Customer acquisition or B2B demand generation is a high priority marketing activity to help a business grow successfully. Among many challenges, the ability to determine what steps are required to develop an effective demand generation program is difficult. Although there exists a boundless supply of tactics available, less information exists focused on strategy and more importantly frameworks.
However, by adopting a customer acquisition framework to guide your activities, B2B companies are more certain in connecting all of the dots necessary for success. Or, at least, planning to execute each element within the framework and working through the process, will enable B2B marketers to prioritize and allocate time towards what matters. Frequently, marketers chase after the shiny objects or whatever theme-fo-the-day catches the blogosphere on fire. This only distracts from the fundamental needs an effective demand generation program requires.
The B2B Customer Acquisition Framework
In order to serve this non-linear buying process, you need a system for acquisition marketing and growth that will help your organization generate results.
We developed the customer acquisition framework to help you understand and plan an effective acquisition marketing and growth program. Customer acquisition is an approach where “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” By integrating every aspect of this customer acquisition framework, you’ll construct a program that best serves the non-linear behavior of your buyers.
EXPLAINING THE CUSTOMER ACQUISITION FRAMEWORK
The framework starts with the BRAND at the center. Many people skip this and go right to execution. But with the changes in B2B buying behavior and an increase in the number of people in buying groups, educating and providing value with consistent messaging is more important now than ever.
A major driver of your BRAND is a deep understanding of your target buyer. You can’t close the gap if you don’t know how much of a gap exists between you and your buyers. Even further, most technology and industrial companies will require a mindset shift. Becoming BUYER FIRST demands a transition, driven by leadership, and assimilated into the company’s culture. The mindset transition must occur across four primary areas.
As with any change, leadership must work within their organizations to move it forward. As such, leadership must:
- Create a Vision of what “becoming buyer-first” means.
- Set expectations across the organization for behaviors that are buyer-first.
- Hold individuals and teams accountable for performing these behaviors.
- Consistently communicate the vision and goals of being buyer-first.
Concurrently, your company needs to kick-off a low-budget but highly effective research and insight project. Although there are many ways to conduct this project and some could require hefty budgets, I recommend starting simple. Conduct interviews with your internal teams and your current customers. Once these interviews are completed, you’ll have a set of insights to compare in order to determine if a gap exists.
I guarantee a gap between you and your buyers does exist but the extent of it could range from massive to minor. I have worked with industrial and technology leaders who possessed an uncanny closeness to their buyers. However, through their customer interviews, they were able to discern new insights that drove fundamentally more effective differentiation strategies. Regardless, the insights you’ll gain will set the stage for every step moving forward with the customer acquisition framework.
Once the buyer is researched and leadership has laid the foundation for becoming buyer-first, it’s time to build your buyer insights into various brand elements.
Three Brand Messaging Elements
There are 3 key brand elements that need to develop that connect with your buyers
(1) Clearly define or refine your value proposition
According to Wikipedia, a value proposition is, “a promise of value to be delivered, communicated, and acknowledged. It is also a belief from the customer about how value (benefit) will be delivered, experienced and acquired.” Knowing the jobs your target buyers intend to accomplish and how your product or service can fulfill, helps define your value proposition.
(2) Create the personas of your key target buyers
Your personas are simply your buyers defined in aggregate characterizations in order to create common attributes (demographics, psychographics, firmographics, etc.) that can be targeted in your communications, channel development, and product development.
(3) Develop your message platform
Your message platform captures and outlines your value proposition, points of difference (differentiation), core value messages and proof points (or “Reasons to Believe.”)
The Message Platform is a document that drives consistency across your teams as the centerpiece for all external communications. People may define their value proposition and personas but then neglect to define the messaging platform. The message platform is key to ensure the consistency that you need and buyers want.
In B2B, you ideally want to be in the position of addressing problems that are KNOWN AND CRITICAL, as they must be solved. Known and critical problems stand in the way of business. They put viability, careers, and reputations at risk. They also create a greater sense of urgency to solve.
On the other hand, unknown problems are unacknowledged, which means they often require costly selling and convincing. Aspirational problems are optional, which is the hardest of places for a B2B company to be successful. Neither are impossible to pursue, but both require more effort, time and investment to breakthrough to the buyer.
However, just because you need to get at the “Known/Critical” problems don’t mean that you message around functional benefits…you should still appeal to the emotional side – the human element. It’s a common misnomer that B2B buyers purchase based on logic. This isn’t the case. Whether operating at home or a business, we are all emotional creatures!
