Cracking The Code: Engaging Elusive B2B Buyers | Episode 31

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B2B prospect buying behaviors are changing. That means your marketing strategies need to adapt to effectively drive pipeline and achieve revenue goals.

In this episode, we talk to guest Eric Eden about how to reach prospects who want to engage on their own timeline before ever talking to a sales rep. Eric is a seasoned B2B CMO and an executive in residence with Information Venture Partners where he advises portfolio companies on marketing and growth strategies.

Listen now to learn why traditional marketing and sales tactics like cold calling, email blasts, and focusing on lead volume are becoming less effective. Get suggestions now on how to offer more value to attract today’s elusive buyers.

[0:00] Introduction
[0:23] How B2B buying behavior has evolved
[1:52] Importance of offering value to engage buyers
[3:19] Ineffectiveness of brute force sales tactics
[5:36] Need for creative and personalized marketing strategies
[8:03] Importance of building brand awareness and trust
[9:29] Challenges of engaging buyers not in market
[12:08] Importance of thoughtful target account selection
[15:21] Creative strategies such as incentives and events
[23:47] Collaboration between sales and marketing to drive pipeline
[26:30] Key takeaways
[29:18] Outro

Hey, everybody. It’s Jenni from GrowthMode Marketing. You’re listening to The Demand Gen Fix, the podcast where our team of GrowthModers and our guests discuss the ins and outs of demand generation and why we believe it’s the key to long term sustainable growth, especially in the HR tech industry.

Hey, everybody. We’re going to be talking today about how the way that B2B prospect buy has evolved. That means marketing strategies have to evolve too. We’re digging in to look at just how buying behaviors have changed in the past few years and what that means for marketers. Because as the tried-and-true marketing tactics lose steam, you’ve got to look for different ways to engage those elusive buyers.

Deanna and I are super excited to have a guest with us today. Eric Eden is a seasoned B2B CMO with experience in the software-as-a-service and fintech arenas. He’s currently an executive in residence with Information Venture Partners where he advises portfolio companies on marketing and growth strategies. Welcome to The Demand Gen Fix, Eric. We’re happy to have you.

Yeah, great to be here. Thank you for having me.

First let’s talk about how the way that B2B prospects buy has evolved.

Yeah, it is definitely evolving. And Eric, I’d love to hear what you’re seeing in the market, but the thing that we’re seeing is that people are just less likely to engage with sales reps early on in the buying process and they’re coming to the table more informed on their options. And ultimately I think what that shakes down to is they’re no longer willing to be pulled into a vendor’s sales process.

They’re now wanting to research and get the information and do things on their own timeline. And so they want to control it and invite the vendors into their buying process instead of being pulled into the vendor’s sales process.

Yeah, I think it’s interesting. Some of the research that Forrester has put out this year is that 80% of the B2B buying process is done before people even talk to the sales team for the first time. So that’s like putting a number behind it. It gives you sort of a sense for people’s behavior and how they’re thinking about it. I’ve seen that in practice that people just don’t want to engage with sales reps because they want to get confidence that they’re not spending time on something that isn’t the right solution. 0:02:39 And I think the reason for this, this is a fascinating psychological thing. When people are buying things for their company, they’re afraid if it doesn’t work out, they’re going to get fired. So they seek to go get recommendations from other people who have their similar job at other companies to find out, “what did you do? Did it work?”. Because they’re trying to make sure before they talk to any supplier that it’s going to be good for their career.

I’ve seen that actually happen, where people bought things for their company. It was really expensive. It didn’t work out, and they lost their job because of it. And that’s the way the world works and it’s very unfortunate. So it makes sense that this shift is sort of happening.

Yeah. And I think people are more resistant to engaging early with the sales rep because they know the sales rep, like end of the month, end of the quarter, end of the year, they’ve got quotas to meet, and sometimes they can be pretty aggressive because they’re trying to push deals forward. And quite frankly, as a B2B buyer myself, there are times where I go and I look up a different technology that’s out there because I’m interested in it. And I think in the future I’d like to get it. And I do quite a bit of digging on it and understanding it. But I’m not ready to buy, and I might not be ready for six months or a year.

I’m just kind of gathering information to know what the options are. And I think there’s a lot of buyers out there, they’re like, “I don’t want to spend the time talking to these sales reps because I’m not actually in market. Even though I have been reading your content and clicking on it.”

Yeah, I think unfortunately, having had the Chief Marketing Officer title for a long time, I get chased every day by 20 to 30 different salespeople sending me emails. And the reality is, 99% of them are just not good. And I hate to say that is the case, but it’s sort of disappointing. But when you see people don’t engage with it, a lot of those emails, almost none of them have an offer of any kind. They just say, can you give me 15 minutes of your time?

