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Saturday, December 05, 2009

Book Recommendation: The Buyersphere Project

If you're in the marketing and sales arena for a B2B company, I strongly recommend you pick up Gord Hotchkiss's The Buyersphere Project, just released. It's packed full of data and insights into how businesses buy from businesses.

It's been a couple of weeks since I went through it - and it triggered quite a few thoughts not only about our B2B clients and their strategies, but some soul-searching about how our consulting clients buy from agencies like ours, as well as what thoughts come into my own head when wearing the buyer hat, as I begin the process of moving forward on a technology or service solution.

There's no cut-and-dried answers here, and anyone who reads something and tries to tell you what it was two weeks later may mangle specifics, so here are my personal epiphanies from being forced to think more closely about this subject: (In other words, I don't endorse my own analysis as being relevant to anyone else's needs, nearly as much as I endorse the book itself; these insights are a combination of Hotchkiss insights and personal pondering):

  • Personal or prior relationships are huge drivers of B2B purchasing. Unseating or trumping these can be difficult to impossible.
  • Hearing repeated mentions of a service such as a common SaaS solution will often lead one to rule out competing alternatives. In business buying, there are standards and "brands" -- but that can be misinterpreted. This doesn't mean that advertising is the way this happens, but it does mean that if colleagues at other firms use something, your staff says why don't you consider it, and it just plain keeps coming up, you'll have a hard time not considering it closely. As in: you're really going to use something other than Salesforce? Not every firm can be Salesforce, but it underscores the value of buzz. Targeting "the decision-makers" directly is over-focusing, when you could be also targeting the people who work at various levels of organizations, who may in turn influence the decision-maker. Repetition and frequency matter: and some of that is happening offline and in the "real world," such as at trade shows or in personal word-of-mouth.
  • When some potential clients or partners have come to us, we've heard things like "and your name kept coming up." Obviously, that's the goal. One recommendation can be held up to tighter scrutiny. If you hear it three or four times, it's starting to be a pattern and suggests less bias.
  • Search and online research are incredibly important in influencing buyer perception. It's not just the issue of getting someone into the pipeline as in direct-marketing, lead-generation (though this is a good idea). It's again about showing up comprehensively and often in search results etc. as a thought leader, solution provider, etc. How to do that? Be more comprehensive with your content, thought leadership, etc.
So if there had to be a couple of B2B takeaways for me, not looking at all at the fine print of the book, they would be, widen your footprint both online and offline. Focus, focus, focus, communicate, communicate, communicate. You can't expect "positioning", branding, and "advertising" to get you there. Don't just differentiate on the back of a napkin. Avoid insider thinking. Activate your differentiation, be social, and post the evidence online - constantly.

Those traditional "advertisingy" things will all fall into place nicely anyway once you've got, to cite a Kawasaki-ism, "better reality."

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