Ignite your trendspotting super powers. (Photo by Freddy Marschall on Unsplash)

Forget ‘Know Your Buyer.’ Know Your Ecosystems Instead

The Missing B2B Marketing Skills for complex sale B2B marketing teams

tl;dr: Don’t add more MarTech until everyone on your team understands how to engage with your ecosystems. Biggest gap in B2B Marketing today.

In B2B Marketing, our ultimate goal for Net New growth is to deliver increasingly higher quality relationships to sales, with sales accepting an ever-increasing % of MQLs — yes? For Sales to accept an ever-increasing % of MQLs, means that they think we marketers are doing a better job qualifying conversions as true sales Leads. To do that, our messaging & content must resonate with our targets in order to draw them closer to us.

And yet, we’re all in a bit of a mess from a ‘resonating’ perspective. The very folks who posited “EVERY BRAND IS A PUBLISHER” and every conceivable version of “Content is King” are now telling us “It’s too much, y’all. Publish less. But better. Yeah, better. But less.”

SMDH

As Mark Schaeffer has so beautifully detangled, Content Shock is a thing and, hoo boy, it’s a bit of a nightmare for those of us who’d really like to help prospects tackle material challenges. My good friend and colleague, Carlos Hidalgo, also graciously addresses this issue in his Open Letter to B2B Content Marketers. And yet:

The Marketplace’s Sub-optimal 3 Pack Solution is a non-starter

  1. Do less content. But better.
  2. Know your buyer.
  3. Be social.

Ok. Cool. In theory, I agree those three pillars aren’t bad. But the problem is that there are 5 zillion ways for people to interpret those directives. And they’re mostly interpreted in the worst way possible (Thus, Content Shock).

Here’s just one tiny, but perfect example via Adam New-Waterson:

Brilliant personalization is not {{Company Name}} and {{painpoint}}. It’s a real connection with individuals.

Sadly in the race to the bottom, ^ is often what passes for personalized content & engagement.

So how do we get it right? What’s the better solution to the Marketplace’s 3 Pack?

1. Forget what you know 2. Pivot towards Ecosystems 3. Ignite Trendspotting Superpowers 3.5. Engage as a human

Why?

Connecting. Connecting dots, connecting people. You cannot spot trends, which enables you to connect dots and connect people, if you are not savvy regarding your broader ecosystems.

Y’all are great at fancy words, and pretty pictures and, umm, broadcasting what you care about, but let’s face it, marketers: what we’re doing isn’t working.

I’ve had the pleasure of coaching teams and individuals over the past several years on how to break through the clutter, via social and content, to connect authentically with targets. Here’s my blueprint. Spoiler: it’s hard work.

1. Forget: Know Your Buyer & All Other Shallow Tenets

For now, forget everything you’ve heard about Know Your Buyer. Forget the personas stuff, forget what you’ve heard about the 48 ways to craft emails that get opened, forget about all the new proclamations re ABM — forget it all. Because the Marketplace advice has lead us to abysmal success rates on both the sales and marketing sides of the B2B Outbound/Inbound equations.

As David Keene, Growth and GTM Strategy, Google Apps for Work, says “Clickbait, rubbish content marketing helps no one, and maybe delivers a 0.25% return.” (go listen to this 16 minute interview with him when you get the chance; you’ll walk away inspired)

Yes, sure, knowing your buyer is important; I’d argue it’s table stakes. If you don’t know your buyer, what are you doing? But, like the rest of the shallow tenets, each is just one piece of a very big ecosystem.

So What’s the Answer? If you want:

  • > 50% of sales pipeline first touched or influenced by Marketing
  • Sales thrilled with your MQLs
  • The right targets engaging with you
  • To connect meaningfully with influencers, including media
  • Your prospects, customers, and influencers sharing your content (who better?)

If this is what you want, then you need to:

2. Understand ecosystems in order to be able to achieve 3. Trendspotting ← hard work

Ecosystems? Really? Yes, your ecosystem and adjacent ecosystems.

