Why Marketers Fail at Customer Empathy and How to Fix it

No one will ever say “we don’t focus on the customer.”

Here’s why (even empathetic) marketers fail at customer empathy and how to fix it.

Let me explain:

Dr. Johannes Huttula did a research with 480 experienced marketing managers.

They asked marketers to step into their customer’s shoes and predict what they would reply in a market test.

BTW – The scientists already knew what the customers would say because they captured the customer’s preferences before the test.

Surprisingly, the more empathetic the marketers felt, the worse they did on predicting customer preferences and motivations. They utterly failed.

The reason marketers fail at empathy

According to Huttula, the marketers used their own biases and personal preferences (thinking it’s empathy) to predict what will appeal to customers.

I know, crazy right?

Huttula found that telling marketers about their bias helped the correct marketers course. Develop awareness about your own preferences to help you step back and apply customer empathy better.

Why customer empathy is essential

Dr. Antonio Damasio said, we not thinking machines that feel rather, we’re feeling machines that think.

Damasio discovered that we make our decisions emotionally. His research showed every decision we make grounded in emotion every single one. This is huge.

As marketers, we’re almost self-centered to a fault when we approach customers.

Today we have more ways of reaching our customers, we have more channels and more content than ever before. But, connecting with our customers (really connecting with them and building trust) has never been harder.

That’s why I believe empathy is a superpower. It’s a superpower for sellers and marketers to connect – to understand another person’s feeling and experience. If we can do that we can relate.

In sum, our personal assumptions kill empathy. And we don’t even realize we’re doing it.

What you can do to fix the customer empathy gap

Here’s what you I’ve found we can do to fix the customer empathy gap:

  • Focus on building a connection before you focus on conversion.
  • Consider your assumptions and biases before you do any more new marketing
  • Ask yourself, is what you’re communicating really grounded in customer insights?
  • Understand the core emotional motivators of your customers
  • Design messages and experiences that resonate with these core emotional drivers
  • Use agile testing to get actionable customer motivation insights
  • Transfer customer insights to different channels and scale up results

Share your thoughts. What did I miss or what else would you add?

You may also like:

HBR: Putting Yourself in the Customer’s Shoes Doesn’t Work: An Interview with Johannes Hattula

How Empathy Will Grow Your Sales and Marketing Pipeline

Empathetic Marketing: How To Connect With Your Customers

Growing B2B relationships with trust and empathy

Growing B2B Sales with Trust and Empathy

We have more sales and marketing technology and channels to reach our customers, but they’re increasingly tuning us out.

In short: we’re getting more disconnected from customers.

Something is missing.

Even though our tools have become smarter with AI and machine learning, connecting and building B2B relationships has never been harder.

The question is:

How can we connect better and build relationships with B2B customers?

That’s why I interviewed Steve Woods (@stevewoods), Founder & CTO at Nudge to learn how we can be connecting and building B2B relationships with trust and empathy,

What inspired you to start-up Nudge?

Sure thing. You and I have known each other, obviously, for a long time. A few decades. So, my history before Nudge was Eloqua, in the marketing space, obviously, it’s a space you’re very familiar with, you’re working a lot with marketers.

And really, we were able to see this wonderful transition as marketing went from kind of an arts and craft discipline to a very measured lead generation, demand generation-oriented discipline that started to connect with sales. Here are leads that are qualified; that are interested.

And, that was a wonderful transition to see. But, looking over the fence at the world of sales, we realized that the core of getting those deals done was the next step.

Building trust and relationships

customer conversationThe core was getting the trust and the relationships (and the breadth and depth of relationships at our organization) that would then allow that deal to be moved forward.

The trust and the empathy to be developed, and ultimately the deal to be closed based on those relationships.

As the Eloqua story was winding down, Paul and I decided to jump in and tackle relationship intelligence and use relationship intelligence to understand where empathy is being built, where trust is being built, and how you can make a sales team more effective, by focusing their efforts on the right initiatives.

Brian: That’s cool, just how you took your story from where you were to what you’re doing right now.

Growth lessons: relationships, trust, and empathy are the core

I think the thing that we were lucky with, more than anything, in Eloqua was being part of a major change in a space. Marketing going from unmeasured to measured, and all the effects that that had on the people and the processes and the technology and the understanding.

We were lucky to be a core part of that, and that helped us kind of flow along with that river.

I think what we were trying to do with Nudge was to be a little bit more proactive and say, “What’s going on at a macro level that is going to be a dominant theme of a space for the next decade?”

And looking at sales and looking at relationships, it became very clear that relationships, trust, empathy were the core thing, and it was unmeasurable. It was intuitive.

Dealing with deal slippage

Every sales leader, when you’re talking about deal slippage when you’re talking about deal progress, when you’re talking about your forecast, it’s all about the relationships and the trust, but it’s not measurable. It’s self-reported by sales reps that often have kind of “happy ears” on the process.

And so, we thought, “If we can do that, if we can figure out how to put a measurement on trust, empathy, and relationships, and then build the tooling on top of that to help people steer the ship in the right direction, then we’re going to be part of a very interesting transition.”

And that’s turned out to be true, as you see sort of the evolution of the sales space: an interesting place to find ourselves in the middle of.

Brian: Yeah. Before us having our interview, we were talking about some of the changes that have happened in sales, and just what’s been happening for our customer, and how difficult it’s gotten for people to get things done, including buying. And one of the things that got us reconnected is, I read the post you wrote about holding the hustle.

What inspired you to write about holding the sales hustle?

Absolutely. That, as with many things, stemmed from a rant, which is always a good place to start.

And it’s interesting because we’re working in this space of sales, so we spent much time and developed a series called “How I Buy,” that interviews buyers and how they go about buying.

Buyer and Seller Differences

And then on the other side, we spent a lot of time talking with salespeople on how they sell. It was Mars and Venus.

Buyers are all about developing an understanding and kind of guiding themselves down a journey, selectively bringing in salespeople when they need some deeper points of view, and really wanting them to be thoughtful, co-conspirators on a journey.

Then you talk with salespeople and it was automation, it was numbers, it was a thousand emails a day. It was, “Hey, did you get my last email sequences?”

It was all hustle, hustle, hustle and it was bizarre to look at these and realize that they were attempting to describe the same animal.

It was bizarre.

At the same time, you see the effect of this. Maybe the first of these automated sequences, you received them as an executive. “Oh look, it’s diligent follow-up. They’re following up.”

Stop customers from experiencing this kind of following-up

And you get those today, and I think my spam folder is filled with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of, “Hey, did you get my last email?”

So, the rant of, “Stop. We must stop this in sales. It’s not working. It is not going to work. It’s going downhill, and it’s going to have to continue to go downhill.”

That developed into the “hold the hustle” thesis, and that’s gotten a huge response. I think everyone intuitively got that.

And we were able to, luckily, kind of articulate something that many people were feeling of why the tools that they were told to develop, and employ is just not driving at anything that even came close to building trust and empathy.

Biggest influence on the buying journey

Brian: Yeah, and as part of my work interviewing customers, it’s surprising how little impact marketing has in their journey, regarding the marketing of the vendor, and how they’re learning in the process.

But, what a difference the salesperson makes in the customer experience and in terms of building trust, in terms of the customers want to know the sales rep is their advocate. They want to know they’re talking to them straight. They’re not pitching to them.

Brian: So, as you’ve done your own outreach, can you share any stories, or any stories of people who’ve held the hustle, and what they’ve seen? If they were doing it one way and any changes you’ve noticed, or what’s been the results?

Buyers want you to journey along with them accountbasedmarketing

Steve: If you look at what buyers are looking for, it’s that person to go along with them on a journey and challenge them, educate them, make them squint, turn their head sideways and look at a problem in a new light. It’s that; that’s what people want.

The facts and information are all out there. What you’re looking for as a buyer is not that. You can get that. You can go google something, you can find any facts and information.

  • What you want is the “So, what?”
  • What does it mean?
  • What are the challenges?
  • Where is it going to work?
  • Where is it not going to work?

And the salespeople who have been able to say, “No. That is my job. My job is to challenge people.” And they go deep on customer problems.

They try and understand that aspect of the customer’s world better than the customer, and they focus in on the right question.

When you get hit with that question and, “Huh, I didn’t think about it that way. Okay, now I’m listening.”

Now there’s an opportunity for us to talk because I didn’t think about my world in the way that you just asked about it. And so now the light bulb’s gone off, and I realize that there’s something more for me to learn.”

Moving the trust bar forward

That’s when that bar of trust starts to move forward, and it’s the sales reps that come at it that way and find those opportunities to say:

“Is something going on in your world, Brian? You’re probably thinking about it this way, and I’m going to push you to think about it that way and here’s why and here’s a story, and you’re going to be maybe a little uncomfortable with the story. However, it’s going to give you some insight that you wouldn’t have got just doing a google search.”

Helping customers buy is about helping them change

Brian: I like the word insight, and as I was listening to you I thought that everything you were saying is helping your customer have that insight. Because, if we’re going to drive change, (and that’s what people are doing when they decide to solve a problem or buy something, is change) change is hard. And not only that, helping other people experience change is even harder.

So, how do we do that? It sounds like a lot of the work you’ve been doing has been connecting the dots, helping people understand the relationships, and helping them go through that journey.

So, as you think of automation, and you’ve been a part of this space for a long time, how do you see empathy and automation fitting together into, in sales and marketing, how you do outreach today?

How do empathy and automation fit together

Steve: I think that is the key question and I think the answer is a little bit easier than it would seem because the simple version of the answer is: you can’t automate empathy. You can’t automate trust.

But, there’s a lot of background work that goes into finding the opportunities to say, “Oh, there’s a chance here that I can add a little bit of value to your world that you wouldn’t have expected.”

To do that I need to understand my world. I need to understand you, your history, your business, what’s going on right now. And then I need to put those two together and insert a point of view in the conversation. After doing all that background research, to say, “What’s happening right now with you, your journey at large and your journey with my business specifically?” And then map that out to a point of view.

That can be done through a lot of automation and AI. The conversation, the, “Hey Brian. Saw this, thought that, here’s what’s going on. Here’s how you might want to think about it.” That’s a very human thing to do.

Put enough of it on a silver platter to say, “Here’s where Brian’s at, and these next steps on the journey might make sense based on all of this history and where he’s at today.”

That can be facilitated by automation; it’s a lot of research and grunt work. It can be optimized a lot better just to tee up those silver platter moments.

3 Steps to build and grow relationships

Step 1: Identify where you are losing touch

Steve: I think the easiest step for anyone that’s trying to build relationships is, quite simply, to look at those relationships, and just say, “Where am I losing touch?” Most people don’t do that. You have the first conversation, if it goes to a deal, great, but 90% of them don’t and they just drop off.

The best reps used to do this manually with Excel spreadsheets. Now there are two things. One of the things we focus on with Nudge, is where you can say, “Look, just make sure I’m in touch with these people every three months. That’s it. I need to reach out.” And that kind of puts a floor on your relationship building.

