B2B Enterprise customer acquisition involves a complex buying process. And the sales process is becoming ever more consensus-based as most individuals do not want to assume all the risk or force decisions down the chain.
Most organizations approach enterprise purchases from a group perspective that involves over twenty individuals in roles that vary from recommender, influencer, sniper, decision-maker and approver. The group involved in the customer buying process collaborate on both the problem and the solution, plus sharing the risk, rewards and often the budget as well. That’s not to say that an individual may make a unilateral decision and drive an initiative down the organization and break a little glass. However the point is that this approach (while popular decades ago) is no longer the norm and relative infrequent. One key reason is that most solutions require internal behavior change within the organization to fully internalize the solution. People that are not “included” in the decision making process do not feel vested in the initiative and as a result are reluctant to adopt the solution.
To be both efficient and effective in B2B enterprise customer acquisition it’s important to understand the customer buyer behavior model. This is a graphical representation of the key personas, motivations and informational needs represented by each stage of the customer buying process. This model serves sales and marketing well by providing insight on how and whom to approach within an enterprise to facilitate the B2B customer acquisition process.
B2B Enterprise Customer Acquisition
B2B Enterprise customer acquisition is similar to a B2C purchase in the sense that in both scenarios the most predictive variable of purchase is personal experience. Note however that B2B purchases are more complex because of the number of functions and people included in the buying process. For example, if a Chief Analytics Officer was just hired and he or she recently successfully implemented a predictive analytics solution at their prior company, it’s pretty certain they will select that vendor. Granted, this is not 100% accurate, but it’s pretty certain for at least two standard deviations or 66% of the time.
There is no substitute for personal or actual experiences. However, actual experiences – while they are the most powerful, they are not always the best thing for an organization since they can be negative. It’s possible to overcome negative experiences but it requires repositioning — not something that usually happens quickly or inexpensively.
Most organizations have either not sold to an individual or want to sell to acquire new customers — and that requires selling beyond the people who have purchased and successfully implemented your solution. When this happens and personal experience is not an option, the next best route to influence a decision maker is to “hijack” their knowledge through some way other than their own direct experiences. No one can directly experience everything for themselves, so it’s necessary to rely on stories, logic and mathematics, etc. to provide indirect information that resonates similarly to personal experience—this is also called “vicarious persuasion.”
Vicarious Persuasion and the Power of Storytelling
Vicarious persuasion can change how people view a topic as well as influence their behavior. An effective channel for vicarious persuasion is to develop and communicate vibrant and credible stories. If told well, these vicariously created stories will have the same impact on a person as an actual, personal experience—i.e. the reinforcement of a particular behavior and a positive emotional reaction.
What this boils down to is that it’s essential for B2B marketers to become great storytellers.
Words can be used to persuade others to align with our thinking (or the way we want them to think) as long as the words are meaningful, relevant, in a memorable format and about a situation that the consumer can see themselves in.
In addition, stories are immediately accessible, can be enormously powerful and be told by anyone, and they can impact whomever hears them. Poignant narratives move people beyond what is being said and into an experience that they create, (but that a skilled marketer can shape) for themselves. The result is a rich connection based in both fact and emotion.
Because stories create vivid images and specific details, they are better understood by individuals. In addition, the impact of a story is longer lasting than a conversation. The best stories focus on the simple reality of the actual event, place or interaction. Also, stories are more effective than simple facts as facts lack context and emotion. If marketers are able to pull an individual into the narrative of their story and open a mind or suspend disbelief in an individual, stories can create an empathic reaction that feels just as strong and real as if it actually happened to them.
Vicarious Persuasion and B2B Marketer’s
As a B2B marketer, it’s important to tell the whole story. It’s critical that the narrative communicated contains a clear bridge between the current action or inaction as well as corresponding negative or positive business outcomes. It’s important to ensure that the story contains all of the possible actions and resulting benefits. In order to create action, an individual will need to convince themselves that taking action will be worth it and that they will be successful if they opt to do it.
While personal experiences drive most B2B purchase decisions, vicarious experiences are next best and are best communicated via a well-told story. It has been proven scientifically that subjecting individuals to believable models impacts not only their thoughts and emotions but their actual behavior.
Savvy B2B marketers use storytelling to execute their vicarious persuasion strategy to acquire new B2B customers. The stories create connections that open a path to embrace new ideas or old topics in new ways. While stories can be powerful tools for influence, it’s crucial to not confuse vicarious persuasion with verbal persuasion (i.e. the sales rep that will not stop talking). Verbal persuasion is sometimes not enough to shape or change people’s persistent or insistent views of the world.
Vicarious experience is one of the most effective tools a marketer can use. When information is presented through realistic stories dealing with real business issues, individuals lower their defenses and allow the information to be processed by their brain in much the same way as they might experience it if it actually had happened to them.
In B2B enterprise customer acquisition there is no substitute for personal experiences the decision maker has had with your solution or with a competitor’s. However, if a personal, positive experience does not exist with the targeted buyer then marketers can create vicarious experiences to facilitate the sales process.