  • Your product, solution, verticals, competitors
  • Your customers, your prospects, their verticals, their buying process, their competitors, the topics they care about
  • Influencers, their motivations, the topics they care about

Let’s say you’re in SalesTech X, it’s critical you know your ecosystem:

  • Your customers, prospects, and your competitors in X
  • How/If that varies for your targets by vertical
  • Overall, which channels are working/Which aren’t?
  • Tech & Business Media

And it’s critical to know adjacent ecosystems:

  • What other tech solutions, not already doing X, might add X to their solution
  • What are the other tech solutions (not direct competitors but likely competitors for budget) your targets know about and how are they communicating to your targets? Where do they excel; where do they suck?
  • In the B2B SalesTech/MarTech ecosystem, what are the positive trends that swaths of people are interested in? What trends are dying?
  • The tech/app ecosystem — who’s winning here and why? How are they reaching your targets and with what kind of messages via which channels?
  • The internal IT community — the “we can build that ourselves” folks
It’s critical to understand how swamped your targets are with tech/app messaging AND your targets may be swamped by several ecosystems. Every day. This goes way beyond “Know Your Buyer” and current Personas analysis. It’s an entirely new paradigm.

3. Ignite your Trendspotting Superpowers

Prerequisite: Ongoing Double-Dutch in Your Ecosystems

When you are continually double-dutching in all your ecosystems, you can begin to spot trends, topics. You’ll see what’s currently being covered. More importantly, you’ll begin to see brilliant topics that are neglected.

Example: Let’s say you’re keen to connect with a cool tech editor. And it’s a no brainer to see the topics that are over-saturated in the marketplace so your editor likely won’t be interested in pitches on those topics. Or, the editors might be quite specific on what stories they do and don’t want to hear. For instance, The Next Web has a policy that they don’t cover funding announcements because <yawn>. But there’s loads of other topics they’d be interested in hearing a pitch on — and you can get an idea of what they’re interested in by following them, their editors, and reporters.

Same process with your other targets. What topics are over-covered under-covered? What’s a cool thing you do for your customers that drives measurably better outcomes for them? And is that a thing that’s not over-saturated in the marketplace? If it’s meaningful regarding outcomes and not over-saturated already in the marketplace (and not about fundraising or your features/functions/benefits), you might be able to get some traction on it with your targets via social, mails, paid and unpaid channels.

Like learning a new language. This is not easy and cannot happen overnight for you. It takes immersion and practice. You will have setbacks and rejection.

Like learning a new language, there are times when you’ll think “I will never get this.” You might even embarrass yourself with some tone deaf attempts. That’s ok. It still happens to all of us. But then all of a sudden, you’re double-dutching with the big kids, and not long after that the newbies will be working hard to double-dutch with you.

3.5 Engage like a human

When you’re just starting out listening to the relevant ecosystems, it can be confusing to understand how you should engage or what your online ‘voice’ should be. It’s confusing because there’s an awful lot of insincere, blather-y behavior online. And one could easily be deceived into thinking the loud, show-off-y behavior is the accepted norm. Just like at a grown-up cocktail party, don’t be that guy. Ask great questions, listen more than you speak, be sincere. Speaking of social listening, my dear colleague Marshall Kirkpatrick (CEO LittleBird) tells you all you need to know here:

Social listening tips for B2B marketers by Marshall Kirkpatrick

Close your marketing skills gaps

Knowing your ecosystems is the foundational skill you need as a B2B marketer to be able to connect all the dots: Identify the best content to create and share, understand the best channels, unleash your wicked cool powers to connect with influencers, connect influencers to each other (beyond cool), connect your internal SMEs to marketplace interests.

All the trite, trumpeted tenets in the current, silly B2B marketing space move you farther away from your goals. Knowing your ecosystems moves you closer to your goals and widens the gap between you and your competitors.

Use case on the above here: I Am Your Prospect. Not a persona