Step 2: Develop the next step to help each person on their journey

However, then the next point is, okay, I now need to develop this logical next step for where that person is on the journey that they’re mapping out.

So, I need to understand what’s going on in their world:

  • What’s happening with their company?
  • What are the new recent events that have happened?
  • Have there been any exec changes?
  • Where are they at on their journey with my organization?

This is an advancement of the digital body language concept that you and I have chatted about over the last decade.

  • Where are they?
  • What have they done?
  • What have they looked at?
  • Have they used a free trial? Did they get value out of it?
  • Where are they at on that journey?

Step 3: nudge them along on the journey

And given all those things, what can I kind of nudge them to do next to say, “You’re probably here and you’re probably thinking this. But if you just did this one little thing, or thought about it differently, or looked at a data set that I’m going to send over to you, your perspective would evolve.”

And it’s not a sales pitch.

It’s not, “Hey, let’s do a one-hour sales call.” It’s, “Let me show you a new perspective that you might appreciate.”

And if you can do that, and you can guide them along this journey, what you’re doing is pushing them forward, but you’re also building trust.

You haven’t asked first; you’ve given first and in doing so, you’ve built those little tiny nuggets of trust that eventually will guide you to be able to say, “Hey let’s do something here. Your next step on the journey is to become a customer of ours. Here’s what that would look like. We’ve built all this trust; let’s make this happen.”

Conversations and reciprocity working together

Brian: I love that. I think that if our audience were just to take those insights and apply them…As I was listening to you, there are two ways of building a relationship.

One is like we’re doing, we’re having a conversation. We’re in dialogue together.

The second way is reciprocal altruism and what it really means is we give something of value to someone without expecting anything in return. It doesn’t feel like there’s something attached to it. I intend to help this person.

To do that I need to understand and to do that I need to understand where we are we at in our relationship and as you talked about, where they’re at, their journey. What are the questions they’re dealing with? What might they be thinking about? What might they be feeling at this moment?”

Developing “gives” a challenge for marketing

Steve: Yeah. It’s interesting because I think if you extend that train of thought, you get this interesting challenge for the rest of the world of marketing.

Marketing, for the last decade, has not focused as much as they could on those value-added nuggets that I, as a salesperson can give to them. When the moment is right and you’re at that point on the journey, what is my “give?”

If a sales team doesn’t have those “gives”, then they’re stuck with the, “Hey, let’s set up a 60-minute sales call.”

Well, that’s not a give. That’s a big ask. So, the answer’s no.

Whereas with the evolution of marketing that we see today, in some of the top orgs, is to be able to come up with those things that are actual gives. They’re useful. They’re helpful datasets, documents, or whatever the case might be, or trials, or experiences. They’re not traps.

They’re not kind of a half thing, but then you need to take a sales call to get the other half thing. They’re actual gives that build trust and move a buyer along with the relationship. It’s a challenge for marketing that some marketers are getting into with quite a bit of gusto.

Going beyond demand generation to building value

Brian: Yeah, it’s difficult unless someone can think beyond, “My role as a marketer is to generate a lead or get an MQL.”

Some people have called it full-funnel marketing, other people have called it revenue marketing; I think it’s really about customer marketing and customer experience. It starts with the first touch and throughout that it’s having marketers see beyond that; the trust building- a lot of it’s happening through that human being of the sales rep or the sales development rep.

And it’s “what can I do to equip them so that every touch they have with that customer is a positive, helpful experience?” That’s really the best brand building.

All the other things that we want to have in marketing – brand, conversion, more opportunities, and more pipeline- it’s the things you talked about. It all starts with adding value. And to do that it requires us to maybe take the pedal off trying to focus on conversion all the time.

Buyer journeys now look more like a ramp

Steve: I think too, the focus on conversion kind of made sense in the world that we were in ten years ago if I can overgeneralize, where a deal was a big moment in time, right?

A customer went from not a customer to a big three-year contract, multiple hundred thousand, now they are a customer. Over the wall to CS, out of the world of sales.

That’s not the reality now; most buying journeys look more like a ramp than a step function. You come in, maybe you’re on a trial product, maybe you’ve got one team, maybe you’ve got a month-to-month license and then your experience grows, and evolves, and builds from there as you achieve success, as you go down that journey’s pathway.

You ultimately become a very successful, large enterprise client. But it’s not a step function, it’s a growth process.

And if you, as a marketing team, are thinking forward like that, you’re giving your people, (whether you call them sales teams, whether you call them account-farmers, whether you call them customer success reps that have revenue responsibility, whatever they look like) whatever business card they hold, you’ve got to give them the tooling to help guide the buyers along that journey to become more deeply ingrained with your organization, more trusting, and more successful.

You may also like:

The Manifesto: Hustle no longer works for sales. It’s time to #HoldTheHustle.

4 Steps to Do Lead Nurturing that Helps More Customers Buy

How Sales Hustle and Automation Can Hurt Customer Experience

Empathetic Marketing: How To Connect With Your Customers

Transform Your Customer Journey and Accelerate Growth


Transform Your Customer Success Journey and Accelerate Growth

Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Android | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | Spotify | Email Updates

Growth for B2B is hard.

It used to be that you could accelerate growth with huge customer acquisition.

Ramping up your sales and marketing is not enough to sustain growth. Today, the best companies are growing through customer success.

That’s why I interviewed Kia Puhm (@kiapuhm), CEO at K!A CX Consulting to talk about customer success.

Kia’s got a fantastic perspective on “how do we accelerate and grow our existing customer relationships,” which is something that many companies don’t focus on nearly enough.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your background?

Kia: Thanks, Brian. Happy to be here. I come to software from an educational background in computer engineering and a practical experience background of 22 years in the industry working at rapidly growing, very dynamic software companies.

I guess I’ve built every post-sales function and always the common denominator has been how the organizations I led get customers to adopt software so that they are using it and get value out of it. Moreover, therefore, translate into loyal customers that can translate into additional revenue at some point in time.

I had to do that with a finite, limited amount of budget and resource, and so I always try to figure out how to drive that adoption equation while doing what I could or what I had available to me and use that most efficiently, if possible, to do it.

What’s the most significant trend affecting your work?

Kia: Great question. I’m going have to say disruption. I think with all the changes happening out there to businesses, with technology and data and information we have, and artificial intelligence, and just the way the world is changing, it’s changing how we operate.

So, the biggest trend in the work that I do with my customers in helping them understand their customers and how to support that is how do you do that in a continually disruptive environment where things are always changing?

Vendor-centric vs. customer-centric

Kia: There have been many studies done and much research that shows that companies that are operating from a customer-centric viewpoint (that deliver amazing customer experience) far outperform their competitors that aren’t customer-centric.

So, I do think that that is where companies are moving toward, and that is how we adapt to all these changes that are continually happening.

The reason I think that’s important is not only the obvious (customers stay loyal when they have good experiences and that the product is delivering on the promises that it says it’s going to deliver) but also as our customers keep evolving and changing, so too are the ways that we operationalize that and support those customers.

If you are customer-centric, it means you are observing that evolution that’s happening to your customer base, and you’re able to be very agile and nimble in responding to that as a business.

If you keep using that information, that observation of a customer, either passively or through active engagement with them to find out that information, you could feed that into your organization and continually change and respond to that to continue to drive that value for customers and that loyalty that you need to keep growing your own business.

Using journey maps to improve customer success

Kia: I know you, and I have had conversations at other times and have completely aligned regarding the type of approach that we use.

I use customer journeys to facilitate that customer-centric thinking to make sure that an organization understands empathizing, understanding what customers are trying to accomplish when they purchase your products.

When you understand it from the customer viewpoint, specifically, as it relates to software, how you support and deliver the various services that you need to in order to help that customer adopt that software fully and continue to drive ongoing value from that software, can dramatically change when you look at it from the customer’s standpoint.

From a vendor-centric to customer value approach

What I see all too often, and it’s so natural for us to do this as vendors, is we define the value proposition that our product is meeting in the market, and we organize ourselves for how we’re going to deliver on that value proposition, and then we tell customers all about that.

It’s a very vendor-centric approach, and while we don’t walk in their shoes, it’s that we’re trying to push the product in an environment that we’re not necessarily familiar.

I think problems with retention and why customers have difficulties adopting software is not because they don’t necessarily understand the value or that they can’t learn the software or understand it. It’s because we put the onus on them to understand how to operationalize, how to take that software and put it within their environment.

However, if we start to employ a customer-centric approach and if we understand the following:

Why, in general, our customers buy our products?

What do their environments typically look like inside?

What are some of the common trends and challenges that they have in their work environment?

How could that software seamlessly or best fit into that?

We can now take a lot of that burden off that customer.

Taking the burden off the customer

We make it easier. We make it more enjoyable to bring that software into their organization. Moreover, the faster we do that, the more we make it feel seamless and easy and have a better experience with that, the better they’re going to adopt it. Then they’re going to recognize the value because it had felt easy and it’s going to meet the objectives that they set out to achieve when they purchase the product, and that then translates into loyalty.

When you build that loyalty through trusted advisor-type of relationships, that’s where you can start to talk to them about doing more, which is that ultimate nirvana of expansion and driving more revenue out of that install base.

I use those journeys as the beginning step of understanding, walking in the customer’s shoes, seeing what that looks like, so that then we can figure out how to align organizationally to that journey and translate that into something that makes sense from them, from their perspective because it’s coming from their perspective in the first place.

Brian: I like the way you think Kia. For our regular listeners and readers, you just heard the episode with Brent Adamson from Gartner. Brent said that as much and as for how difficult it is selling B2B today, for our customers, buying is even harder.

Applying empathy to develop better customer journeys

I think we’re still in the infancy of journey mapping. I mean, some people are quite advanced in it and companies that are advanced, and there’s much information out there on how to conduct journey mapping and how to do that quite effectively.

When I talk about the infancy, I think we map out the customer’s journey, but we still do it from our perspective. In the work that I do, I haven’t seen that yet. I’m waiting for the day that somebody shows me a journey map that they’ve done that reflects the customer’s viewpoint and their perspective versus a vendor-centric approach.

If you’ve got that journey, then you start to add on “What is in place? What is that methodology?” Not just processes, but the role alignment and systems alignment, and technology that needs to be in place to support that customer journey.

Now you’ve got this business model, and then if you’ve got this closed-loop feedback, where you’re getting input from customers, and you’re feeding it back in: this is where the agile comes in.

Getting more agile with customer feedback

You can then respond to that and continually improve your operations as you’re getting that feedback from customers as they’re evolving so that you’ve got this agile, optimized business model. That’s where I think journey mapping is not just the mapping per se. It’s how do you operationalize all that and create that agile business model, this is where I think is the next stage in evolution.

To your point about empathy, it’s just common sense. How can you understand someone’s point of view if you’re not thinking from their perspective? I think that takes just that skill set of empathy to be able to understand that.

