May 10, 2016
by Tony Zambito
There is a big problem when it comes to B2B customer research. And, most B2B executives may be unable to see or recognize the problem. The scarier notion is some may not even know it exists.
What is this big problem?
According to various studies over the years (by credible institutions such as Harvard) regarding market and customer research, approximately 80% or better of B2B customer research is conducted to reinforce current assumptions about customers. Rather than, to explore new concepts, hypotheses, uncover new opportunities, gain revealing insights into issues, and seek new innovative ideas.
In my years since launching Buyer Persona Research, the most successful companies utilizing buyer personas have made it about the latter – not the former. That is, making their buyer personas about customer research and not confirming existing buyer profiling assumptions. However, a big problem exists in buyer persona research and development today. Which is, a majority of buyer persona development efforts are focused on reinforcing incorrect assumptions about B2B buyers.
Myths Hurting B2B Marketing And Sales
Through inertia and organizational assimilation, B2B executives can form a base of assumptions about customers. These assumptions can then get in the way of truly understanding their customers. Unknowingly, B2B executives can make important decisions relative to marketing and sales strategies based upon mythical assumptions. Which, have been ingrained into B2B thinking over a period of decades.
These mythical assumptions B2B executives should check at the door are:
Myth 1: Buyers think and act in neat stage-gated linear processes when evaluating solutions.
The bottom line here is that buyers do not act or think in this way. What has transpired in the last few years is B2B Marketing have taken the notion of customers having processes and policies they need to follow for purchasing and transformed this notion into a mythical buyer’s journey. As opposed to a buyer’s focus on their situational scenario. I recently wrote an article on the waste of content that is resulting from this assumption. Primarily from attempts to create multiple pieces of content for each perceived stage. Thus, inundating customers with non-relevant content.
This assumption also comes with another corollary myth. That is, as buyers progress through an assumed stage-gated buyer’s journey, they are evaluating buying criteria and requirements solely. As we are learning, the power of emotions and intangibles (and important to add – often unquantifiable) other than logic are proving to be bigger influences on how buyers decide.
Myth 2: Buyers can explain how they think, their recent activities, and behaviors to describe their buying decisions.
When it comes to high-stakes buying decisions in B2B markets, we can all agree there is plenty of thinking going on. An assumption often made and acted upon is buyers can recount and explain how they arrived at their thought processes and decisions. Based on decades of studies in the social sciences, it is estimated that 95% of human thinking takes place in the unconscious minds of people. Meaning people only have a 5% capability to recall and rationalize their thinking and behavior.
The implication here is that buyers usually can not explain their thinking and decisions with accuracy. It is a big difference. What they can do is rationalize their choices. When buyers rationalize, there is a tendency to justify and apply logical reasoning to their choices and decisions. Thus, what B2B executives may hear from buyers may be completely different than what actually occurred.
Another implication is buyers will have difficulty recalling their experiences. Recall and memory can be influenced by hindsight and revisions based on situations they have encountered. (A central issue as to why win-loss interviews are inappropriate for buyer persona research.)
Myth 3: Buyers make buying decisions independently and mutually exclusive from other situations and decisions.
Often, there is a tendency to have tunnel vision that the buyer’s decision respective to an organization’s products or services is the only one they are focusing in on. This can apply to buying teams as well. Where B2B executives can assume that buying teams are dedicated to just one decision.
Critical choices and decisions are influenced by interactions with others – both people and organizations. Other factors such as corporate and country cultures play a role. The main point is that choices and decisions are usually part of an integrated web of other situations, scenarios, systems, choices, and decisions. Thus, tunnel vision on this myth can cause B2B organizations to miss the larger story.
Myth 4: Buyers receive and clearly understand existing marketing and sales messaging.
Investments are made annually to message to prospects and customers. Once these investments are made, B2B executives can operate from assumptive perspectives that messages received from their organizations are received clearly. Assuming customers read them, absorb them, and interpret them as intended.
If this were truly the case, then for most B2B companies’ information and content marketing would be a slam dunk. And, the boom in content marketing consultancy, conferences, and technology would dry up overnight. In my years of qualitative research in this area directly with buyers, it is evident buyers do not adsorb clearly as intended. They often reinterpret messaging they receive to fit the mental frame of what they are currently or have experienced. Yet many marketing and sales strategies operate on this assumption.
(I cannot tell you how many times I have heard a B2B executive exclaim to me, “that’s not what that message is supposed to say” when learning how customers actually interpreted or received information.)
Leads To Mistaken Customer Understanding
These four myths can cause challenges for B2B executives and lead to errors in understanding customers. Such as:
- To confuse a preponderance of data analytics, for example, that is focused on confirming current assumptions as “new” customer insight
- Poorly constructed buyer research, buyer persona development, and buyer journey mappings can lead B2B executives to focus on the wrong areas of the overall buying experience
- Treating as “gospel insight” the descriptive, rationalizing, reasoning, and explanatory information gathered from customers
- To miss crucial, often unarticulated, insights on what truly matters to customers
In these ways mentioned, these four myths can prevent B2B executives from having true customer understanding. In essence, only enabling understanding customers at the surface level. Leaving the vast deeper understanding of goal-directed behaviors and thinking that influence buying decisions left uncovered.
The myths described come from a different era in B2B marketing and sales. Yet, many B2B executives may not realize they are in play, unconsciously, when they attempt to understand the very different customers of today. Shedding light on these myths can lead to truly deeper customer understanding.
This post originally appeared on the Tony Zambito blog.
Photo credit: Flickr user Anley Piers
About Tony Zambito
Tony is a pioneer , creator, and founder of buyer personas which he established in 2001. He's an innovator of the buyer insights research and buyer persona development methodology used to to help marketers and sales professionals make informed decisions on customer and buyer strategies. Tony is a leading authority on helping organizations leverage the power of buyer insight to become market leaders. Learn more at www.TonyZambito.com.