And they’re not offering me anything. And I’m like, “no, I can’t give you 15 minutes for free if you’re not offering me anything of value.” It could be content. It doesn’t have to be an incentive. It could be content, it could be an assessment or a consultation where I get some advice on a certain topic that they’re experts on. But very few people even make the effort to offer anything of value.

They just walk into a conversation and they want to tell you all about themselves and they haven’t even looked at your website, and they don’t say anything to make you feel like in the email that you get that you’re not just one of a million people who got this email.

I totally agree. I get those emails too, and it’s just like delete, delete, delete, or the phone calls, delete, delete, delete. I don’t know this number, I’m not going to listen to that. It’s just the cold calling and the cold emailing and stuff. It just doesn’t work a lot of the time.

People are doing it, it must be working for somebody, right? And maybe it makes sense to have it as part of your overall marketing mix, but I feel like the inbox is getting fuller more quickly these days. So much cold outreach like the SDR type of outreach, where to your point, Eric, it’s not necessarily customized. You can tell it’s a mass blast that probably went out to 10,000 people.

It’s often a series of emails – and some of them are comical – because they’re all coming from the same playbook. And some of them, it’s like, “clearly you’re using the same type of templates and the same tactics where it’s like, ‘Deanna, I can tell you must not be interested in growing revenue because you haven’t responded to me’ or, ‘Deanna, I talked to so and so who said I should reach out to you.’ But I have no idea who that is. You didn’t talk to so and so who asked you to reach out to me. It’s just interesting all the different tactics that organizations are testing as they’re trying to kick up revenue.

And I think this year, especially in the tech space – we do a lot of work in the HR tech space specifically – revenue is down. Companies are behind on hitting those revenue targets that they’re trying to achieve and those that are responsible for setting the appointments and moving sales along, they’re doubling down on things that have traditionally maybe worked in a past life but are less and less effective these days. I think the reality is that some marketing and sales strategies aren’t as impactful as they used to be.

In previous years, like 5 to 10 years ago, brute force worked a lot better. You could send out hundreds of thousands of emails and you would get a pretty good response rate. But brute force doesn’t work because people get so much of it – Like you’re saying. The other reason is because when the economy is challenging and people are less in buying mode, brute force works even less because the majority of people are not in the market to buy stuff. If they’re laying people off, they’re not going to be buying solutions or software or tech right now. Right?

So it makes it a more difficult environment and I think people just have to understand that trend so they can adapt their strategy. So offering people something of value, whether it’s content or other things, it’s important.

Yeah, and our crew talks about that all the time. If you’re not in market to buy, let’s say you’re selling a $50,000 a year software, you’re not going to be convinced based off of an email to suddenly go and buy it. If you’re not in market, you’re not in market. Unless that cost is low enough that it’s an easy decision to make. But that doesn’t mean you ignore what would normally be the 95% of companies that are not currently in market now. And it’s probably 99% are not currently in market in this economy. As companies pull back their budgets, you’ve got to build that brand awareness and trust with them.

Especially knowing that statistic that came out of Forrester. Gartner has had a very similar statistic that says up to 80% of the B2B purchase decision process is completed before a prospect is willing to engage with a sales rep. If it’s a B2B sale, you’re not going to make the short list, quite frankly, if they don’t know you exist. So you’ve got to balance that marketing. It doesn’t solve the problem of we need leads, we need them yesterday by any means.

But if you’re bringing a ton of leads in the door through these cold calling and email blast tactics and they’re not in market, you’re not going to get anywhere anyway. That’s just hard, cold truth. It’s not easy to be an SDR or a salesperson these days, but the market is what it is, and buyers are going to do what buyers want to do.

An example of offering something of value to somebody is one company I worked for, we did more than 1,000 lunch events per year, and the offer was lunch. And the subject line of the email was “Steak?”. Surprisingly, that word got attention – sort of like the timeshare thing of where they offer you a free weekend and then they pitch you on buying the timeshare. And people go to that, they’re like, “I’m never going to buy it, but I’m going to take the free weekend.” And then someone always ends up buying the timeshare. So same thing with the lunches.

It was disguised as thought leadership. It was mostly a sales pitch. And every lunch we got 40 to 50 people there, and every lunch someone would buy. But there was an offer. People were like, “I’m going to go get this lunch. It’s worth somewhere like $50 – $75, and I’m going to enjoy the lunch, but I’m not going to buy.” But we convinced them in that hour, and that’s what it’s supposed to be – you make an offer of value to get people to engage with you, and then you have to convince them. I think if more people did that, it would be a much better place. But 99% of what I get is disappointingly off.

