Sometimes, what you sell isn’t what they want or need to buy.
We knew we had an adoption problem over the spring and summer. We were on our 2nd iteration of business model which was about six months old. We were getting good results from the social marketing services, but were as frustrated as some of our customers as to expectations of outcomes. It was just taking too long to get the traction and we had lost some customers to their expectations of immediacy that we weren’t capable of delivering. We were too dependent upon them to “help us help them” to understand the problem they solved for their clients. Never a good business model to be dependent upon clients for their own strategy. Never a good business model to blame the client for the lack of success either.
On the sales side, we just couldn’t get them closed in steady numbers. They were interested, they said they liked it, but when it came time to get a decision, it stalled. We kept improving our messaging, examples, and just about everything in the business, but no movement. I knew we had an adoption problem for both our new prospective buyers, BUT also for our current clients. I knew we were providing a world-class offering. We were pioneering a new way of leveraging social media for BtoB lead generation.
You see, we were just plain better at it - we could get better connection rates, better inbound unique visitors to websites, and even better inquiry conversion rates than their own product pages. We had the metrics, we had the metrics and the momentum, but not the buy-in. We kept asking our clients and prospects to tell us what problem(s) they solve for the target market.
I can’t tell you how many CMOs would tell me their value proposition. I would say, but what problem is the buyer trying to solve? How did they come to realize that they needed your solution? “Well, we told them”. hmmmm….
The moment of epiphany came when we took a step back and realized that “social” wasn’t' solving their problems and that we were them. awkward…
We realized that the value proposition that we were really providing was developing an understanding of their buyers and building tailored marketing programs to reach them through the noise. Social was a means to an end. One of those, I see something out of the corner of my eye, but I am so focused on avoiding the tree that I am about to run into to actually realize that the path is over there…. duh….
The realization was that buyer adoption is the problem that we can solve. Problem for us is that people don’t realize that they have a buyer adoption problem. The know their symptoms:
- Not meeting revenue goals
- Not enough opportunities at the top of the funnel
- Huge drop off at each stage within the sales funnel to the close
- Sales cycles are getting longer
- Sales complaining about # and quality of leads
- No visibility to when active buyers enter the market
- Not reaching them early enough or getting close enough to influence their buying decisions
- Missing opportunities because you didn’t make their short list
- If/when they do engage, they do so with requirements in hand
- You’re getting “No decision” because buyers don’t have what they need to make all the decisions they need to make to mitigate their risk in making the wrong decision
Buyers can’t make the strategic business case for the decision maker
Buyers can’t get consensus
A long laundry list, but as we dig deeper; a realization that the seemingly disconnected marketing, business development, and sales symptoms are actually interrelated. So, you may be agreeing that you have an adoption problem, but not sure what type of adoption problem. So, there is a difference in market adoption versus buyer adoption:
- Market adoption is focused on getting a market to adoption your new technology, innovation, approach, etc. Your Strategic Marketing Plan should address how you are going to manage your world domination.
- Buyer adoption is how an individual buyer goes about solving a particular problem and what technology/tools/knowledge do they need to adopt to solve this problem. Traditionally, this has been left to sales figure out how to do this one by one.
In these simple definitions is the key. Buyers enter the market knowing what they know which is their pain. Most aren’t even aware of your solution, let alone your brand. Buyers no longer have the patience, time, or resources to wait until they engage with you to see if you can help solve their problem. Too many opportunity costs. They are increasingly moving their expectations for your ability to demonstrably enable their problem resolution prior to their actually talking to your sales organization about how you solve it. Solution selling is about ” getting agreement to the problem before selling your solution’s value proposition.” But, most marketing doesn’t do that.
If you are seeing opportunities that you should be in that are missed, they are coming better prepared with their requirements prior to reaching you, or you are coming in too late to influence the process even when you know they should adopt your approach. You have a buyer adoption problem.
Better yet, what are the three gotcha questions that we should be asking ourselves to help us know if we have a buyer adoption problem:
- What is happening upstream before you get engaged with buyers?
- How good are you at anticipating their business symptoms and root problem?
- Are you able to see the differences in their situation based upon their behavior?
If your organization cannot answer these for target markets, then you have an buyer adoption problem. Think of it another way, is your solution a need or a want? Not what should it be, but what does your prospective buyer believe. Do they have a tangible problem they need to solve or are they interested in your “cool” new technology? Is it a must have or a nice to have? Do you want to sell nice-to-haves to business buyers in this economy?
But, what is the solution? Buyer Marketing.
Buyer marketing is a marketing discipline represents the buyer(s) interest within the strategic marketing portfolio that realigns the perspective of engagement, communications, and systems to focus on these components:
- Market Like You Sell – Start with buyer pain/problem and provide individual buyer decision support
- Sell In The Marketplace – Buyers start their process well before they contact you or visit your website.
- Measure Like Your Buyer – Define success as a buyer “I see that you will solve my problem.”
For us, the realization was that we were in the wrong business. Our problem was that we needed to figure out how to solve buyer adoption problems rather than sell social marketing. Social is a tool to help us understand the market (statistical sampling if you will), but at the end of the day, social doesn’t solve problems. Helping companies better address their buyers’s needs rather than continuing to “need to sell them something that you want them to buy” is good business.
We now see our job as to help companies overcome their buyer adoption problems by providing buyer marketing services to assist in their ability to market like they sell, sell in the marketplace earlier than their sales funnel, and to then align their measurement of success the way their buyers do, which is to make sure that we can demonstrably solve their problem – tell them what you will do, do it, and then show the success in solving their problem. Much simpler to articulate and a hell of a lot easier to sell.
Sometimes, just understanding the problem that your buyers want you to solve is really the key problem holding you back. For us, we have spent the summer converting our existing clients over to this new approach. We have also run some new clients this this approach and we are seeing the results really validating that this is real and we have the right approach.
Its tough to admit to yourself and others that what you are passionate about and invested in isn’t working like you want. It is even tougher to take a step back and revisit your assumptions. But, I would contend that a good number of successful companies don’t just magically figure it out, but rather go through periods of self-assessment along the way and course correct as they evolve in a market. If you don’t learn from your market, how can you evolve with the market?