Today's B2B Marketer: All the Right Moves in All the Wrong Places


Braydon Anderson:                                      

Welcome to this session of WinLossWeek, the world's largest online event dedicated to WinLoss analysis. My name is Braydon Anderson, and this event is hosted by Closed. The title of this session is, 'Today's B2B Marketer: All the right moves and all the wrong places.' Today we're joined by Saber Sherrard and Johnny Hanson from Bain & Company. Saber and Johnny are part of the Commercial Excellence Practice based out of the Dallas, Texas office. Saber is the leader in Bain's B2B Go to Market and Private Equity practices and serves as the global head of Bain's B2B Marketing Solutions. Johnny is an active member of the firm's customer success or Customer Strategy and Technology Media and Telecom practices and is an expert in the B2B Commercial Excellence and Go to Market strategies. Saber and Johnny, thanks so much for being here with us today. We're excited to hear what you have to share.

Johnny Hanson:                                        

Thanks Braydon.

Saber Sherrard:                                        

Thanks Braydon.

So Braydon gave us a great introduction, and so I won't belabor this, but as Braydon mentioned, my name is Saber Sherrard. I'm a partner at the Bain Dallas office. I am a leader in the Commercial Excellence practice. Well, Commercial Excellence is sort of Bain speak for all things B2B sales and marketing. I also have the honor of running Bain's B2B Marketing Capability, which is the topic that's central to what we'll be covering today. My partner in crime here, Johnny Hanson, is also in the Bain Dallas office and is a leader in this Commercial Excellence practice as well. And so what that means is Johnny and I spend all of our time working with B2B companies to harness and facilitate growth via sales and marketing.

So just real quickly, I mentioned I run the B2B marketing practice at Bain, and quite frankly, this is part of our broader Commercial Excellence practice. Bain is very much a thought leader in the B2B commercial space.

We spend a lot of our time and energy sort of sharing best practices with our clients, developing IP, and today we're going to focus on really just a small portion of the thought leadership that we've recently put out. Some of it also you see highlighted here. Anything from a prescriptive analytics and how to drive sales and marketing growth via analytics too. As you can imagine, a lot of energy over the last six months in helping our clients respond to the crisis, right? Much of which has captured here, all of which is available at or reaching out to Johnny or I directly. Next, I want to spend just a quick moment on how we at Bain see the world of a B2B sales and marketing, or was what I referred to as Commercial Excellence. This framework is what we affectionately refer to as the 'TIE fighter' for all you a Star Wars [inaudible].

But let me give you just a brief thought on how to view it. What I would do is I'd encourage you to start on sort of the outside and work inwards. And so in particular, you'll see on the border, on the left, the Value Proposition and Offering Management, right? So these are obviously critical capabilities in B2B, as well as customer experience on the far right, which is again critical for any sales and marketing engine. But importantly, as you work inwards, you see the top half of the circle includes many capabilities you might associate with any strong B2B sales organization, right? So route-to-market clarity, sales capacity, account, territory management, et cetera. But perhaps most important is found at the center. And what we believe is the foundation of any world-class B2B revenue engine, that being market opportunity and segmentation. Said simply, this is having a clear view of where the dollars are, right?

Not by accident, marketing is firmly located at the center of this chart, right underneath market opportunity and segmentation, really underlying or supporting the revenue engine. This is also an intentional, as we believe marketing is as critical or even foundational element of any successful B2B marketing and sales organization.

And so now let's get into the context for what we're going to be sharing with you today. So we're really excited to share what is honestly hot off the press is IP that we recently completed in partnership with Twitter. So this work was jointly conducted research effort aimed at getting underneath what drives B2B decision-making and how in tune B2B marketers are with these influences. These findings are based on responses from 120 B2B marketers and just under 300 buyers, both cohorts indexing strongly towards technology. Finally, I'd point out that the ultimate goal here is to provide a longitudinal view of COVID impact on B2B marketing, and as such, we'll conduct two more surveys over the next few months, which combined with the findings that we're going to review today, will give us a complete picture of how B2B marketing responded to this crisis. With that, let me hand it over to Johnny, who will share the highlights of what we found. Johnny?