That’s the interesting work that I quite enjoy doing with clients; it’s getting those “Aha!” moments where “Oh. Wait. I thought I was doing it from the customer’s perspective, but, ah, now I see. I’m not thinking from their perspective,” and then just that training to keep thinking from the customer’s perspective, and then things start to click, so just honing those empathy skills.

Brian: What I hear from you is to understand how people think really, we need to understand how are they thinking about their business now, but also understand the emotions. What are they feeling at various points of their journey? Do I understand correctly?

Capturing emotional moments of truth for customers

Kia: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, that’s a component. In the industry, people often refer to the concept of “moments of truth,” right?

Moments of truth can make it or break it interactions that customers have with your company as a brand that could be deciding factors of whether they continue to be your customer or not. They also tend to be highly emotionally charged at those moments of truth, and then there are other times in the journey that might not be critical moments of truth.

I think there are emotional elements there that help to understand that customer perspective. So you need that emotional component as well, and understanding of that because what needs to done at a certain step in the journey can get delivered in multiple different ways.

Well, if you know what the feeling of that customer might be, if they’re feeling angst about using the software, if they’re feeling excited about it, if they’re feeling bored about it, you might approach the discussion with the customer differently. You might approach how you’re instructing them differently or how you’re working together with them. Those things all impact, and so when you have that visibility into that, you can be much more targeted and effective with how you are moving that customer through that journey.

How can others start to improve customer success?

Kia: That’s a great question. Sometimes, it can feel overwhelming or very abstract. People often confuse customer success or customer experience with just making somebody happy or feel good.

I look at it very much as a disciplined way of operationalizing how you’re going to engineer an amazing experience for customers, not only in the business outcomes they get but also that emotional experience so that it can become a very consistent, repeatable methodology and approach.

It can feel overwhelming, like, “Where do I get started?”

Journey map to see from the customer’s perspective

Journey map and understand what would that look like from the customer’s perspective. You will start to see how is your organization aligned in each stage of the journey to support that journey and those emotional points in that journey or those critical moments of truth.

This is where this concept of agility is what I think is so empowering and why I employ it with my customers and why I think it’s so powerful is that mapping these things out.

Maybe you don’t get it right, but if you start to have this concept of closed-loop feedback, where you’re reading and understanding the customer more and more, then you can start to make that continuous improvement and really create that agile business model that keeps getting honed and refined as you learn more about it.

You don’t have to have it right and perfect at the beginning. You might have it completely wrong, but if you map something out and you start to observe it and validate whether things are right or wrong and start to use customer feedback to inform how you should tweak operations.

Alternatively, what you’ve got in place to provide a better customer experience, that’s where you’re going to optimize that approach, and it should continually be dynamic forever.

None of us have static customers. They’re just as dynamic as we are in our business operations, so let’s make sure that we’re continuing to observe them and see how they’re improving or what they need help with and build that into our model so that actionable advice is journey map. Build some initial model, observe it, and then keep honing it. It’s not just a one-time effort.

You may also like

Customer Success Plan: Key for Adoption and Expansion [via K!A CX]

Is Your Organization Driving Revenue Effectively? [via K!A CX]

How Empathy Will Grow Your Sales and Marketing Pipeline

How sales hustle and automation can hurt customer experience


Putting Empathy in Account Based Marketing


abm and account based marketing

At its core, ABM is about building relationships but there is one crucial thing often missing.

I was reminded of this while talking with a VP of Marketing who stopped their account based marketing campaigns to “go deep” in a few segments. The reason? They wanted to focus on building stronger connections with customers on their journey.

In our conversation, we talked about how marketers have more ways to target accounts, technology, tools to observe buying behavior, analytics, personas and more.

All of these things are important to ABM, but there’s often something missing: empathy.

Let me explain.

We can get so caught up in our ABM strategies, systems, tools, and investments that we lose sight of building deep empathy for the people in the accounts.

According to Brent Adamson, Principal Executive Advisor at Gartner, “empathy” is the one word that matters most to sales success.

Watch the following video:

To build customer empathy, I recommend the following:

Talk with more people in accounts to make ABM better

I’ve found marketers doing ABM can get isolated from the people in the accounts they’re targeting. Why? Because they seldom talk directly with the very people they are reaching with ABM campaigns.

Too often SDRs and sales reps are the only ones consistently talking to people in their targeted accounts and meeting them in person.

Here are some ways to fix that:

  • Interview customers and ask them to share the story of their buying journey so you can help improve the experience customers just like them.
  • Attend events that people in targeted accounts attend have a conversion.
  • Get out in the field with your sales team and meet people in accounts they’re meeting face to face
  • Use social tools to listen in on what people in targeted accounts are sharing/saying

It is critical to know what customers want to serve them better.

In this post, Getting sales enablement right to increase results, Dave Brock tells a great story of early in his career going to where his audience of bankers would for a drink after work and listen in what they talked about and how they talked about it.

For ideas on the questions to ask people in target accounts, read this post: “8 Questions to Steer Your Marketing Priorities.”

Listen to what people care about and the words they say

To connect with people, you must listen. Listening sends a strong message that tells customers that this relationship will be more about their needs than ours. This builds trust.

Also, listen with empathy to consciously try to understand and see the world from the other person’s perspective.

Avoid “hearing” through a filter of being a marketer.

Don’t impose your preconceived bias on what you hear, because doing so will inhibit your efforts to put yourself in your customers’ shoes. You want to understand their deeper motivations and why they’re saying what they’re saying.

Additionally, when we listen, customers tell us what they want — in their own words. We can use their language when we market. Are you using words your customers say in your marketing?

Apply your customer understanding to make stronger connections

ABM strategies that are most effective have, at their foundation, a commitment to creating a genuine human connection and trustworthy relationship.

Customers want to work with people and companies that can step in their shoes and understand the results they are trying to achieve.

Effective marketers understand that customer experience is more emotional than cognitive. And you want to make an emotional connection.

However, before you can do this, you must understand your customer and what motivates them.


At its core, ABM is really about relationships. That’s why we need to focus our efforts on building real connections with people in the accounts. And that begins with empathy and putting ourselves in their shoes and seeing things from their perspective and experience.

If you want to improve your influence and empathetic connection with people, watch this RSAshort:

In this 3-minute animated video, Dr. Brené Brown reminds us that we can only create a genuine, empathetic connection if we are brave enough to get in touch and be real as people.

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4 Steps to Do Lead Nurturing That Helps More Customers Buy


lead nurturing waslking with customers

Marketing can take you on a long hike. The one thing I can guarantee you about the journey is that getting more leads are not better if you don’t know how to nurture.

The goal of lead nurturing is to help potential customers on their buying journey. It’s not just about converting leads to becoming “marketing qualified.” It’s about helping them progress along the way to get more sales.

I’ve seen companies spend too much time getting people to raise their hands (i.e., leads) but not enough towards progression.

It’s a big problem.

According to Forrester, top performers convert just 1.54% of marketing qualified leads to revenue. That means 98% of leads fail.

Crazy right?

Get out your walking shoes, and take a journey with your customers.

I define lead nurturing as consistent and meaningful communication with viable potential customers regardless of their timing to buy.

It’s not “following up” every few months to find out if a prospect is “ready to buy yet.” Or doing random acts of nurturing. True nurturing involves a sometimes long and circuitous path, but along the way, you’ll be building long, meaningful and trust-filled relationships with the right people in targeted accounts.

Salespeople often struggle with developing nurturing content without marketing support.

If you’re wondering what kinds of content helps with progression, do this: Ask your sales team.

Start by asking your sales team questions like, “What’s the content you share with leads that seems to help the most?” or “What’s the content you use to help take people to the next level?”

The first step on that path to success is to start thinking like a customer.

Step #1: Step in your customers’ shoes to build a buyer journey map

Be the customer. Get out of your building and be as close as you can to their experience by actually observing the behaviors of your customer. After you’ve gained a solid understanding, build your customer journey map.

What is a customer journey map? It tells the story of the client’s experience: from initial contact, through the process of engagement and into a long-term relationship.

In sum, you will do the following:

Define the timeline of buying steps from the customers perspective

Take a “Deep Dive” into each step to answer the following:

  1. What are they doing? (buyer actions attending, reviewing analyst report, getting a demo, etc.)
  2. What are they thinking? (how do I get this done?)
  3. How are they feeling? Stressed out? Curious? Excited?

Journey map based on what they are doing, thinking, feeling

Identify questions customers have at each stage of the journey

  • How will this product or service help my company?
  • Is this worth the hassle of trying to get my team on board to solve this problem? Why so?
  • Will their solution work? Can they prove it?
  • Is there another company out there that is better?
  • Is the company credible?
  • Can we afford it?

Help prospects find the answers to these questions, and you’ll remind them of the benefits of working with you. You’re creating value by giving them useful information in digestible, bite-sized chunks.

Refocus content/nurturing approach to help customers on their journey

The journey map is about helping you understand the fundamental interactions that your future customer will have with the organization.

What are their motivations? What are their questions about each marketing touch point? Try to understand what they want and the concerns they’ll have when they talk with their peers. The goal of customer journey mapping is to get actionable customer insight.

Step #2: Plan your lead nurturing path with a focus on progression

Invest as much in forming creative and content for lead progression as you do for lead capture. I’ve seen companies spend most of their budget getting people to raise their hands but not enough toward progression.

The goal of lead nurturing is to help progress leads from initial interest toward purchase intent. It’s about progression.

It’s worth noting:

  • The tactics employed and the frequency of touches will depend on the solutions you sell and the buying cycle of the prospect.
  • You need to create different lead nurturing tracks based on demographic criteria, such as size, industry, role in the buying process and more.

Step #3: Walk the path with your customer

In a complex sale, the journey can be long and challenging to help people move from initial interest to purchase intent.

Your only job is to make certain you nourish your customer along the way and guide them with a meaningful compass toward the right and best decision for their needs.

Think of your marketing team as trail guides who will need to point out all the sights along the way that are useful in the decision-making process.

Slow down, and walk at the customer’s pace, even if that means taking the long route with them when it comes to buying your service or product. If you hurry them along, you might end up with an exhausted customer who doesn’t feel good about the journey and won’t turn to you to continue the path to purchase.

How you sell me is how you will serve me.

Most economic buyers evaluate you based on this, “how you sell me indicates how you will serve me.” Here’s where that little statistic I mentioned earlier comes in. A study of business-to-business buyers shows that sales people who become trusted advisors and understood the needs of economic buyers are 69% more likely to get away with a deal.

The complex sale requires that your prospect:

  • Must be familiar with you and your company and with what you and your company do.
  • Must perceive you and your company to be an expert in your field.
  • Must believe that you and your business understand his or her specific issues and can solve them.­
  • Likes you and your company enough to want to work with you.

Remember you can’t automate trust. Trust-building should be the theme of your nurturing efforts.

