The Best Source of B2B Buyer Insight Is the One You’ll Probably Never Use

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Customer contact is a sensitive issue for many B2B sales teams. That’s understandable; every interaction between a company’s representatives and its customers adds another variable to an already complex relationship.

As with most things, however, there’s a balance to strike here. In too many cases, companies exhaust every possible option to understand the customer’s buying behavior and process with one exception: asking actual customers.

A blog post earlier this year from Gartner Research VP Hank Barnes drove home this point for me. Barnes cited a Gartner study of IT-industry buyers in which nearly 75% said they would share details about their buying process with a trusted sales representative.

Within that group, Barnes noted, about 1 in 3 buyers said they would offer more detailed insight – including, in some cases, naming the people who own each decision point in the organization’s buying process.

I admit I’m biased: I scope and execute persona projects every day, and I know the value customer insight adds to the process. I also know that well-built personas, in turn, can greatly improve an organization’s ability to engage with prospects, to understand their needs and to close deals that benefit everyone involved.

Yet Barnes states what I know to be a fact: Many organizations, perhaps most, won’t mine this rich source of knowledge. Some assume – wrongly, in most cases – that they’ll get nothing from the process except a bunch of annoyed customers. At other firms, the sales group or whoever owns the post-sale relationship settles the matter by categorically ruling out such contacts.

I’m not lobbying to turn the marketing team (or, heaven forbid, uppity consultants) loose on unsuspecting customers. There’s a time and place for such contacts; they require a deft touch, a knack for diplomacy and a solid foundation of trust. Before they happen, the marketing and sales groups, and other concerned stakeholders, should decide who makes that call and how they maximize the value of those conversations.

Getting buying-process insight from customers isn’t easy. You should be making the effort anyway, given how important and useful the insight is going to be.

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