Johnny Hanson:

Thanks, Saber. So as I start to dive into the data, I think the first thing I'll say is one of the first questions that we asked in the survey of B2B buyers was how they rate how much they trust different sources of information. And so this would range from everything from peer and junior team recommendations to going to virtual events like this, as well as live events, interactions with reps, as well as all the kind of paid media advertising that you would think of as being all of the places that a buyer could get input to help them make a purchase decision. And what we found was pretty striking, which is that buyers would say that they tend to trust sources that come from their community, that ecosystem of people around them that they trust: peers, junior teams, industry blogs and analysts that they follow, more than they trust direction or interaction with your brand, so live virtual events and sales reps, and they trust that more than they trust interaction with paid media, so advertisements and things like that.

I think this is kind of where we up with a tagline of this research, which is 'What People Say About You, About Your Brand, Matters More Than What You Tell Them.' What gets really interesting is when you ask that same question of marketers, the marketers feel a little bit differently. What sorts of information did they think that buyers trusted the most? Well, on the one hand, they do believe that buyers will trust community sources more than they trust paid media, but they got that off by matters of degrees, meaning buyers are actually much more likely to trust community sources than marketers perceive them to, And they're much less likely to trust ads and paid media than marketers perceived them to.

We think that this disconnect is kind of fundamental in actually being effective in your marketing efforts, and frankly, in your go to market efforts in general. Some of this is probably psychological in that you would think that marketers might tend to emphasize ads, which is something that they control, and they spend a lot of time and money on it, whereas the buyers are actually much more likely to trust their community, which is where they spend their time and money with the people that surround them. Digging into this further, what we want to understand is the component pieces of that, and what comes out of this is quite stark, which is buyers tend to differentially trust recommendations from junior team members.

The chart here is showing the difference between what the buyers believe and what the marketers believe. And so you get the biggest difference on those junior team members, where buyers are saying, "These are some of the most important inputs into a decision process for me," and the marketers are discounting their impact quite a lot. The same is true, but to a lesser extent for references, existing customers, and vendors, as well as recommendations from peers. And then the opposite is true of a lot of the different types of ads from search and social media to email outreach. I think what this says is that there's some big opportunities here in terms of how you focus your time and energy and effort in order to reach buyers where they are, and at the sources of information that they trust the most.

So we wanted to dig into this point around junior team members a little bit more. This chart shows just from a buyer's perspective and decision maker's perspective, where is the decision-making happening and where in the organization do they get input? And so, while it's true, obviously that for technology purchases, CIOs and VPs within that organization are going to make most of the actual decisions and red, what you see in the pink is that those buyers cite a circle of influence that extends pretty far down within the organization, obviously at the director and manager level, but even down to individual contributors. This matters a lot, and in some ways I think we think of this as an unintended consequence of account-based marketing or ABM social media. A lot of trends that push you to think about marketing towards an individual over marketing towards a company or a brand, that you can overdo it, right?

You can be overly focused on the CIO, when in reality, the CIO is talking to the organization and saying, "What have you heard? Who do you think is good, or who should I choose?" For the next piece of this research, I think we started to dig into a couple of other factors, as Saber mentioned, specifically talking about how people are reacting during COVID, as well as what are some of the better marketers in the space doing differently? First of all, on COVID, I think important to note that this survey was done in June of 2020 or so call it the height of the crisis and the impact when people were still figuring out exactly what to do. One of the questions that we asked was that first question around what sources of information buyers are using to get input and purchase decisions and how that had changed now versus pre- COVID.

There's a couple different things to call out here. The first is the obvious. They view their community as being more important in this crisis. They're kind of retreating into the folks that they trust the most. And in many ways, those communities and those relationships are kind of better adapted to the changing environments of COVID. I actually think the yellow, although it says little to no change, is actually pretty interesting. The fact that buyers would still cite the same importance of events that we're moving from live to virtual, as well as interactions with our sales reps, which probably went from live to virtual as well. It's actually a pretty big testament to the efforts of marketers and sellers everywhere as to kind of continue to maintain those relationships. And I think a marginal decrease in paid media probably to be expected.

