What customers can teach us about marketing


The customer is always right when it comes to being “the customer.”

In my last post, I described how the very marketing principles I leaned on for years are helping me in my latest customer facing role as a segment manager.  Now I’m flipping it around because since, I have learned that there are 3 things customers have taught me about the value of a well thought-out market strategy:

  • Master the market
  • Be the customer
  • Cut to the chase

Now accomplishing these 3 things is not easy, but I’m a sucker for finding simplicity wherever I can, and I find it when focusing on answering Who, What, Where, When, How, and Why.  Whether it’s framing discussions with customers about the market, or framing a strategy rooted in customer insights, answering the fundamental questions not only helps keep my thought process sane, but on task. Depending on the task at hand, you can create your own who, what, where, when, how, and why questions, but I have found the ones below tend to be the ones that quite often go unanswered, or at minimum, glossed over.


Mastering the Market

For me, “mastering the market “is all about answering: who is the audience, what are their pain points, and where are they heading?  The answers to these questions are about truly understanding the customer, their challenges, and their directives.

Start first with the market – this is the easy part. You should know what market you want to attack.  Maybe it’s SMB, Startups, or Prosumers. Then comes the more detailed exploration – segmentation. Gather as many relevant data points from as many sources to paint a picture of the segments that make up you market. Each segment may have unique customers, and unique users. Understanding, the customers and more specifically, the users is the critical component to “mastering” the market. Each customer/user will have financial, operational, and technical challenges you need to uncover. At the same time, users act based on directives. Directives may be imposed by leadership, or direct management and they tend to be economical, philosophical, and/or aspirational in nature.

  • Economical:  Reduce costs by X% (Who hasn’t said this?)
  • Philosophical: Quality is job 1 (Ford)
  • Aspirational: A computer on every desk and in every home (Microsoft)


“It has been predominantly found and recognized that the pursuit of a choice or choices is largely goal-directed.”

Understand how these high level directives impact how your users think, plan, and act. Will they be looking for ways to reduce costs? Will they be more influenced by reliability and quality metrics? Or, will they be looking for creative ways to add value? 

Be the Audience

You have broken the market up into segments. You have defined your target customers / users. You know their specific challenges and directives.  Now put yourself in their shoes and get into their heads – when, how, and why do they buy the products and services they buy?

Answering when do / will they buy is about understanding their buying triggers, hurdles, and most importantly, their timeline. Are they developing a new concept? Are they already implementing and testing the concept? Or, are they committed and in full deployment / production mode?  Depending on where they are in their timeline, not only are the buying triggers and hurdles different, but who you need to connect with in terms of participants, influencers, and decision makers will differ.  Here is where understanding the customers’ / users’ buying process is critical to an effective strategy. The buying process is all about answering how they buy?

It does not stop there.  Too many times, we forget to ask why?  Why do they buy or more importantly why did they not buy? What is the customers’ / users’ rational for making a buying decision?  I have found that they tend to be economic, philosophic, or empathetic in nature.

  • Economic:  “I bought because it was the lowest priced solution, or offered the lowest TCO (total cost of ownership).”
  • Philosophic:  “I bought because it was the lowest risk solution relative to the ROI (return on investment).”
  • Empathetic:  “I bought because we have a strong relationship, and they share the same vision / goals as ours, or are best equipped to enable us to achieve our goals.”

Knowing why customers/users buy or not buy can be extremely valuable information when putting together your strategy.  Combine this with knowing when and how they buy and the strategy you put together has some serious teeth.

Cut to the Chase

Mastering the market is about identifying who is your customer. Being the customer is about truly appreciating what keeps them up at night (their challenges) where their heading (their directives), when will they get there (their behaviors), how will they get there (their processes), and why they buy what they buy to get where they are going (their rationale).

Cutting to the chase is nothing more than putting it all together into clear, simple, and concise positioning, messaging, and content designed for your customers, by your customers. You know the challenges. You know the directives. You know the behaviors, processes, and rationale, so cut to the chase and communicate to exactly who you need to with what they need, when they need it, and why.

It’s amazing when you really listen to the customer, how right they actually are, and how much they are willing to teach us about marketing.

Is it really that simple?