I’m like, “what is this?”

I just saw some statistics that somebody on LinkedIn threw out this morning. I think it was research from SalesLoft that said it takes 1,000 emails to get one appointment these days. And the cold calling rates, if you pick up the phone, was even lower than that. So they were saying essentially the average SDR now can find five appointments a month. So 60 appointments a year, let’s say 50% of those get qualified.

So now you’ve got what 30 appointments. I’m not a math major, so don’t yell at me if my math is wrong here – but then how many of those actually close. So at the end of the day, this whole LinkedIn message was about the SDR model and how much it costs for an SDR versus selling a $50,000 software. At the end of the day, you were basically making like, I want to say it was $100,000, off of that one employee in a year. But that didn’t account for the sales rep and the account manager and all the other pieces that go into the cost of bringing in business, like the marketing and all that. So it’s really interesting because no matter how many calls you make a day, no matter how many email blasts you send out, it’s no longer this pure numbers game like it used to be.

It used to be gate some content, collect the names, we get the MQLs, we pass them to sales, they work it. There’s a math equation behind it. If we get this many leads in the door, we’re going to get this much sales.

Yeah, I think the brute force SDR approach of reaching out to 1,000 people to get an appointment seems like a lot of brain damage. I think people just need to take a more inspired approach. Like, one thing I did last year when we were selling a product that cost $50,000, is we put together a dinner for a private table at one of the best restaurants in New York City. It’s like a Michelin Star restaurant. Obama used to go there for dinner when he was president.

We’re like, okay, we’re going to get 10 prospects to come because people would value this as a $500 dinner per person – and it’s worth $500 to get in front of an executive at a prospect company that can be a $50,000 client. And we threw this dinner. We got 10 people to show up and we got like a third of them to buy. So that’s a much more inspired campaign than just blasting 1,000 people and saying, “can I have 15 minutes of your time to pitch you?”

How did you decide on the ten prospects to invite to this dinner?

They were our target accounts, so we obviously had named accounts and target accounts. I actually did it in a number of cities. I did one dinner like that in New York. I did one dinner like that in London. We did one in Boston. So I think we did like five or 10 cities – and we were really thoughtful about getting executives to come who were decision makers at the prospect company. It really worked well. I mean, the inspiration of it was not only did we get people to show up, but people spent three hours with us not being on their phone, dedicated to the conversation.

And you’d never get that from just trying to get someone on a Zoom call. They’re like half paying attention for 20 minutes. Very different dynamic. And so I think people just have to think of more creative approaches to have success in today’s environment. And I think for a lot of companies, they’re not even trying. They’re just sort of lazy about it, thinking “I’m just going to blast people.” And LinkedIn is terrible these days. You get garbage spewed at you every single day. And I really hate it when people start messaging me and then they’ll message me garbage, like seven days in a row, even though I’ve never responded. I think that’s really obnoxious when people do that. Like, “did you read my email below?”

It’s really terrible. I give this email a zero out of 10.

I think a lot of that stuff is automated, honestly. LinkedIn gives you all the automated little responses and follow ups that you can click on. I think that’s all people are doing is click, click. They’re not even thinking about it really.

Ruins your reputation, though, when you do that. Your company’s reputation.

So aside from food, we should talk about some other strategies that marketing teams can do to really evolve their strategy and work within this new buying world.

Yeah, I mean, I love to eat, so I just go to the food examples. But there are some other really good solutions out there. I’ve used some of the tools like Sendoso or Alice or Thanks, where basically you ask someone to meet with you and they get to choose a gift. And Alice is actually kind of cool because it looks at the person’s social media and it recommends gifts, like if the person went to college at the University of Akron like I did, it would recommend a University of Akron sweatshirt, right?

And they do the fulfillment and they ship it out. I’ve used platforms like that. Incentives work. So it’s like, would you pay $100 for someone to get a gift of their choice to meet with you? I worked with a company last year and they set up 1,000 meetings doing that over the course of a year. So it was like the number one way that they got meetings.

I’d be curious to see their statistics around how many of those actually closed and how long it took to close those. Because a lot of times I think organizations will be like, “we’ll give you a $100 gift card if you see our demo.” Well, there’s going to be a lot of people that are just like, “I’ll take $100 gift card. I have no interest in buying. I’m not in market.” But they’ll go and do that. We’ve talked to prospects where they’re like, “I just need them to see a demo.”