DEFINING THE NEXT “BIG ROCKS” of CUSTOMER ACQUISITION
The first “BIG ROCK” extending out from the brand is the buyer’s JOURNEY.
Buyers are seeking a solution and moving through a process to identify, research, consider and decide on the best option among alternatives to solve their problem and/or achieve their goal. By researching and documenting your buyers’ journey, you can begin informing, educating, equipping and enabling them.
Consider this…a buyer may purchase a product or service like yours once or twice per year. Maybe more or less depending on your industry. Yet your company sells hundreds of thousands of your products or services over the same time period. Who’s the buying expert? YOU ARE! Your company’s experience with many buyers gives you a superior perspective and insight to use for guiding your buyers through their process. You may not always be the best solution for every buyer, but you can quickly identify (and target) the right buyers for your product or service and provide them the absolute best buying experience!
Pull your customer-facing teams together and begin mapping out steps your target buyers go through to purchase. A common buyer’s journey follows a few common steps including:
Uncovering the Buyer’s Journey
For each one of these steps, define what your buyer is trying to accomplish across a number of key areas including:
- What causes this step to kickoff?
- What is the user trying to achieve at this step?
- What does the user want to know at this step?
- How does the user interact with the organization at this point?
- What is the user feeling at this step in the process?
- How does the organization let the user down at this step
The second BIG ROCK extending out from the brand is CONTENT.
Content is a building block for every effective customer acquisition program. First, define the “space” you what to own. In other words, when your target buyer researches a topic in this space, they will find you. Second, develop the resources to help buyers within this space gain the knowledge, trust, confidence, and conviction to move through their journey. By doing these two steps well, you’ll position your business as a highly relevant choice.
Content comes in all varieties whether text, video, images or audio. What you choose and what you ultimately produce is driven by an understanding of your buyer personas, their journey and what they need to do to move to a buying decision.
If you don’t have a clear and documented content strategy and associated production plan, then don’t attempt it! How often have you come across a business website where their blog or news sections are either empty or outdated? What type of impression does this situation create? It’s not a positive one for sure! If you don’t have a plan with the resources to support it then you’re better off not doing it at all.
The third BIG ROCK extending from the brand are CHANNELS.
Marketing channels are deliberately chosen ways to find and connect with your target buyers along their buying journey using your message platform to create and build engagement
Less is more when it comes to selecting the right marketing channels. Being everywhere but in a limited (e.g. outdated, irrelevant, infrequent, etc.) manner, may do more harm than good. Pick 2-3 marketing channels best-suited for reaching your target buyers and spend the resources to optimize them for the best results. Leveraging the insights gained from your target buyers (and the resulting personas) will help you with the channel selection process.
According to Smarter Insights, there are more than 120 marketing channels available to distribute your message to an audience. And “new, shiny objects” in digital marketing pop-up frequently and can quickly divert your attention with needless clutter. Stay focused on where your buyers coalesce and start testing those channels one at a time or as your resources are available. Operating within 2-3 channels is OK – you don’t need to be in all places. But with the places, you do choose to operate – go “all-in”.
For B2B, and across all industries, there are a number of core marketing channels that tend to operate under the 80/20 rule. Although a longer-term strategy that requires a solid website infrastructure and quality content, search engine optimization (SEO) is a core channel. It provides the highest volume of visitor traffic to your website at the lowest cost over time. Email marketing is another core channel.
However, marketing is a process that requires the integration of many parts to produce a comprehensive, effective and sustainable customer acquisition program. You need to select marketing channels that target the top of the funnel, middle of the funnel and bottom of the funnel activities of your buyers. Remember, buying is a non-linear process. So you want to leverage marketing channels that connect with buyers at wherever point they may be along their buying journey.
THREE KEY ACTIVITIES SUPPORTING THE BIG ROCKS
Once the big rocks (brand, content, channels, and journey) are in place, it’s time to implement the right GROWTH INFRASTRUCTURE.
Your website is critical since it carries your brand messaging and is at the forefront of buyer engagement. According to research, “90% of buyers visit a vendors website to learn and engage.” Your website should be developed as a customer acquisition growth engine.
Secondly, marketing automation and a CRM are critically important for acquisition marketing and growth. You can’t manage to want you don’t measure and these marketing and sales technology platforms capture critical data points you must have to optimize and troubleshoot. In addition, they help create greater relevancy, value, and engagement with your buyers throughout their buying stages. If you’re concerned with budget or skill-set associated with these technologies then consider contacting us. We offer cost-effective technology platforms and can manage the setup and operations while also training your team.