Making “friends” is no different in the B2B world

trust_equals_reliability_plus_delightHere is a question that has been asked and answered over and over again: How do we leverage social media for B2B marketing?
This week I have been discussing with peers this very subject around marketing to technology professionals. The initial strategy presented was to simply find some heavy hitters in the IT space on Twitter, via blog searches, LinkedIn groups, and start listening, learning, and then engaging. I don’t know about you, but the last time I checked, there are thousands of “IT influencers” all over the web, so where do we even begin to start?  Do we look at the number of followers?  Blog retweets? Blog volume? The task became quite daunting very quickly.
Time to get back to the core of what we are trying to accomplish.  What is the objective, and what are the goals for using social media for B2B marketing?  It all points back to each of our individual initiatives.
  1. Prioritize:  Don’t think too broad, hone in on a specific initiative or subject.
  2. Focus: Narrow the scope to each initiative’s core message or topic.
  3. Search: Do some preliminary web searches and social media searches for each topic area to find the key discussion areas, bloggers / influencers, etc.
  4. Segment: Focus on no more than 5-10 influencers per topic, and do not automatically default to the major influencers like analysts. Instead, focus on bloggers that work for companies in your target market segment, or run their own segment related blog.
  5. Listen: Start compiling discussion topics, comments, etc. to learn what the hot buttons are, where your value prop fits, where you could add real value to the conversation.
  6. Engage: Begin posting comments on related blogs and in social media to establish a relationship and with the influencers you have identified and fellow readers and commenters.
  7. Contribute: Build upon those relationships by providing information and content that informs, educates, even entertains.
  8. Share: Leverage influencers content into our own online articles, blog posts, tweets, etc. and link back to them as the source.
  9. Schedule:  Carve our an hour or two of your day to dedicate to listening, engaging, contributing, and sharing.
  10. Measure: Track using analytics, refine where needed, and stick to it

Keep in mind, this takes time, patience, and dedication.  It may take 3-6 months to establish a trusting relationship with influencers, because it’s not about traditional marketing. It’s about making new “friends” that trust what you say, with a mutual respect for each other’s opinion.

Isn’t that what being “friends” is all about? It’s no different in the B2B world.

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Questions to ask when defining your target audience

In my last post, Why marketing is a color by numbers game I tossed around the idea of how using the right data can help paint a picture of who your target audience is.  Before I could determine what the right data is, I had to start asking myself, what do I need to know about this person, or segment of the market?

So, I took a stab at listing out some questions, and look for input from you on what I may be missing.

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Why marketing is a color by numbers game

Why marketing is a color by numbers game

What do these numbers from AdAge tell you?

As a whole, they reinforce the fact that the world we live in is ever-changing.  From the birthrate, to the use of technology, to how we spend our time, we marketers must take into account more than ever, how what is happening today will shape what products, services, and more importantly messages and content we deliver tomorrow.

That ever important marketing plan revolves around, first and foremost, the target audience. Too many marketing plans fail due large in part to the failure to define the target audience. This crucial first step in the process is the make or break stage, and it’s getting both easier and more difficult to pin-point. What makes it easier? We have tons of data at our disposal. The difficulty…we have tons of data at our disposal. Sifting through the data deluge is an art form of its own.

I look at it as a (albeit more difficult) color-by-numbers game…not until the entire picture is complete do we get a full representation of who we are dealing with. Each section of the picture is defined by data (numbers), and only when we arrive at the right conclusions for each section, and color in the lines, will the picture be a true representation of the target audience. When it comes to defining your target audience, the more data the better, as long as it’s the right data and it is supported by multiple sources (primary and secondary research).

As a rule of thumb, I like to start broader (grayscale if you will) for the edges of the picture. An example of this would be the SMB market – too big and fragmented to be a true target audience. I typically start here, then as details emerge i.e. bolder colors, the details will allow the picture of the target audience to begin stand out.  The details are totally dependent upon the product or service you are developing a marketing plan around.  Maybe you are a tech company, and only want SMBs with on-site IT. Or a cloud service company, and want to focus on data rich small businesses that don’t have IT on-site. The more detailed you are, the brighter the colors, and the more rich the picture becomes.

Working on a post that puts this all into perspective. Stay tuned.  I am also trying this out with my latest endeavor around cloud computing.  I’ll let you know how it goes.