or four gorillas took over the majority of events.
From there, the rest of the suppliers struggled to keep up.
The conclusion to all of these changes has resulted in a consistent solution across the board: hybrid events, a combination of in-person and digital.
In this way, events will continue to have an intimate setting, and the content generated through these events can be scaled to reach beyond the region or locality to attract more people.
Mastering the Art of Collaboration
One of Abby’s main roles deals with internal collaboration. Working for a media company that's evangelising the “Follow your Buyer” buyer-centric marketing methodology, it’s important for Abby to support their internal sales team and teach them how to follow their buyers.
Additionally, Abby and her team choose to work closely with their partners, consulting on their content strategy and training them to perfection in the basics.
Everybody wants to have shorter sales cycles. Everybody wants better leads. Everybody wants to do content marketing, especially since the pandemic.
The problem? Most people don't know what that actually means in practice. Here are a few of the basics that Abby and her team emphasise when training their partners:
- Measuring the amount of content needed to get started
- Choosing the best channels to share the content
- Engaging the leads that are generated with the sales team
- Evolve content to engage new and regular buyers
One of the most common issues Abby and her team deal with is number three.
For example, a B2B marketing team will buy into the idea of thought leadership, invest in creating the content, distributing it specifically where their buyers are likely to engage with it, and, naturally, they generate good leads.
This is usually where the mistake occurs in buyer-centric marketing.
As soon as those leads get kicked over to the sales team, the tone completely shifts into “sell-at-all-costs-mode”.
It's up to the marketers of the world to educate their internal sales teams on how to focus on “following your buyer”. In order to see true success using the method, you have to be truly buyer-centric- you have to actually want to help your buyer.
When creating a buyer journey, it's vital to ensure a seamless transition from marketing to sales, and then from sales to customer success, and so on.
It benefits everyone involved in the B2B purchasing process to remember that their buyers are their people.
Abby uses the analogy of purchasing a new car to illustrate this concept.
When we go to purchase a new car and we step on a car lot, we don't want to talk to a sales person. We've already done our own work. Sometimes, we just want to browse. We really only want to talk to the car salesman when we're ready to drive off the lot with the vehicle.
When working on the “selling” side, it’s easy to forget that dynamic exists.
In the end, the art of collaboration doesn’t just include Abby and her team, or her team with their partners, it’s also connecting partners with their buyers.
Understanding and Adapting to Pandemic Buyers
B2B marketers can be guilty of assuming that there's only one buyer's journey, and that all of their buyers fall into a single category. This oversight might be in terms of company size, industry, or even company philosophy or culture.
The truth is, there are companies in the same industry, in the same niche, looking for the same products, that have accelerated their buyer's journey during the pandemic, and an equal amount that have completely paused all purchasing.
This can be a really hard concept for sales teams to understand, because if there can be no generalisations, that means every single prospect needs to have a completely different process on a completely different timetable.
Abby believes that the buyer's journey is often only a symptom of what's going on underneath the surface, which means smart companies will ask the question, what has really changed for my buyer? Without looking at one specific buyer, the primary answer is simple: people's lives.
People have started working from home for the first time in their careers. Many have financial problems to deal with due to pandemic-related issues like pay cuts, layoffs, and housing difficulties. They might be homeschooling their kids for the first time, or dealing with changes in how they share responsibilities with their partner.
On top of that, even if someone has managed to avoid the dozens of Covid-related complications in their personal life, there have been extreme changes in organisational structures and dynamics within companies. Budgets get cut, teams are decentralised, there’s an increased difficulty to collaborate and make buying decisions.
To stand out and make a difference both with partners and buyers you have to have empathy, and the capacity to understand the underlying issues in order to really be an asset. This is what leads to a shift in buyer-centric marketing: no amount of sales-charm will resolve underlying issues.
So, for marketers who haven't done a lot of content marketing, or haven't really worked with their sales team closely in producing a lot of content, what should be your first step?
What are the first steps to create a solid foundation for that process?
1) Talk to your buyers.
This is the most important step. The mistake that many marketers make is approaching their sales team to start the conversation of content creation. What the sales team thinks they need will probably be very different from what your buyers want to engage with. Start by talking to current customers and prospective buyers, and show them that you care about their long term success, not just making a quick dollar.
2) Develop the content and educate your sales team
3) Pursue the resources you need in order to make the change you want.