Building trust with your future customers

By providing valuable education and information to potential clients up front, you become a trusted advisor. You are then perceived to be an expert. You don’t sell; you don’t make pitches. Instead, you provide insights and solutions all within the realm of your expertise and, as a result, become the first company they turn to when there’s a need.

Make your marketing program’s single point of focus be to develop trust, and your business will become more profitable and less reliant on competing on price. Selling, per se, is reduced in the interest of more open and honest conversations with prospects. You win more business on a sole-source basis, and more new business referrals come your way.

Step #4: Keep Walking the Journey

Startling as it may seem, recent research (and even studies from 20 years ago) shows that longer-term leads (future opportunities), often ignored by salespeople, represent almost 40 to 70% of potential sales. Research compiled by the MarketingSherpa Lead Generation Benchmark Report showed, “marketing departments with a lead nurturing campaign reported a 45% higher ROI than marketing departments that did not utilize a lead nurturing track.”

If inquiries are directly passed on to salespeople, reps, partners or distributors for follow-up, beware. You may be leaving as many as eight out of 10 sales prospects on the sales path for your competitors.

Now, get your compasses out and begin the long-yet-fruitful journey toward an effective lead nurturing program. You’ll be surprised how many potential customers will want to join you along the way.

Photo Credit: Sujay Sarkhel.

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Empathy, Web & People: Improving The B2B Customer Experience


How Sales Hustle and Automation Can Hurt Customer Experience



To drive growth, the mandate for sales organizations is to make more calls, send more cold emails.

Sales reps are hustling and using automated tools to move faster.

But sales hustle and automation have a downside: they can hurt customer experience.

Here’s what I mean:

B2B companies are now hiring more people to do this. They’re hiring less-experienced sales development reps (SDRs) to do these things.

The goal? More emails. More calls. More activity to more accounts.

In this interview, Dave Brock, author of the Sales Manager Survival Guide, states:

“As a result, we’re creating terrible first impressions. If somebody calls me and they can’t have a powerful, engaging first conversation, I’m going to have a negative opinion both of that individual and of their company.”

For more on this: Read getting sales enablement right to increase results

Sales hustle, lead generation and customer experience

If you’re a B2B buyer, you’re probably receiving tons of generic, irrelevant cold emails.

Why? Because sales hustle is now automated.

There’s been an explosion in the Sales Tech landscape just like the growth of martech.

Credit: Nicholas de Kouchkovsky

Buyers are getting a whole series emails because there are automated tools that will set up the cadence in a series. Reps don’t need to send them follow-up emails anymore. Hustle gets automated.

By the third email, you may get something like “Have you bothered you?”, “Are you ignoring me?” or a “is rhino chasing you?”

It’s out of hand.

What’s the bottom line?

All this sales hustle and automation is hurting customer experience.

Here’s why:

You can’t automate trust

For example, I recently registered for a demo account for CRM software.

Five minutes later I got a call from the company. Didn’t answer. Wanted to try the demo first.

I got another call five minutes later.

Checked caller ID. Same number?!

Wow, that’s crazy I thought. Is this company that eager to talk to me?

I was just logging in.

Email alert.

I got an email from the sales rep.

He said, “I just tried calling… Saw you just signed up for a demo.” And he wanted to set up a time to talk about “my needs.”

This all happened in under fifteen minutes.


Was it responsive? Yes. Did it help and give me a good experience? No.

Read Carlos Hidalgo’s post about why b2b marketers need to think about demand generation in a customer experience context.

Hildalgo writes, “If marketers make the mistake of thinking about demand generation in isolation, this could lead to a poor customer experience.”

Don’t pounce (or interrupt and hover)

It’s like walking into a retail store. Being greeted by the sales rep. Say I’m just browsing. Then I want to pick something up. They hover. They interrupt. They pounce.

And you leave.

Chatbots could be great, but they’re set up by default on the homepage. So everyone gets the same blanket message.

And brands come across as overly eager or annoying. Just like pushy salespeople in a retail store.

Change your cold emails

Here’s another example of sales hustle that happens to me multiple times a week.

I get a cold email from a sales rep. I don’t reply.

Then I get a second email asking if I saw the first one. Or it asks why I didn’t reply.

Finally, I get the third email. Perhaps a little shaming, “I’ve tried emailing you.”

One recent email asked if I’m “being chased by a hippo.” Really?


The emails are sent in an automated sequence. They’re scaled. Now think about the customer experience.

What does it feel like to customers?

Read Cara Wood’s post at Nutshell on the 5 worst cold emails they’ve ever seen.

Blowback against hustle

Let me be clear: I’m not saying hustle is terrible. But hustle needs to be connected to the customer experience.

If you don’t put the customer experience first, you’ll see reduced results and won’t build trust.

Why? Because customers can smell hustle and automated cold emails a mile away. We all can.

So the question is: Are you or your reps doing this? How many times a day? Think about it.

I really like this post, The Blowback Against “Hustle” by SteveWoods, CTO at Nudge.

According to Woods:

First, if all we are looking to do is “hustle” and send increased volumes of undifferentiated, formulaic content to our buyers, AI will be better than humans at that task.

Second, the more we do this, the more the AI that differentiates spam from real content will immediately eliminate it.

Try this instead

We need to humanize our approach. And focus on building trust with remarkable interactions.

Try this.

Go through your sales (and marketing) experience as a customer. Walk in your customer’s shoes and do the following:

  • Get emails from your salespeople
  • Fill out your own website forms and experience your automated funnels (calls, welcome, nurturing emails, etc.)
  • Listen to your sales voicemails/cold calls by SDRs and sales reps
  • Recieve your sales/marketing emails
  • Sign up for your individual nurturing sequences

Do it all from your customers perspective. What I’m saying is pretend you’re the customer by using your applied empathy.

It’s eye-opening to see things from your customer’s experience. It changes everything.


Go through your sales experience as a potential customer. Evaluate the experience through the lens of a customer (just like secret shoppers do in retail.) I know this isn’t always easy. It may even be humbling. But if you do this and focus on how you can build a better experience to start relationships, it will be worth it.

In sum, use your applied empathy. And Then fix the gap.

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New Research: Customer Empathy and How to Solve Buying Problems


Empathy and buying problems

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Are you applying empathy as part of your sales and marketing approach?

Why? Because according to Brent Adamson, “empathy” is the one word that matters most to sales [and marketing] success.

It’s tough to buy. B2B customers are overwhelmed with too much information, too many choices, trying to getting their colleagues to agree, not to mention second-guessing.

This is part two of my interview with Brent Adamson (@brentadamson), Principal Executive Advisor at Gartner, and the co-author of The Challenger Sale and The Challenger Customer.

You’ll learn ways to apply empathy and how to solve buying problems.

Writers note: You can view part of our interview here: New research: Boost organic growth from current customers

Does empathy capture everything your book, The Challenger Customer, is about?

Brent: The idea that empathy is the core principle of the entire book The Challenger Customer, I admit, is more of a personal opinion based on all of our research.

You’ll notice the word doesn’t appear anywhere in the proper book. It’s only in the acknowledgments where I made just a little blurb at the very back (a short note to my daughters). And I used the word empathy there.

But in many ways, for me personally, that one word captures everything that the book is about.

I know this is a topic not only near and dear to your heart. But your expertise here is far deeper than mine.

But when I think of empathy, I think of two components to it, but it’s almost a right-brain, left-brain, or the rational versus the emotional.

I don’t know what the right way to think about it is.

But from my perspective empathy is, at a fundamental level, your ability to place yourself in someone else’s shoes and see the world from their perspective.

And that might be logically (how they view the world from their perspective), or it might be emotionally (what the world feels like from their perspective).

I find both of those attributes of empathy to be potentially hugely powerful for anyone in sales or marketing.

How customers think

For example, whenever we’re talking about Customer Improvement or even the broader work in Challenger, is this idea of mental modeling.

The whole idea being, if you’re going to change the way a customer thinks about their business, what’s the first thing you must understand more than anything else?

How would you answer that, Brian?

Brian: If I were to do that I’d need to understand what their experience is and how they see things.

Brent: You got it. This is where I have fun talking to you because you get this stuff. And I say this with great, hopefully, empathy and respect for anyone out there.

What I find when I ask most leaders, sales, and commercial marketing leaders, that question is: “If you’re going to change the way a customer thinks about their business, what’s the first thing you have to understand?”

Virtually everyone will say, “Their business.” So, then they start reading 10K’s and the annual reports and the financials and all that kind of stuff.

What we saw in our research is closer to where you are, which is, if you’re going to change the way a customer thinks about their business, the first thing you must understand is how they think about their business.

That’s the thing you’ve got to change.

Map customer thinking

We find it can be very productive to draw a “map” on a piece of paper. A map of their thinking. We call this a mental model. Mental mapping is another term for this idea.

You can simply draw a couple of boxes and some connecting lines.

What are their goals? What are their objectives as an organization? What do they believe to be the primary challenges, or, the primary drivers of achieving that goal?

What are the secondary challenges or the secondary drivers for each of those? And then you can map it.

Mental map example

We do this in all our research here. We build mental models for heads of sales, and mental models for heads of marketing all the time.

It’s how we do our research, but there’s nothing to say that heads of marketing or marketing teams, sales teams couldn’t do the same thing for their customers, which is to put on paper a straightforward diagram.

Don’t over-complicate it, a few boxes, couple lines of: here’s our core objectives as an organization.

What they’re trying to achieve?

How do they think they’re going to get there?

Challenges they believe they’re going to get in the way, or the lever they need to pull to make that happen, whichever perspective you want.

And then once you’ve got that mental model you can put it in front of a customer and say:

Did I get it right?

What would you add?

What would you take away?

If I gave you 100 pennies to distribute across these ten boxes according to priority how would you distribute them?”

When you’re all done, what you have on the piece of paper is a picture of how the customer thinks about their business.

Change the way customers think

If you’re going to change the way a customer thinks about their business, the first thing you need to understand is how they think about their business: now you’ve got it on a piece of paper.

Now what you can do is step back and look at it and say, what did they miss?

Which box should be bigger? Which one should be smaller? Which one’s not here at all but needs to be?

Which connective arrow needs to go from this box to that one instead of this one to only that one?

And you can begin to look for opportunities to challenge their thinking to help them improve their thinking.

To make them smart about what they’re doing. But that only works by having that mental model to begin with, which I would argue, at least from a logical perspective, is at least a form of empathy.

Because that’s what that model is: it’s a picture of the world from their perspective; it’s about seeing the world from your customer’s perspective.

That doesn’t have the emotional component that some aspects of empathy have which we should be talking about as well.

Brian, does that count as empathy in your perspective or is that outside the bounds of how you define the term?

Brian: Oh, it does. I think it’s the two levels you just touched on. It’s the perspective taking, so understanding how they see their business, and then the second thing is the emotional side.

Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio said, “We aren’t thinking machines that feel, we’re feeling machines that think.”

And so, what he argued is, we make emotional decisions rationally, so we need to take both perspectives to understand.