We shifted topics slightly from this to say, "Are there a subset of marketers that are doing something differently?" So what we first went out to do is define what we thought a winning marketer might look like. And so we decided to define this outside in, so a company that is growing market share and growing revenue, we're going to call that a winning marketer and winning company, and wanted to see what they were doing differently as part of this. The first thing is that going back to that original question of what sorts of input buyers are using to make decisions. One of the things we see is that winning marketers show a much better understanding of the importance of community. They rate it nearly as highly as the buyers rated themselves, which is in pretty stark contrast to the rest of marketers. I think the word that came to mind for us here was empathy. Winning marketers are simply just better at understanding their customers, where they're at. More on that in a moment.

The next thing we wanted to test with winning marketers is how are they reacting to COVID differently? And one of the things that you see here is that they are much more likely to pursue COVID related messaging, to focus on brand awareness and digital channels, to launch campaigns to current customers. And they were actually much less likely than other marketers to launch targeted campaigns at new customers and new products and new buyers, as well as they were a little bit less likely to host virtual events. Everybody was hosting more events. They were just less likely than other marketers to host as many. I think it'll be super interesting, frankly, to see how this changes over the next few months, because as marketers are kind of getting better and buyers are changing their purchase decisions and dynamics, I think the ways that winning marketers react will be even more telling as we get through the next few months of the crisis. Saber, I'll hand back over to you to wrap up.

Saber Sherrard:

Okay, great. Thanks Johnny. Look, I hope you found the data half as compelling as we did. We are sort of skimming the surface of the research, but we thought we would try to pull some highlights that you'd find interesting. But now let's take a moment to talk about a few takeaways and what we think it all means for us as marketers. So first, it's clear that if marketers are serious about influencing B2B buyers, they need to target not only the buyer, but the buyer's community, right? The peers, the junior members, and others in the B2B buyer's immediate circle. This should be encouraging to those of you that are running intentional account-based marketing efforts, where you're focused on the buyer and the buyer committee, or whatever term you use, to capture the sort of ecosystem and those surrounding and influencing buyers.

But it also should serve as notice for those of you that are overly depending on ads to drive pipeline, right? At a minimum, we need to ensure that each of those ads has a clear audience that you're trying to reach, and that the effectiveness of those efforts can be easily measured. The next takeaway is to acknowledge how winning marketers have differentiated themselves from COVID. Winning marketers have consistently and intentionally demonstrated empathy, the other COVID related messaging as Johnny alluded to a moment ago, they've reinforced their base by differentially focusing on current customers versus prospecting, and they built their brand by creating heightened awareness and advantageous positioning in their messaging versus driving incremental demand generation. Finally, we'll leave you all with a question. So we encourage you to ask yourselves and your internal marketing organizations how you are going to unlock the next level of engagement, brand awareness, and demand gen for your org.

Are you going to do it via the most optimally placed media? Or instead are you, is there more you could do to build community, to reach not only the B2B buyer you covet, but also reach the ones he or she looks to for advice and guidance? Said simply, what more could you do to focus on your buyer's community? And so with that, I want to thank you all for your time today. As I mentioned in the opening, this is all sort of hot off the press research, which will be followed, in actually just a few weeks by White Paper, that'll go a lot deeper in terms of the findings and implications. And so if you found today's discussion, interesting, I would encourage you to capture the QR code on this page, and we'll ensure you get a copy of the White Paper when it's released. That's it for Johnny and I. I want to thank you both for your time today.

Braydon Anderson:                                      

Yeah. Thanks so much. This is so fascinating. I can't wait to download the guide, or the White Paper, rather. I think there's a lot of really fascinating stuff in here, so thank you both for sharing this wonderful research. Again, for those that are watching scan this QR code. Just pull out your camera on your phone and just scan this, and it'll take you to a form, and we'll get that sent out to you in the next couple of weeks. So thanks everyone for attending WinLossWeek today, and we hope you have a great day. Bye.