I ask “why do they need to see a demo? What is the driving factor there?” They’re like, “well our close rate is really good if we could just get them to a demo.” That’s not really true though when you dig in a lot of times.

The caveat here is you have to choose who you offer the incentive to wisely. With a really good curated, thoughtful list of targets, I’ve been able to achieve like 15% of those people buy.

So you really know who your ideal customer profile is.

Yeah, I wouldn’t recommend blasting stuff like that out just randomly to a list you bought from one of the data providers or something. But if you have named accounts and you know who the two or three people are that you want to talk to within your named account – that’s a great tactic. There’s execution to it because it’s not that people will take a meeting just because of the incentive. It’s more like they would have looked at it but it might have taken them longer to prioritize getting to spending the time to see a demo. So really that’s what a good incentive would do is it just prioritizes people’s time to make time for the demo for something that they would probably be interested in. It’s not going to get people who are not interested in your thing at all to come and it’s not really going to cause people to buy. You still have to do the job to sell but I think they can be really helpful if executed well.

I’d probably go to the $500 dinner.

0:18:20 Right? Depends how lucrative that offer is.

I’ll give you one more example. This is a different idea. It’s not quite food, but I was working with this one software company that was selling software to accounting firms. And we decided on an incentive. We would offer the partner at the accounting firm – if they saw a demo – a Nespresso coffee machine. And that coffee machine would double the productivity of their practice from their employees through caffeine.

But our software also doubles your productivity and so it was an incentive that tied into our story of productivity. You can get really creative. We shipped like 200 Nespresso machines.

And those employees were then quadruplely productive right. Because they had the software and caffeine.

Caffeine and the Nespresso machines were like $100 to $200 for the model we were doing. But people were really appreciative of it and it was a positive brand experience. Even for the people who didn’t buy versus just spam, that doesn’t offer you any value. And we did get more than 15% when we did that program for the accounting firms and we were selling something with more than $10,000. So I was happy to buy the 200 coffee machines.

We made 10X.

And what’s cool about that story is that like you were saying, it builds your brand. So those people that didn’t buy right then and there, I mean, down the road they have a good feeling about you and your software probably. And so when they are in the market to buy, you’re going to be top of mind.

Yeah, so I don’t think Nespresso machines are the answer for everybody. But my point is people should get creative, not just use one of the different software programs to spam everyone in the world with cheesy emails with no value.

Yeah, well and if you’re doing true ABM, where you are building out the lists of the target accounts, ideally you’re picking companies that have a good chance of working with you. And I say that because I know there’s a lot of companies out there and marketers and salespeople that will be like, “let’s create a list for an ABM campaign.” And they will build their wish list of the companies they’d like to work with. And of course, they’re like the Fortune 50 companies. And yes, you and everybody else wants those companies as clients. It must be very lucrative to be like a CMO or the head of IT or HR at Apple or one of those really big companies because everybody is trying to target them. But I think when you’re building out these campaigns, you’ve got to be smart about who you put on the list. It can’t just be anybody.

And just because it’s a big name doesn’t mean that if you send them the Nespresso machine or whatever it is, that they’re going to respond to it.

Because it is such a big problem for B2B marketers to get the engagement, here are two other things that have worked really well that are different with amazing content that people really want to read. So I worked with a company two years ago and we decided to have a million dollar per year content strategy. And we produced ebooks and research reports and we basically distributed them to our database. But we also went to third parties.

We created cornerstone content that really captures people. You need to give prospects like five to eight pieces of really good content to get them to feel like, “wow, these guys are the experts, we need to be working for them.” Sometimes you get there after one really great piece of content, but usually it takes more. So take your pick. But I think that sort of content strategy can be really amazing. And then broadly, I spent ten years in the events industry.

I think 30% to 40% of demand gen and B2 B marketing is events. I think in person events are coming back this year. I think there’s been some budget challenges, but largely I’ve been to some events that had 10,000 people at them. I think engaging with people at events is at least a third of the equation, or it should be for a lot of companies. And that’s just a more genuine way of engaging – as well as going to these conferences and industry events.

Obviously, not every marketing team has the robust budgets where they can afford to give away a $200 incentive or throw an event that costs $500 per person to attend. But I think some of the key takeaways that people can take from some of the recommendations that you’ve been giving, Eric, are how do you think outside the box and get creative? And how do you connect with individuals and engage with them in a way that doesn’t feel like you’re selling to them, but feels like you’re providing some level of value to them? That gives them a reason to start to trust you or your organization and start to keep your brand top of mind so that when they are in market, they raise their hand. And if you can’t afford to do some of the things, I think content, while I would love to work with a million dollar budget for content, most of the time that’s not an option for these smaller organizations that GrowthMode Marketing tends to work with.

