“It’s All A Matter of Perception” VII (Photo credit: LauraLewis23)

One of the most elusive buyer insights to attain is getting to know what your buyers think. It can be so hard; businesses can tend to sweep it under the rug for next year’s list of initiatives. This can be a foolhardy approach. Without knowing it, your own marketing and sales tactics can affect how buyers think – in a negative way.

Static versus Dynamic

For marketing and sales executives, the grind of strategy development, tactical planning, and budget planning can be grueling. Once completed, within the fiscal calendar used, it is a sigh of relief. It can also cause static thinking. Meaning, the go-to-market strategies and tactics put into place are viewed as “in place” for the full fiscal calendar year. Another words, they remain static.

In today’s B2B world of rapidly changing buying behaviors, to remain static is loaded with peril. It is becoming more subject to complex and dynamic market forces. And, not knowing how your buyer’s thinking is changing can result in significant downsides. Today’s executives must incorporate dynamic thinking into how they validate the effectiveness of their go-to-market strategies. Just as well, dynamically gain insight into how their buyer’s thinking may be changing.

Too Dependent

For years, marketing and sales executives have relied on looking at go-to-market effectiveness through two primary areas. From analyzing quantitative data and getting feedback from sales. While both are beneficial, neither can provide a full understanding of how and what buyers think. Feedback, such as from surveys, is usually from existing customers only. Not prospect buyers. Leaving a significant gap in understanding.

This type of dependency, on quantitative and sales feedback, can lead to a widening chasm between what a B2B organization may think and prospect buyers think. Leading to a lack of understanding of how buyer perceptions are developing

Unintended Consequences

Marketing and sales executives need to view buyer perception as not something just to find out about. But as something which is developed as well as managed. Not doing so can result in unintended consequences, which can be devastatingly negative. The worst part is finding out about these unintended consequences well after they have taken root. Here is a case in point to ponder:

A high tech company with a rich history in research and development, embarked on a new content marketing program. The program called for de-emphasizing engineering and R&D related content and push content towards C-Level thought leadership. After about 14 months, things started to go awry. Their acquisition as well as retention rates dropped. More alarming was once solidly entrenched offerings became suddenly at risk with a few unexpected customers jumping ship to competitors. What happened? The organization sought answers through win/loss interviews and customer surveys. Based on these, they hypothesized their competitors were winning on price, new messaging, and new products. Not satisfied, they began conducting on-site qualitative buyer insight research in various parts of the country. A profound and deep buyer insight was uncovered. Buyers, including the desired C-Level targets, had developed a perception the organization was no longer investing in research and development. Which was an important, often unarticulated, element of how buyers viewed the strength of the firm. They had created their own problem, not competitors as assumed. They had, in fact, increased their R&D investment the previous year. By de-emphasizing R&D in their content marketing programs as well as sales messaging, they had caused erosion in the perception of being an organization that can be trusted to invest in R&D. It is taking a while, but their road to recovery is unnecessarily hard.

This is a real example I experienced first hand. It shows how unintended consequences of go-to-market strategies can result from not being on top of buyer perceptions. You see here two big issues. One, a decision regarding a content marketing program was not informed by buyer insights nor validated. The second is no efforts were made to assess and manage how buyers perceived this new content marketing program.

Prevent Unintended Consequences

To prevent repeating the story shared above, executives today must think about as well as plan for making buyer insight research an integral part of their go-to-market strategies and tactics. This includes the important element of understanding and managing how buyer perceptions are being formed. You can do so by implementing these four steps:

  1. Commit to buyer insight research as an integral means of assessing and validating got-to-market strategies
  2. Build in time to utilize buyer insight research as an upfront planning practice to validate got-to-market plans (you may find the use of a Buyer Insight Map™ to be helpful)
  3. When executing go-to-market strategies and tactics, build in various assessment points to include monitoring buyer perceptions
  4. Use buyer personas as a communications platform for shared common understanding of buyer perceptions. Focus on how marketing, sales, service, and operations can both impact buyer perceptions and play a role in assessing

By viewing buyer perceptions as an element of go-to-market effectiveness, leaders can stay one step ahead of competitors. Buyer insights at this level allow you to be nimble and make quick changes to adapt to shifts in buyer behaviors and perceptions. It also serves as a means for validating go-to-market strategies. Both marketing and sales will benefit by a shared common understanding of how they can address and build positive buyer perceptions.

Buyer perception is a powerful determinant in purchase decisions. Following these steps will go a long way towards ensuring you come out on the positive versus the negative side of perceptions.

(I welcome further conversations to help you validate and assess buyer perceptions. I am very interested in getting your thoughts and perspectives on how buyers think today. Please share widely – your peers and colleagues are wondering what buyers are thinking about their go-to-market strategies.)