LEAD NURTURING enables you to “guide” the journey that the buyer takes from being a lead to becoming a customer. It leverages your content and accesses lower cost channels (e.g. email, SMS, phone calls, etc.) It also leverages your insights about the buying journey to feed prospective buyers the right information they need to move forward to a purchase.
It’s ideal to segment your nurturing campaigns on event-triggers, personas, titles, or other variables that enable you to personalize the experience for each prospective buyer.
Relevant, timely and high-value communications to a specific segment can reap significant results. Companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50% more sales-ready leads at a 33% lower cost (Forrester) Even non-purchasing nurtured leads can become ambassadors and evangelists for your brand and help grow your social reach.
According to DemandGen Report, “nurtured leads produce, on average, a 20% increase in sales opportunities versus non-nurtured leads.” It’s a strategy that every B2B must have in place.
BUT – you can’t jump into nurturing without first setting the foundation by working through your brand, content, channels, and journey. I have witnessed too many B2B companies implementing a marketing automation platform like Eloqua, HubSpot or other to simply send out terrible messaging that insults versus helps their target buyers
SALES ENABLEMENT according to HighSpot.com, “helps sales and marketing teams unleash the power of content to improve customer conversations and win more deals.” It’s about planning and producing high-value content that a buyer needs and your sales team will deliver at the right time during the sales process. This may include resources to help the buyer sell internally like IT and data security certifications and processes to put the buyer’s IT Director at ease with your tech solution. Arming your sales teams with the right content to share, the right messaging to communicate and the best practices gathered across the sales team, will help drive greater sales results for each salesperson.
ONGOING CHURN of SUSTAINABLE CUSTOMER ACQUISITION
As I mentioned earlier, acquisition marketing and growth is a PROCESS. And with any process, it’s critical to gain visibility into it in order to monitor performance and either improve or optimize.
METRICS establishes this visibility into the process and sets the points for managing your entire customer acquisition program. They help determine whether your program is on target to achieve your goals or failing. It’s also the data, collected within your growth infrastructure, that helps drive your decision-making. As a business leader responsible for allocating people, time and money, gaining visibility and leveraging sales and marketing data, will help you make exceptionally better decisions to drive marketing and sales effectiveness.
There are endless data points to measure across a customer acquisition program. What’s important (the 20% of effort to gain 80% results) is to build alignment between sales and marketing on what matters the most for driving your priorities forward. Maybe it’s revenue or retention or cost per acquired customer.
Below are the basic customer acquisition program metrics to capture from day one across your marketing funnel:
- Conversion Rate (multiple variations; e.g. avg. lead close rate)
- Cost per Lead or Action (CPL)
- Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)
- Return on Channel Spend (or advertising spend)
Depending on what your metrics show and how they are trending, you either apply optimization strategies to generate more of the same or begin troubleshooting to fix barriers clogging up your pipeline.
TROUBLESHOOTING and OPTIMIZATION are two-sides of the same coin. In either case, the approach involves evaluating the performance of your marketing and sales activities across the marketing funnel to identify barriers or opportunities to improve outcomes (better, cheaper, faster.)
When signals gathered from your metrics show that your BIG ROCKS and supporting activities are engaging effectively, then you have an opportunity to optimize levers (whether ad creative, offer, message, bids, reach, etc.) to generate more outputs, lower costs or higher conversions.
The flip-side of troubleshooting occurs when these processes are under-performing against your metrics and you need to identify, hypothesize and test new ways to improve.
The importance of analytics tied to your growth infrastructure (like Google Analytics, MixPanel, etc.) becomes very evident when talking about optimization and troubleshooting. You need to have a mechanism in place to capture buyer behavior data. Without this data, decision-making is based more on guessing which is not an effective strategy.
USE THE CUSTOMER ACQUISITION FRAMEWORK TO GUIDE YOUR DEMAND GENERATION PROGRAM
An integrated marketing automation and CRM platform can be highly effective for connecting the dots across your customer acquisition program at a cost-effective rate. However, make sure you have the in-house skillset required to not only implement such a platform but also to set it up effectively. If marketing technology doesn’t create forward progress on your business growth initiatives then clearly, it’s not worth the investment.
If you are interested in learning more about or implementing the customer acquisition framework at your B2B company, please contact Kevin or call 53.601.8893.