Help customers buy

Brent: Now, imagine a world where you are talking to one of those stakeholders and this individual must get a consensus across the other four or five to make that deal happen, and you know this is all implicit, it’s not explicit.

In their mind, they kind of have that mental model in their map, right?

Well, I care about this box, he cares about that box. They may not be thinking about boxes per se, but it’s all sort of there.

And one of the things we know from our research, what we also know to be true as just individual professionals, which is going down the hall and convincing your colleagues to do anything differently is kind of a pain.

Sometimes it’s kind of scary. Sometimes it’s a little intimidating.

What we find is that the larger the buying group, the more individual stakeholders feel not only their credibility.

But in fact, their actual job could be on the line in advocating for a supplier, and that gets into the emotional side of empathy.

The Thursday morning test


So, you think about it from a supplier’s perspective. “Well, why can’t they all just get on board? It’s like herding cats. I can’t get these people to align.”

Think about what it feels like. Think about that person sitting at their desk, I call this the Thursday Morning 9:00 Test.

It’s Thursday morning, 9:00, and you’ve got to do what? What are you going to do and how are you going to do it and how is that going to feel?

Now I’m thinking about buying your CRM solution. And it’s Thursday morning, 9:00. I’m thinking about how to get my company to buy that solution, which I really want:

I’ve got to go talk to someone in IT.

I’ve got to go talk to someone in procurement.

I’ve got to go talk to my CEO.

You know what, I feel kind of sick to my stomach. I don’t want to do that. That’s a pain in my neck.

And suddenly what seems to be a slam dunk because [I’m in sales] this person I talked to loves it is in danger because that person doesn’t feel like going to talk to his other people.

So that becomes a hugely important part of empathy too:

What am I asking this senior decision maker, my contact person, to go do inside their own company?

What does that feel like?

And chances are pretty good it doesn’t feel very good. It’s hard work. It’s credibility. It’s business case-building.

They’re going to ask me questions.

All those questions your sales reps have all the time, what if they ask me questions I can’t answer?

What if they ask for data that I don’t know how to provide? You know what?

Your stakeholders you’re selling to have the exact same questions when they think about their own colleagues. What if my head of IT wants to have a business case? I don’t know where I’m going to get that.

Then he’s going to ask me a bunch of questions I don’t know the answer to. Look, I just want this bleeping bleep CRM system, but this is too hard – never mind.

Be able to place yourself in the shoes of that stakeholder and understand what it feels like for them not to.

We always think about what it feels like to sell our solutions but think about what it feels like to buy one of your solutions, and it rarely feels good.

The new sales imperative

Brian: I really appreciate you sharing your perspective because this is tough work, even for us as sellers to look at because we spend so much time focused on, “How are we going to get the deal done?”

Instead of, understanding from our customers, how do we help them get the deal done, and navigate all the things they need to do to mobilize the support to make it happen.

Brent: We have an article in the March/April 2017 issue of the Harvard Business Review, and it’s called the New Sales Imperative. As a supplier, what we find is that the single hardest thing about solutions is not selling them, it is, in fact, buying them.

The pain of buying

I talked with 1,200 people at our Vegas conference last year. I simply asked them to take their selling hat off and put their buying hat on and think about your own organization.

Think about a recent big, complex solution that you purchased with your colleagues at your company in the last 18 months, whether it’s a CRM system or some sort of lead management system or IT system or consulting engagement, whatever it is.

Think of all the people involved, all the decisions you had to make, all the hoops you had to jump through.

Now, if you had to pick one word, one adjective, to describe that entire buying journey, what would that be?

Like I said, I’ve done this with thousands of people around the world and inevitably, what do you think the words are, Brian? Take a guess.

Brian: I’m just thinking about what the words would be, I’m not even sure.

Brent: It’d be things like long, hard, awful, frustrating. It’s interesting. When you ask people to place themselves in their own purchase journey and just ask them to share one word, they get kind of angry.

It’s interesting. You can see their tension. The cuss words start coming out in ways that are not really appropriate for meetings that I was conducting.

Someone in Chicago, the head of marketing, said, “I never want to do that again.”, like it was one word because I asked for one word.

Someone in DC said “landmine.” And I said that’s not an adjective. And he said, “Landmine-ish,” which became my word for the year.

But the point of all this being, if you put yourself in the shoes of your customers and ask them what it feels like to buy a solution, I literally have heard three positive words out of thousands and thousands of people I’ve talked to.

It’s all negative.

And then you ask them a second question, which is interesting. You ask them: “Alright, so how much is that paying? How much of that time, how much of that frustration was the result of the supplier selling to you? And how much was just a result of your own company getting in its own way? “

And nine times out of 10, 10 times out of 10, people will say, “It had nothing to do with the supplier’s selling to me, it’s just my own company.”

Because we’re already convinced our one company is the worst company in the world, we either get in our own way, we’re too complicated, we have too many meetings, on and on.

It’s not a selling problem (it’s a buying problem)

What we have here is not a selling problem at all, what we have is a buying problem.

And buying is really bleeping hard with all the committees and all the information and all the options, and it all just becomes completely overwhelming. Again, back to the point about empathy.

If you can understand this as a seller, as a marketer, and you can appreciate just how hard it is to buy not just your solution but any solution.

To filter through all the information and pick out which information matters most, to sift through all the options and determine which choices matter most.

To wrangle all the different people and figure out all the different questions they’re going to have, and you can anticipate, this is empathy.

If you know what that feels like and then logically you can anticipate what those problems are going to be and which information is going to matter most, you can effectively become the coach to your customer. Not on what to buy but on how to buy.

You can take them by the hand, and you can guide them through that buying journey and become that buying sherpa, and not solve for selling but solve for buying.

Be a buying Sherpa


That’s what a lot of our more recent work has been about: adopting what we’ve come to call a Prescriptive Approach to selling. We’ve seen marketing organizations do this really well through content that is self-serving; that the customer can self-serve on.

My Google search will take me to a white paper that a company has written, which can take me step by step:

“Looking to buy a CRM? Here’s the 10 Step process. First, do this, talk to these people. Here’s the information that matters. This question doesn’t matter.”

And from a customer’s perspective, the reaction is not, “I see you’re trying to trick me into buying your stuff,” but rather the reaction is, “Wow, this was really helpful. You just made it so much easier.”

And you can only do that effectively as a supplier if you come at this whole idea with empathy, being able to understand what it feels like to buy because it doesn’t feel very good.

Brian: We’re going to talk a bit about your marketing research in a moment but, a lot of us treat the journey as this beautiful looking linear model that moves from left to right, and it’s a nice flow, but it’s really like climbing a mountain to our customer.

Brent: Yeah.

Brian: I love the word picture of being a Sherpa. Because sherpas are there to help people climb, help them along the journey. And the whole idea of empathy. It’s applied empathy because our goal is really to help people on their journey.

Brent: I totally agree. Now let’s not forget that at the end of the day we’re all in the business of doing one thing, which is selling more stuff.

Brian: Yes

Brent: So, empathy is all well and good, and it’s so powerful that the cynic in someone listening today might say:

“Well, this is just empathy for the sake of selling more stuff.” And to some degree, that’s true because that’s what we’re solving for in the world of sales and marketing.

But that doesn’t mean it’s less powerful, any less honorable. It’s helping customers find ways to generate greater value for their business they haven’t appreciated on their own. And then navigating them to a place or helping them navigate themselves to a place where they can realize that value.

I think in many ways it’s not only an honorable thing to do, for your customer, but it’s also a very profitable thing for you to do as a supplier as well.

Brian: I 100% agree, I mean, at the base level, practicing this way, marketing and sales can and should be a force for good. And so, as you’re talking about this I wanted to shift to the marketing research.

The B2B digital buying journey

What surprised you about the b2b buyer survey findings on the customer buying journey and the most the most-important channels customers are using?

Brent: One of the things we are studying this year in our marketing practicing is simply just digital. We get a little more specific than that, but you can imagine.

Particularly B2B marketing. Now, B2C marketing digital had been a huge part, if not the primary part, of buying for a long time now. It has become equally important in B2B very rapidly over the last several years.

Not surprisingly, we’re getting questions around the world from the CMOs that we work with around: “How do we move to become a more digitally proficient marketing organization? What does that even mean? What would be the characteristics or hallmarks?”

So, we’ve set out to understand at least some of this world of digital buying in the B2B space with more detail this year so we can provide our members with greater, more actionable advice.

What we are really trying to understand is what does the buying journey look like in B2B and then effectively along that buying journey, which parts are most likely to be digital?

And along the way, we found something that was actually really interesting.

What you find with most marketers (and I mean this with deep respect, this is just the result of the way we all came up and the way that marketing’s always operated) is that we tend to think of digital in marketing as a tool for demand generation.

That is largely upper funnel to maybe mid-funnel capability. And the idea is that we use digital (whether it be websites, whether it be online conferences or discussion boards, or advertising or SEO, you name it) as mostly a way to create and/or identify opportunities/customers that we then vet through maybe digitally based lead nurturing campaigns.

And at some point, we give them that marketing-qualified stamp of approval on them and we pass them over to sales and we say, “All right, go get ’em guys.”

And at that point forward, it becomes mostly a sales rep (calling, in person) trying to close that deal. From our perspective in marketing it’s like, okay we got them that far, it’s all, you guys. Go get ’em.

What we’ve come to understand from our research this year is that just because a customer’s in-person/over-the-phone buying journey has begun doesn’t mean that their digital buying journey has come to an end.

It’s not like digital in the up-funnel and in-person on the down-funnel. Rather, the two coexist. The thing that I think is especially interesting and new for us this year is how much of buying behavior is still in digital channels even late in a purchase.


Often, long after we in the marketing organization have handed it off and said, “Go get ’em, sales,” our customers are still online learning.

There is still late stage digital buying activity, and that’s got some really interesting implications from our perspective.

Are we even thinking about that? So, from a marketing perspective is it largely demand gen and then digital is done? Well, if it’s late-stage what’s actually happening?

And as we dug into our research what we find is, for example, one of the things that your customers are really looking for through digital channels in a late stage, later in the purchase process is reassurance.

So, I’m talking to Brent the sales rep, and Brent’s making all sorts of promises, and he’s convinced me to buy this multi-million-dollar solution, which is great, I trust him, he’s not a crook, right?

But nonetheless, one way or another, this thing’s big, it’s disruptive, it’s expensive, I’d kind of like to get some reassurance. I’d like to maybe see what other customers have experienced in buying this solution.

And so, irrespective of my ongoing in-person conversations with that sales rep, I’m going to go out and corroborate what I’m learning there and maybe add to it through digital channels.

Provide digital reassurance for late buying stage

One of the things we found in surveying customers this year is, the most likely place for them to go to get that late stage digital reassurance is the supplier’s own website.

Which I found kind of ironic, like, “I’m not sure if I completely trust the sales rep so I’ll go to the company’s website to get reassurance.”

