B-to-B Insights: What Are We Doing Here? (Part Two)
In my June 2007 column—before taking a break to unload my summer reading list—I started to talk about the aspects of B-to-B direct marketing that appeal to me. Since the folks here at Target Marketing sensibly allow me only a finite number of column inches each month, I didn’t get that far in Part One. So I’m back with more of what I love about this business. And if you’re still reading along with me at the end, then I guess you love it, too.
I Think My Roots Are Showing
I come from a family of physicians. So it’s no surprise that the science of testing and measurement, which are the underpinnings of direct marketing, are so interesting to me. But it’s the social science of understanding human behavior and the psychology of motivating individuals to respond in specific ways that really get my juices flowing.
In our society of overworked, overcommitted people, getting anybody to pay attention to a direct marketing message—let alone respond to it—is a hugely difficult task. That, of course, is why we get paid: We are able to apply psychology to direct marketing. Put another way, we understand that “a successful direct marketing offer” and “an honest bribe” are, in fact, synonyms.
The quid pro quo between marketer and consumer basically boils down to the following promise:
Hey, Ms. B-to-B buyer! If you want exclusive, valuable, new information that could help your company make more money and save time, while making you look smart and just possibly helping you advance your career—for free—then you’re going to have to respond by telling us who you are and why you’re responding.
In a nutshell, that is the basic offer proposition of B-to-B marketing. All we have to do is execute it. What makes doing this so much fun is the cornucopia of enticing, motivating options we have at our disposal. But before I share some of the things that work, let’s review the basic motivators for B-to-B buyers.
If you looked through my summer reading list (August 2007, p. 19), you’ve heard of Victor Schwab. In 1956, he developed a definitive chart of what consumers want. (To view Schwab’s list, visit http://tinyurl.com/yq8m3q.) These human desires basically haven’t changed in 50 years. (They do, however, vary according to age, life or family situation, and personal goals. So, to the extent that you are able to identify these variables you will, of course, want to factor them into your offer strategies.)
In 1956, there was no such discipline as B-to-B marketing. Or at least, it wasn’t called B-to-B marketing. But this doesn’t mean we can’t borrow from Victor Schwab’s list to make a list of our own. So here are my top 10 motivators for the B-to-B target audience:
They want to:
1. Be up-to-date
2. Be recognized authorities
3. Be first in things
4. Influence others
5. Improve themselves
6. Save company time, money
7. Avoid worry
8. Satisfy curiosity
9. Advance their careers
10. Earn praise from others
Why, you ask, does “Save company time, money” appear so far down the list? If employees at our target companies are more concerned about recognition, influence and self-improvement than they are about the well-being of their firms, does this mean the people we’re trying to reach are, well, selfish? Not at all. It merely means they’re human and that their self-interest tends to trump their companies’ interests. So, if we’re going to get these people to do what we want them to do—which, after all, is our self-interest—we must remember how these motivations are prioritized and position our offer to be of maximum direct benefit to the reader.
For example, a guide on videoconferencing entitled, “The Facts About Videoconferencing for Small Business Owners,” will not deliver anything close to the response of exactly the same guide entitled, “Reducing Your Travel and Increasing Your Profits Without Leaving the Office: Seven Things You Need to Know About How to Take Advantage of Videoconferencing Over the Internet.”
Both titles describe something that is of value to the company, and both are likely to be of interest to our reader. But our offer goes from interesting to downright fascinating when we apply a layer of individual self-interest atop that of the company’s (which, when you think about it, is why they put icing on cakes).
The Joy of Cooking
Of course, if whipping up mouthwatering offers was as simple as matching up the right motivators, then successful B-to-B direct marketing would be, well, a piece of cake. But emotional drivers merely are the first in a list of factors we must take into consideration.
How many inquiries is our system set up to handle? How big and/or busy is our field sales organization? What are the goals of our marketing organization? And after we’ve pondered all of that, we also need to consider the alignment of our offers to the buying cycle.
(If you happen to be a regular reader of this column, you know the buying cycle is one of my favorite subjects—it consists of three stages: interest, consideration and evaluation—and that aligning offers to the appropriate stage will maximize results.)
If we have a large sales organization and need a steady flow of inquires to keep those hungry salespeople productive, then we’ll want to deploy offers that are calibrated to appeal to people in the interest stage. These offers might include whitepapers, briefings, checklists, problem/solution educational offers and third-party guides. In short, they may include anything that combines an educational focus with minimal marketing hype, which allows potential customers who are just becoming interested in our category to learn more without fear of an immediate sales pitch.
This is a key point. Potential customers don’t want to be sold. In fact, they’re afraid of being sold and expect that, given the tiniest opening, our organization will pounce on them. So, anything we can do to temporarily disabuse them of this notion will improve our results.
Remember what I said at the very beginning of this column about psychology and its fascinating application to our business? As B-to-B marketers, we practice psychology at each stage of the buying cycle.
We practice it in the consideration stage, where the offers that work—such as podcasts that show implementations or solutions in the field, executive briefings or demos—are those that help our prospective buyer become more informed and better able to compare our products with those of our competitors. The same goes for the evaluation stage, where the most successful offers—including on-site consultations, guided tours to view an installation in action and limited-time price discounts—are offers that attract buyers with a problem that must be solved RIGHT NOW. Unlike the fearful folks in the interest stage, these people actually want to talk to a salesperson. Our offers must be made with that fact very much in mind.
Are We Having Fun Yet?
As B-to-B marketers, we have to figure out which offers to employ at which stage of the buying cycle; decide which title will be the most galvanizing for each offer; determine how to position each offer just so within a given message; and motivate our prospects to do what we want them to do—when we want them to do it. Yes, B-to-B direct marketing is a whole lot of work. But for people like me—and you, I presume— it’s also a whole lot of fun.
Russell Kern is president of The Kern Organization, a fully integrated offline and online direct marketing agency in Woodland Hill, Calif., and is the author of “S.U.R.E.-Fire Direct Response Marketing” (McGraw-Hill, 2001). He can be reached at (818) 703-8775 or via e-mail at email@example.com.