The Demand Marketer’s Dilemma: Achieving Authenticity, at Scale
Forging authentic connections with customers is the best way for companies to cut through market noise and make a sale. Achieving authenticity in marketing sounds simple, right? When it comes to B2B marketing, though, the job is anything but. Authentic connections that are easy to forge with individuals get challenging fast when organizations are trying to do it at the enterprise level.
Like individual consumers, business buyers want information about how products or services can solve their specific challenges. They generally like to do their homework privately, checking out supplier websites for an initial read on which products and services might work. Once they move beyond that initial research, they often hunt for more particulars — creating a perfect opportunity for sales teams to provide helpful, personalized attention.
A recent Demand Gen report found that, while 72 percent of the individuals surveyed hold primary responsibility for purchasing decisions, nearly half are spending more time than they previously did making such choices — doing research with multiple sources, speeding or delaying orders when priorities shift, and, most striking of all — also needing approval from internal spending committees.
The result: high anxiety among buyers who want to be sure they’re making the right choice on a software solution, a vendor’s service, or anything else that could affect their company’s bottom line — not to mention their career paths.
In a marketplace with myriad options, buyers crave not only information, but also authenticity. They want to do business with companies that offer good products, believe in their quality and make genuine efforts to meet customer needs. That culture begins at the enterprise level, but it ultimately depends on each employee making the effort to connect directly with customers.
Large marketing teams often have two specialized groups:
- “content marketers” who focus on telling a brand’s story in powerful ways, and
- “demand marketers” who work to build the best possible audience for those narratives.
Regardless of which side they work on, the best marketers combine personal empathy, reliable information and sales rep intervention — but only when their prospective customers need it.
Make a Human Connection
Nearly 60 percent of B2B buyers say they like to research products online rather than dealing with sales reps, according to Forrester research cited in Forbes. The reason: an aversion to reps who push for sales before taking the time to understand customer needs.
“There’s nothing more annoying than a salesperson who doesn’t listen,” customer experience expert Blake Morgan wrote in the Forbes article, “and in the B2B world, it has gotten so bad that buyers are actually avoiding sales reps.”
That’s a sobering message, and a helpful reminder. Having done their initial research, many buyers find they need help in drilling down to which products fit best. That moment often presents an opportunity for marketers to connect with buyers on a human level, helping to lay the groundwork not just for one sale but for an ongoing relationship.
In some cases, that means person-to-person communication, through either an online chat, phone call, or personal visit. But, increasingly, sellers and buyers are also using personalized online experiences as an intermediate step. Such communication can take many forms: interactive multimedia, explainer videos or customer testimonials — all of which can supplement, and eventually lead to, direct contact with sales reps.
Honest communication is key. Marketers can nurture long-term relationships best when they care enough about their customers to offer information and potential solutions first, products and services second. That kind of relationships invaluable, and impossible to fake.
Empathy Is Your Ally
Putting yourself in a customer’s shoes helps you to understand their problems and offer tailor-made solutions. There’s no substitute for listening carefully to what customers have to say.
Pay attention not just to what customers tell you outright, but also to concerns that might be lurking between the lines. When in doubt, ask. The only dumb question is the one you don’t pose.
Education can build authentic connections with your customers. Taking the time to inform them about best practices and the latest technologies relevant to their industries doesn’t just demonstrate your sales team’s knowledge. It also shows customers you care about fulfilling their needs, whether or not they ultimately decide to do business with you this time around. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 90 percent of the most successful B2B content marketers prioritize their customers’ informational needs over sales and promotional messages.
Customers respond best to marketing materials that don’t feel like a hard sell. Marketing and sales departments can come across as empathetic — even as they scale — by creating credible, compelling stories that show customers how products and services can serve them.
Treat Customers as Individuals
When providing customers with information, take care not to overwhelm them. But receiving the right email reminder, product demo, or phone call from a trusted representative at just the right time can not only inspire a sale, but also give customers the sense that their needs are anticipated and understood.
Use your company’s data. Customer purchase records are one of the most valuable assets B2B companies possess. Instead of relying on broad demographics to predict needs, marketers should analyze information about their individual customers’ business models and purchase histories to determine which products they’ll likely need and when. Strategic use of such information can also help you plan retention and growth campaigns that resonate with your broader audience.
Timing with new prospects is critical. Making contact too early in the sales funnel can turn potential buyers away. But waiting too long to engage with strong leads risks losing the opportunity. Keeping track of who is viewing your marketing content (Which articles or videos did they read or watch?) is essential. Analytics are powerful tools, and using them wisely can give your company a serious edge.
Authenticity starts with knowing and believing in your company’s goals, products, and commitment to customer service. From there, it is far easier to find common ground with customers. When brands and their representatives are willing to be honest and genuine with their audiences, customers will be more open to making a purchase.
It may seem challenging to have authentic interactions with customers across an increasingly large audience. But understanding their diverse needs, as well as your company’s unique strengths — and doing so at significant scale — can guide you toward delivering value at every customer touchpoint.
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