But nonetheless, that’s what happens, which begs a fascinating question, which is, when they go to your website to get reassurance on what they hear from your rep, are they even going to find that reassurance? And is that reassurance going to be consistent with what the rep has said in person?

Because if they’re not aligned, you are going to raise all sorts of red flags for that customer. The implications here are fascinating, but I would imagine that rings true so far.


Brian: It does. As I was listening to you, and something you touched on is in marketing, we’ve always had this traditional handoff from a marketing qualified lead to sales, and so what you’re saying is we need actually to go beyond handoff and think about the whole journey.

So, what can marketers do differently based on your research? Because there is this gap right now and buyers are going back to the website to get this reassurance, and marketers have this gap that they aren’t filling right now from what your research is showing.

Brent: It’s funny. I tell people, the cool thing about doing research is every time you do a large-scale research project you always inevitably find two things.

You find answers, which is great, but you always get more questions. Which is actually good because it keeps you in business, but there are all sorts of questions here.

If digital doesn’t work as a handoff but rather as an ongoing effort, to your point, Brian, that raises all sorts of questions.

B2B buying is omnichannel

What should not just marketing do but sales do and commercial leaders? Because what you have here now, at least what we can really see clearly in our data for the first time, is sort of what we’ve watched happen, and certainly in the business to consumer world for five, ten years.

Effectively what you have here is a very clear picture of omnichannel buying.

Your customers are gathering information, they’re engaging the purchase process through multiple channels simultaneously. Whether it’s digital, whether it’s website, whether it’s SEO, whether it’s in person through sales reps.

And all that’s simultaneously happening, so it’s isn’t just early on: digital, later on: person, but rather all the time always on digital, person, and lots of other different channels. What it means is we’ve got to coordinate across these channels in a much more effective manner than we have in the past.

Omni-channel in B2C is interesting enough. How do I get all of my digital teams in marketing to collaborate more effectively?

So, I’ve got social, I’ve got search, I’ve got TV advertising, that would be the consumer world. I’ve got to get my TV team and my agency partner, my online people, my social, my Facebook team, they’ve all got to coordinate.

What’s interesting is once you move omnichannel buying from the B2C world to the B2B world, it gets 1,000 times more complicated. Because now omni-channel means that we don’t just have to span teams within the marketing function, but rather we have to span functions altogether.

So, the alignment isn’t just this team and this team in marketing, but it’s the entire marketing function has to be aligned with the sales function in some way that frankly we’ve just never really fully appreciated before because we were always solving for marketing or selling as opposed to solving for buying.

And so, some of the questions this raises for us would be things like, how does one just do this? How do you overcome decades of institutional inertia? I’ve been doing this for 15 years and one of the first things I heard on my first day of work when I joined CEB many years ago was, “Why can’t sales and marketing just figure out how to collaborate?”

And now when you solve for buying you find the urgency has gone up dramatically.

Because again, if I hear one thing from my sales rep. And I’m finding a different thing on your website that’s going to, at the very least, raise questions in a world where you’re trying to get me to change behavior, which as you remember is risky.

And if I see anything that makes me a little bit more nervous, at the very least, it’s going to slow me down if not shut me down.

So now you’ve got to get all of these different pieces of a marketing and sales organization aligned so that you’ve got one message to the customer, and it’s always consistent.

So, your customer can go on whatever buying journey they want, whether it’s digital and different kinds of digital, whether it’s in person, and no matter which path I choose, I’m going to get a consistent message.

Because if they’re not it’s going to slow things down and that to me is really fascinating.

So, we’re trying to figure out right now what practically, tactically is what does that mean? What has to be aligned, how do I do that? I think the answer here, I think for us, is TBD. That’s what we’re on right now, we need to figure this kind of stuff out.

Brent: Would it be better if sales and marketing were reported to a single person? And I think what we’re finding already, even very anecdotally is that those organizations where sales and marketing report to a single person are just more likely to succeed in this environment for all the reasons I’ve just mentioned.

Brian: I’d like to try something out on you. I’m actually writing a post about this. I’ve thought about this idea of empathy and how do we support the journey.

Go from campaigns to digital conversations

customer conversation

I think it’s really moving from this campaign mindset to conversations. Since we’re thinking about this, how can we have a more congruent conversation with our customer as they go through their journey? So, in effect, we’re helping them.

I think the best marketing and selling feels like helping (because it really is).

I like this idea, you talked about one message. It’s a conversation that’s bi-directional. The principle of what I’m saying is when we’re more congruent it changes the conversation so it can be more reciprocal with our potential customer.

Brent: More reciprocal and also more efficient, right. Because one of the things we find about sales cycle times is, of course, they’ve gone up dramatically.

It just takes longer to sell, partly because it takes longer for customers to buy. And again, to your point, if they’re finding incongruent signals across the different channels from which they are gathering information, that’s going to slow things down that much more.

The challenge here is, again, we’re still trying to figure this out, but the word you use I like, Brian, is the word conversation. But in this context, you have to look at it not literally but metaphorically.

Because a conversation is human interaction, it’s people talking to people and conversing with one another.

That takes us right back to 10 years ago where I’ve got to have a sales rep involved, I’ve got to train my sales reps to have better conversations.

And that is absolutely true, but this is more conversation in a metaphorical sense, which is not only an actual real conversation between these two human beings. But it’s also a “conversation” between our company’s website and that customer, or through these third-party influencers and our customer. And so that broader view of the overall conversation and managing that becomes the bogey we’ve got to focus on.

Brian: Yeah, and as I was thinking and listening to you, our customers see our websites personified.

They put a human context to the brand, to the company, even the language that’s being used and, so I think the metaphor, that’s really what I’m talking about.

I’m glad you articulated it that way. It is this metaphor of a conversation instead of the traditional campaign, which is looking at being more mono, and what I’m saying is be more bi-directional.

Brent: I think that’s right. By the way, going back to our empathy point, now you can start asking really interesting questions with the metaphor of the conversation.

Imagine you’re at a party

Imagine you go to a party: So, what makes for a good conversation? What makes for a bad conversation?

How does it feel to be involved in a bad conversation?

You just feel awkward, and you just want to go crawl under a rock, or you want to go away.

Honestly, you just want it to end. That’s what it feels like from a customer’s perspective when they’re engaged in a conversation with your company that isn’t going according to expectations or is sending mixed messages.

Ask yourself: are we doing that to our customer? How do we make our customers feel as a conversation partner? It would be a really interesting thing to explore.

Brian: Research on how to improve being a good conversationalist. Instead of trying to be interesting, be interested in the person you’re talking with.

And that in and of itself I just find is so much of what we do as marketers and sellers. It’s all about us, and it’s really all about them.

Brent: The best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten about conversation was, “Keep the other person talking about themselves.”

Brian: Totally.

Brent: That’s way too simplistic, but it is in the ballpark of what you’re talking about which is so much better articulated.

How Empathy Will Grow Your Sales and Marketing Pipeline

This stuff is so interesting when you start solving for buying problems as opposed to selling or marketing problems. And again, I think that’s where this idea of empathy, at a very high level, comes in.

Take your selling hat off, take your marketing hat off, and just ask yourself:

What does it feel like to buy?

How hard is it? What’s hard about it?

Why would I not do it?

Why would I choose to opt out of it?

What would have to happen for me to think it was easier?

What would have to happen for me to feel more urgency or more excitement around it?

Solve for buying as opposed to solve for selling or marketing and I think you’re going to be significantly better off relative to your competition.

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Gartner Research: Boost Your Growth From Existing Customers


boost growth from existing customers

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CEOs and sales leaders have long wondered: how can we drive organic growth and increase sales from existing customers?

But it’s elusive. In fact, the traditional approach is no longer working.

According to CEB, now Gartner, “Only 28% of sales leaders report that account management channels regularly meet their cross-selling and account growth targets.”

That’s why I interviewed Brent Adamson (@brentadamson), Principal Executive Advisor at Gartner, and the co-author of The Challenger Sale and The Challenger Customer.

Writers note: You can view part two of our interview here: New research: Empathy and how to solve buying problems

Can you tell our listeners a little bit about you and your background?

Brent Adamson: I work with an organization formerly known as CEB and has now been acquired by Gartner.

I work with the Sales & Service and Marketing & Communications practices here at the company. And it’s sort of our mission in life, at least in the business to business space where I spend most of my time, trying to understand with data, with research, with analytics, what does world-class B2B selling and marketing look like?

We get after that, again, with all sorts of analysis and research. It’s funny, we’re actually industry agnostic. We work across industries, go to market models, geographies, and try to understand (across all of the different kinds of companies out there) what do we all have in common?

What’s the recipe for success that’s going to help us all move the dial, do a little bit better, in sales, in marketing and ideally in sales and marketing?

How can sellers drive account growth?

Well, sure. This is brand new research for us. In some way or another, we always study growth, right? Because that’s what sales and marketing are all about.

There’s a certain almost urgency, or we like to call the “Why Now?”, of this growth question, especially in sales, which is especially relevant for us today.

And that is simply the journey that we’ve all been on over the last five years, five months, 10 years, 20 years of building out broader capabilities across our organization to offer our customers, if you will, solutions as opposed to individual products and/or services.

The idea that if you can offer your customer broader solutions, that’s going to allow you to stand out, to differentiate yourself, to command price premiums in the marketplace. All good things to do and good reasons to do it.

The thing that’s interesting though, Brian, as you add all those capabilities to your portfolio that you can now bring to your customer to add that additional value. The actual value they create for you as a supplier is of course directly contingent on your ability to actually sell them, to get your customer actually to buy those incremental capabilities.

Not surprisingly, companies all around the world, in their efforts to grow, are looking to existing customers to buy into more of the cart, as we all like to say, to penetrate that account more deeply and get them to buy into more of the value that we can offer.

It turns out this is a huge challenge for B2B organizations around the world, which is, simply put, to get existing customers to buy more of what we have to sell; to essentially drive growth with existing customers. That is the challenge or the terrain, as we like to say, that we dove into this year.

What can sales do better?

What can we, as sales organizations, do to do a better job of driving growth with those existing customers? When you dig into it what’s interesting is the amount of frustration with sales organizations around the world in making that happen. There’s only about roughly a quarter of the heads of sales that we surveyed this year who told us that their account teams were meeting, let alone exceeding, cross-sales or up-sales across portfolio goals.

Whether you call it up-sales, cross-sales, land-and-expand, whatever you might call it, we’re all struggling to get that incremental revenue from our customers.

Let me take a breath there, but that’s sort of the terrain that we dived into to try and understand what’s going on. I would imagine, Brian, that’s something you hear a lot about too across your listenership.

Brian: Yeah. I was just talking with a CEO and his team, and that’s really a struggle. They were wondering how do they grow organically?

They talked about customer success, and they talked about how they could service their account above and beyond, but that just didn’t seem to be enough.