But start with content, even if it’s small, and make it really good content. I mean, it’s got to be interesting, and it’s got to be valuable. When I was looking back in my notes from our previous conversation, Eric, you had said something that I absolutely agree with, which is sometimes you go into organizations and they’re like, “all right, let’s run with marketing.” And it’s like they can’t even articulate how they’re different and what they do, and they turn to the marketing team, whether they’re working on a fractional basis with a CMO like you, Eric, or they’re working with an agency like GrowthMode Marketing. They think that we can spin magic out of the story they don’t know how to articulate. But it doesn’t work that way.

You’ve got to be able to nail that down, or all the content in the world is going to fall flat.

Yeah, absolutely. You need to be able to tell your story in a compelling way. The one thing I would say about being able to afford marketing programs is, first, I would test everything at a smaller level before you go big. But second, I think that marketing people always talk about marketing spend, and I always correct them and say, marketing is an investment. And it’s amazing. People are willing to spend $2,000 in advertising on Google to acquire a customer, but they’re not willing to buy someone a $500 dinner. It doesn’t really make sense to me. It just tells me that people aren’t really creative. They’re like, “oh, just put my credit card on Google and spend a little bit more.” That’s not super creative. I’m not saying don’t advertise on Google, I’m just saying that the way people think about the economics is they should think about customer acquisition costs and unit economics and the money that they’re investing like that – not just as what they can afford to spend.

Right? I think the right way for companies to think about it is test at a small level and then think about it like an investment.

As we wrap up this conversation – knowing that the way buyer behaviors are changing, I think marketing and sales have to work differently together. I mean, it’s no longer about just tossing over MQLs to the sales team and letting them run with it. What do you think, Eric?

My advice is instead of counting leads or MQLs or SQLs and arguing about the definitions of those – which is a whole lot of fun if you want to waste an entire afternoon – I think a good way to think about it is sales and marketing should be working together to drive pipeline. All the best companies I’ve worked for,how they get aligned is just I think the majority of the work sales and marketing do should be joint.

It’s not about marketing doing one thing and sales doing something else. It’s marketing and sales jointly driving pipeline together – and you have a goal for the pipeline and then you have a goal for what you close in the pipeline. I think sales and marketing should work closely together to drive pipeline and then convert the pipeline. I think that’s the way people get aligned. That’s what I’ve seen across many companies.

I absolutely agree with you. I think there’s a lot of marketers that are hesitant to help own the number and would rather not. But quite frankly, marketing exists to help the organization drive sales by building brand awareness in the market. As a marketing leader, if you’re not willing to own the revenue number in conjunction with sales, you probably shouldn’t be in leadership. That is just my opinion and I’m sure I’m going to get some hate mail over that. But why do we exist if we’re not helping the organization move forward on that front?

I agree 100% and I’ve done that as a CMO of multiple companies. The one thing I’ll add to that is that I think it’s helpful for marketing to treat sales as a customer, if you will. That sort of also drives the alignment because if the sales team comes and says the leads are bad, if you’re treating them as a customer, you’d say, “well talk to me. Why are the leads bad?”

Are they not qualified or the wrong contact information or what’s going on here so we can fix it. And then you do everything you can to make it right. So I think that’s the right approach that I really have seen be successful for a lot of companies.

Yeah, I think that’s a really good way to look at it. We’ve talked a lot about that in the past, too, about getting your sales team and your marketing team aligned. It just makes sense. It’s common sense for every company to make sure that those teams are working together because you all have the same goal. In the end, you want to win.

The discussions of the hole is in your side of the boat.

Yeah, right.

No more finger pointing. Let’s all own it instead of pointing at each other and saying, “you’re the problem.”

Well, thank you so much, Eric, for joining us today. This has been a really good conversation. I love your ideas. I love the creativity that you brought to this conversation. And we will definitely be utilizing some of those ideas.

Awesome. Thanks for having me on. What I always like to say is, it’ll never be easy, but it should always be fun.

I love it. Thank you so much. Thanks for joining us on The Demand Gen Fix, a podcast for HR tech marketers brought to you by GrowthMode Marketing. We sure hope you enjoyed it. Don’t forget to subscribe for more perspectives on demand generation and B2B marketing strategies. Plus, give us a like, tell your friends and share. We’ll see you next time.




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