Driving organic growth (it’s counterintuitive)

Brent: Well, no. You’re right. It was counterintuitive even to us. We always have these hypotheses that we test in all our research, but it’s interesting to see how the data and the research shake out.


What we found is a couple of things here in this world of account managers, if you will, that this is the farming side of the hunting/farming debate. Right?

That’s about our farmers, and they must be nurturers and take care of our current customers, and then when they fail to grow, we think, “Oh, they need to be harder, and they need to be tougher, and they need to be more aggressive. We need to get them in there.”

What’s interesting is when we fail to drive growth with current customers, we often blame the people. We need more hunter-oriented sales professionals in our account management ranks, or we need someone that is going to ask for the business or be more aggressive as opposed to being so nurturing.

There’s an interesting tendency to fall back on DNA or at least on individual traits and assume that the lack of growth is the result of the wrong people.

Then you get the CEO saying, “We need better people. We need different people.” What we’ve come to understand really is not only is it the structure of the role.

Growing and keeping customers what you need to do differently

Yes, you’re on the hook for driving growth in existing accounts, but let’s not forget you’re also on the hook for not losing the business that you’ve already won.

At the same time, you’re partly on the hook, or at least partially you’re involved in the servicing of those accounts as well. You’ve got success or managing, making sure they get value from that which they’ve already bought, and then driving incremental growth.

What happens in the account management role, unlike a pure hunting role, is that when you’re sitting over, or at least involved in, all three of those categories simultaneously, not only your time, but your attention and focus gets split in some interesting ways that create all sorts of tension.

So, if I’m a pure hunter, all I’m tasked to do is to go out and bring out new logos or new customers altogether. But if I’m a farmer, if I’m someone in an account management role, yes, I’ve got to bring in incremental business, but never at the cost of losing the business that we’ve won already.

That’s the thing we say: the single thing worse than failing to grow an account is failing to keep it all together.

What you have now is this interesting tension of an account manager trying to pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time. They’re trying to do very different things simultaneously, which is grow the account but not lose the account.

Balancing account growth with retention

And the reason why that matters is that what you’re asking the customer to do in this environment is two very different things.

To keep the customer you essentially must get the customer to agree to the status quo. So, keep doing what you’re doing, sign up for it again, renew that contract, buy the same amount, renew that business if it was a renewal-based business, so that’s a status quo decision.

But a growth decision is to do something different, to buy more, to expand to more seats, to go to a new geography, to incorporate this new service or new technology.

From an account management perspective, I’ve got two tensions simultaneously. One tension is to try to get them to grow without losing what I’ve got already. And simultaneously I’m trying to get my customer to change and not change their behavior at the same time, and this turns out to be hard, right?

So, this stuff’s really fascinating from a social science perspective.

You think about, how do I play that card, what’s the strategy for winning and driving growth in that environment. So full circle back to your question, Brian.

Does over servicing customers drive growth?

We find that the predominant mental model of account managers in this world is, well, first things first, before I get the growth I’ve got to get the “maintain,” I’ve got to get the “retain.”

Let’s make sure that they’re happy, let’s make sure they’re taken care of, let’s make sure they’re satisfied. In fact, let’s make sure they’re delighted with whatever we sold in the past.

So, let’s over-serve them, let’s provide world-class service, and if we do that we’re going to, at some point, achieve a threshold, permission, and if we can get over that permission threshold, then we’ll have won the right to ask them for growth.

And somehow, the fact of just by being so happy with the service we provided in the past, will drive growth.

And so that brings us full circle to the punchline of a lot of our data.

What we found is when you provide a world-class level, even just an above average level of service and success to your customers, they are twice as likely to renew.

So, we can find no statistically significant impact on that level of service, and the likelihood of that customer to grow.

So, put it all together and what you get is service drives retention, but it doesn’t drive growth.


And that’s a really interesting thing to find in a world where the mental model, essentially the working hypothesis of not only account managers but all the way up to the CEO is, let’s serve our customers. Let’s create these world-class moments of delight, and that will earn us the permission for growth.

And we just don’t find that to be the case at all in our research.

The zone of wasted effort

Brian: The rationale and logic has always been, go the extra mile, delight. What your data’s showing us is that there is a point of overserving our customers?

Brent: We gave it a sort of provocative name, so if you draw this out in a set of curves, and we’ve got graphics to go along with this.

But the idea is if you think more service equals higher likelihood to grow, so you think of almost sort of like a… If you grasp this regarding growth likelihood, it almost looks like a 45-degree angle going up and to the right.

So service is on the horizontal axis, likelihood to grow is on the vertical and the more service I provide, the farther I go to the right, the higher I get on the vertical. Because service leads to growth.


What we find is in fact that the line doesn’t go up and to the right endlessly, but it shanks to the right. It levels off and ends to your point regarding diminishing returns, and at some point, no matter how much more service you provide, you pour into that account, the chances of driving growth do not go up, because service doesn’t equal growth.

And so, what happens is that you keep providing more and more service with absolutely no incremental impact on growth likelihood. It creates this huge gap between the amount of service provided and the amount of service that you needed to provide simply to get retention.

We call that gap the Zone of Wasted Effort, which is somewhat provocative.

But the Zone of Wasted Effort is in fact that.

It is effort that you’ve expended in serving the customer, in delighting the customer in hopes of getting growth that will never actually get you growth.

Because it doesn’t lead to growth, and so at the very least, in that Zone of Wasted Effort, there’s all sorts of questions there, but one of them is simply: what are the opportunity costs of our time?

How much time, money, effort, people are we pouring into a customer to provide world-class service when, in fact, the customer’s going to renew or retain anyway?

Strategies to drive organic growth

Just in Atlanta two weeks ago, one head of sales said, “We do this all the time.” The real price is not just the opportunity cost/time that you pay, but the fact that you are now raising expectations for your customer way above anything that you ever originally promised, and your recalibrating, or resetting their expectations for the next deal.

So yes, it gets you attention, which you were going to get anyway, doesn’t get you growth because it can’t get you growth. What it does do though is it makes the next deal you do with the customer even that much more expensive because you’ve recalibrated their expectations way higher than you ever needed to do originally just to keep the account.

Brian: This is a problem that’s affecting nearly every B2B company: “How do we drive organic growth?” What are some of the strategies, the things you’ve found, that sellers can do differently?

Set clear expectations

Brent: A couple thoughts on this. One is, to get back to the previous point, it becomes really important in this world to set very clear expectations.

The thing that heads of sales ask us all the time is, “Okay, I get it, or I kind of get it. I’m on board. I see the data makes sense, so I understand that at some point there’s diminishing returns to providing greater and greater service but how do I know how much service is enough? How do I know when I’ve reached that threshold; I’ve maximized the benefit for retention knowing that there is no benefit for growth? How do I figure out what that moment is?”

And the answer simply is, “It’s in simply meeting the expectations that you’ve established with your customer in advance. Whether it’s formally, through something like service level agreements or more informally through quarterly reviews or business reviews, or account planning processes.

But one way or another, setting those expectations very clearly, probably in writing with not only your customers but your own team, so that you don’t perform way above them, because all that does is add cost with no real return.” So that’s point one: setting expectations is super important.

That is more of a cost mitigation strategy, it’s not really a growth strategy as you asked for. So, Brian, the flip side is now how do I drive the growth?

Focus on customer improvement

Well, what our data has led us to understand is there is a completely different strategy altogether, which is something that we’ve come to call “Customer Improvement.”

For any of the listeners on the podcast who are familiar with our work that we’ve done in The Challenger Sale, in The Challenger Customer, this idea will sound very familiar. Effectively, it’s a subset of behaviors, or attributes that are all completely consistent with the Challenger body of work.

We tested a whole bunch of different attributes in our data across about 750 B2B customers, individual stakeholders involved in a big B2B purchase.

And what we found is for those suppliers who were perceived by those customers as providing a set of interactions that we’ve labeled “Customer Improvement”, they were significantly more likely to buy incremental services, additional geographies, additional features, additional products from that supplier.

Customer Improvement is the ability of a supplier to help critically assess the customer’s business in a way the customer hasn’t fully appreciated on their own, and help them identify new ways to grow, to make money, to save money, to lay out the ROI of taking a step in that direction.

Get customers to embrace change

If your goal is retention or renewal, what you’re trying to do there is just get your customers to embrace the status quo, to just keep doing what they’ve already decided to do in the past.

But to get them to grow, you need to get them to embrace change – to do something different, to buy something different, and if you want your customers to do something different, well that’s change. Change is perceived as risky, and if I’m going to do anything risky, if I’m going to do anything that’s involving change you’ve got to make the business case not for buying your solution, but for changing their behavior.

And that’s what Customer Improvement is all about. It’s building a business case and articulating a business case to your customers for why they need not to buy your solution, but why they need to change their behavior in a way that’s going to improve their business.

It’s a really powerful lesson completely consistent with what we’ve found in the past, but what’s so stark about it in this context is that for existing accounts, while service and success do not drive growth, Customer Improvement does, dramatically so in fact.

Go from reactive to forward-looking

Brian: It sounds like what you’re saying is we need to move from being more reactive and looking at how do we deliver and retain, to proactive, being forward-looking.

I was thinking of this conversation I had with this CEO and his team. They have this customer success strategy, and it was really helping their customers become like gold medal athletes at performing what they do.

And the problem is the customers weren’t wanting to be gold medalists. What they wanted to be is to get their job done more effectively simply and there wasn’t that vision. And so, what I’m hearing is, you need to help someone. If they want to embrace that level, it is to know where they want to go and how you can help take them there. Is that what you’re saying?

The difference between customer success and improvement

Brent: A little bit, yeah, it is. I would use slightly different language, only in the sense that the term Customer Success, at least in the world of software service for example, the big cloud providers, and that sort of world, the term success or Success Team has taken on a very specific definition or framework.

So, a Success Team there is generally designed to make sure the customer gets as much value from that which they’ve bought from you in the past as possible.

So, this is a proactive team that would reach out to the customer and say, “Hey you’ve got this subscription from us,” for example or, “You’ve bought this product or service from us. Did you know it has this capability you can take advantage of? Or, did you know there are these ways we can help you based on the contract we already have in place?”

So, it’s a proactive call. It’s not reactive in the sense that a customer calls you when they’re upset because something doesn’t work but because you’re proactively calling them and helping them get value from that which they’ve already bought. It’s proactive but backward-looking.

It’s focused on what you bought from us as a supplier in the past and making sure you get as much success from that as possible.

Now the Customer Improvement thing is not a thing.

The Customer Improvement concept, or the approach, is not backward-looking, but forward-looking.

And it’s not about your capabilities but the customers.

In fact, it’s completely supplier agnostic in way that will just drive you crazy.

It’s weird to try to get your customer to buy something without talking about your capabilities, which you will eventually, not at the beginning of the conversation though, but at the end.

So, if you think about a four-square, where the vertical dimension is supplier across the bottom, customer across the top and then the left-right is on the left, it’s sort of backward-looking, and the right is forward-looking.


Success Teams tend to be in the bottom left box. Success Teams tend to be backward-looking around the supplier’s capability. So, let’s make sure you get as much value from that which you’ve bought already. It’s a proactive push but around that which you’ve bought already.

Customer improvement isn’t about you

The Customer Improvement story up in the top right is not about you at all, it’s about the customer and how they can change the way they think about their business, in a way that’s going to help them reap greater returns in the future, going forward.

So, back to your point that the customer doesn’t want to be a gold medalist. In this world, what you need to do is figure out what your customer is ultimately trying to achieve, who are they trying to be? If not, a gold medalist then is it a silver medalist? Is it not a medalist at all?

Or, what are their ultimate goals as a commercial organization and you can ask yourself:

Okay, if that’s looking forward to the future, what they’re trying to achieve? What is it about that strategy that is incomplete or perhaps even misplaced?

How are they going to get there and what have they missed? If that’s what’s important to them, how can I help them get there better than if they ultimately are planning on getting there on their own?

And I suppose if you wanted to raise it up a notch in altitude, if you really wanted to you could go in and argue with, “That’s not even a good place for you to be starting within the first place.”

That is a higher-level argument, which is sometimes harder to have with your customer and I would never use the word argument per se, but “debate” if you will.

But one way or another you will find that this is the case, that your customers were always going to be oriented towards the status quo.

Because change is expensive, it’s disruptive, it’s scary, it’s risky, and if you’re going to get your customers to change their behavior, the first thing you’ve got to do is convince them that that change is even worth it in the first place.

That maybe it is worth it to become a gold medalist. Or if you only want to be a silver medalist that’s fine, but let me show you how the path that you’re on towards the silver medal isn’t going to get you there nearly as fast or as effectively as you thought it was going to.

Related resources:

Driving Growth Through Smarter Account Management

Quotable: Why Changing Behavior Is Your Biggest Sales Challenge

Why customer advocacy should be at the heart of your marketing

How customer-hero stories help you connect better

How to Attract B2B Buyers with Amazing Content


10 Most Popular B2B Lead Generation Blog Posts of 2017


10 most popular B2B Lead Generation Posts

Do you feel excited about your 2018 plan?

I hope so. If not, you’re not alone.

Why? Because dealing with change, staying motivated, and building momentum is hard. That’s why business plans often change February 1st (just like personal goals).

To help, I’ve compiled a list of the Top 10 most useful (and favorite) posts on the B2B Lead Blog.

This following list was compiled based on aggregate social shares across Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and views. The list below starts at number 10 moving up.

#10: How to Improve Lead Routing to Skyrocket Sales


Have you intentionally optimized your sales lead routing and assignment process? If not, you could be losing sales, and marketing ROI not see it.

For example, LeadData’s new report, The State of Lead Management, based on a survey of 527 B2B sellers and marketers found an average 25.5 % of marketing-generated leads get assigned to the wrong account owner.

Did you catch that? Over 25% of marketing-generated leads get assigned to the wrong person. In this post, you’ll get 7 tips to increase your lead generation ROI by improving how you route leads.

Read about How to Improve Lead Routing to Skyrocket Sales Results

#9: Getting sales enablement right to increase results


Sales enablement is intended to help raise performance, but a lot of efforts have backfired due to departmental silos. And now there’s growing gap between what salespeople need and what they’re getting to improve performance.

So how do you get sales enablement right?

I interviewed Dave Brock (@davidabrock), author of the Sales Manager Survival Guide, also CEO of Partners in EXCELLENCE. Dave’s brilliance is his focus on practical simplification.

Find out how to get sales enablement right to increase results

#8: How to do lead management that improves conversion

Have you looked at your lead management approach from the perspective of customer experience? If not, you may want to start now.

Here’s why: According to Forrester, top performers convert 1.54% of marketing qualified leads to revenue. This means almost 98% people who start the customer journey are lost.

Find out 5 areas you need to focus on to improve lead management and increase conversion.

Read more: How to do lead management that improves conversion

#7: Seven Tips to Boost Lead Nurturing Email Results

People aren’t looking for a reason to read your lead nurturing email messages, they’re looking for a reason to delete them. Think about it.

Marketers rely on email as the top lead nurturing tactic. And according to Econsultancy email is the best digital channel for ROI.

Read 7 Tips to Boost Lead Nurturing Email Results

#6: Stuck on words: how can marketing connect with customers better?

customer connection

How can marketers better connect with people we hope will become our customers?

Why? Because the trust gap between marketers and customers has never been more significant.

For example, a recent survey by Hubspot showed that only 3 percent of buyers surveyed consider marketers and salespeople trustworthy. Yikes.

It starts with the words we use which ultimately affects how we think and act towards others.

Read Stuck on words: how can marketing connect with customers better?

#5: How customer-hero stories help you connect emotionally and sell better

customer-hero stories

Just 13% of salespeople produce 87% of revenue in a typical organization according to the Sales Benchmark Index.

You may be wondering: what the 13% do differently?

They connect emotionally with their buyers.

I interviewed Mike Bosworth. If you don’t know Mike Bosworth already, he is a thought leader in the B2B sales/marketing space.

Read more: How customer-hero stories help you connect better

#4: New B2B Persona Research from Salesforce and LinkedIn Study

Getting the right content to the right people continues to be a challenge in B2B marketing and lead generation.

Salesforce analyzed more than 15 million data points, spanning a four-year period, from two of the most massive B2B databases: Data.com and LinkedIn.

The results will surprise you.

I interviewed Mathew Sweezey (@msweezey). Mathew works with Salesforce and is the Principal of Marketing Insights to talk about the report, B2B Personas: Targeting Audiences.

Check out the New B2B Persona Research from Salesforce and LinkedIn Study

#3: Lead Nurturing: 5 Useful Tactics to Get More Opportunities


Lead nurturing is one of those things that’s easy to talk about but hard to do.

Find out how to apply lead nurturing to help advance leads through three stages of your lead generation funnel to get more qualified opportunities.

Learn 5 tactics you can use immediately to improve lead-to-customer conversion.

Read more: Lead Nurturing: 5 Useful Tactics to Get More Opportunities

#2: Why customer advocacy should be at the heart of your marketing


Customer advocacy marketing programs help you increase revenue by improving customer acquisition and retention (and they’re also your best source of leads).

I interviewed Mark Organ (@markorgan). Mark is the Founder and CEO of Influitive, and he’s been a thought leader in the space of sales/marketing technology and customer advocacy.

Read about Why customer advocacy should be at the heart of your marketing

#1: Who should own lead generation for a complex sale?

Who should own B2B lead generation: sales, marketing or both?

You might be thinking, “isn’t the answer obvious?” It’s not.

Let me explain.

Sales and marketing don’t do a great job of lead generation because they both believe it’s the others job.

I asked the 19,830 members the B2B Lead Roundtable LinkedIn Group about this topic. In this post, you’ll get a ton of actionable tips.

Read Who should own lead generation for a complex sale?


The single biggest issue for B2B revenue growth remains lead generation: increasing lead quality and quantity. This analysis into the most popular posts gives a glimpse into what subjects readers found most relevant.

Additionally, this list shows that increasing conversion, understanding customer motivation, managing and nurturing leads better, and improving sales performance are topics on the minds of readers. At the same time, connecting and building trust with buyers has never been harder.

That’s why we need to go beyond rational-logic based marketing to understand how our customers feel. Empathy is not just a “soft” skill, it’s an incredibly powerful tool to understand customer motivation and increase lead conversion. I’ll be sharing more about how we can connect with customers better using applied empathy.


5 Reasons Why Your Buyer Persona’s Aren’t Good Enough



How often do you spend weeks or even months putting blood, sweat, and tears into a new marketing campaign, only to have it fall flat?

It’s a marketer’s worst nightmare.

You swear you did everything right, but when it comes time for the results to pour in, they never show.

The likely culprit? Bad buyer personas.

Think about it, your buyer personas are the building blocks of your marketing campaigns. If they’re not good enough, every part of your marketing strategy will suffer.

That’s why I’m sharing five easy ways to improve your buyer personas. Keep reading!

What is a buyer persona?

In the most basic sense of the phrase, a buyer persona is a profile of your ideal customer. These profiles are made up of existing customer data, anecdotal observations, industry research and much, much more.

Large companies often have multiple buyer personas that span multiple industries, demographics, and product offerings. Whereas smaller companies often have fewer, less targeted buyer personas.

To create a buyer persona, you must analyze your current customer base and identify any common traits and characteristics.

Do your customers work at companies of a certain size?

Do they hold similar job titles?

Do they work within the same industry?

Do they use the same software?

Alone, these traits may not be significant—but when combined inside a buyer persona, they give you a comprehensive view of your typical customer.

What does a buyer persona look like?

A very basic buyer persona looks like this: A 30 to 45-year old male, who works in software sales, at a company of 300+ employees.

A more complex buyer persona extends beyond surface level details and includes other factors like common complaints, shared opinions, buying preferences, and more.

Here’s a basic example from Brightspark Consulting:

Unfortunately, the more complex your buyer persona, the longer it takes to construct. The best buyer personas are highly targeted and require a significant amount of analysis, research, and time.

Before we dive in, let us explain why buyer personas are so important.

Why are buyer personas critical to modern marketing?

Buyer personas are a modern marketer’s best friend. When you use buyer personas to inform each and every part of your marketing strategy, you tailor your decisions to the preferences of your ideal customers.

Therefore, a set of detailed buyer personas can have a massive effect on your marketing results. Consider these statistics (source):

  • Companies who exceed lead and revenue goals are four times as likely to use buyer personas for demand generation than those who missed lead and revenue goals.
  • 56% of companies have generated higher quality leads using buyer personas.
  • 36% of companies have created shorted sales cycles using buyer personas.
  • 24% of companies generated more leads using buyer personas.
  • 93% of companies who exceed lead and revenue goals segment their database by buyer persona.

Five reasons your buyer personas aren’t good enough

It’s evident that buyer personas are critical to marketing performance.

But shockingly, 60-70% of B2B marketers admit that they don’t truly understand their buyers (source).

This means that, although many marketers create buyer personas, they probably aren’t very effective. Today we solve that problem.

If you’re not reaching the right audience, or your marketing results have plateaued, perhaps we can tell you why.

Keep reading for the five most common reasons your buyer personas aren’t as effective as they could be.

Reason #1: They don’t include technographic information

Marketers have been using demographic information to target potential customers since the dawn of time. Technographics, on the other hand, are relatively new.

For those who aren’t familiar, technographics are the tools and technologies a company uses to operate. This includes everything from social media management tools to the platform a company uses to manage their website. But, technographic data isn’t just a tool or set of tools. It also includes vital information about how your prospects use and purchase technology.

Although demographic and firmographic data is essential, your buyer personas aren’t complete without technographic data. Consider this—with insight into the tools your prospects use, you can target your competitor’s customer base or identify important trends happening within your industry.

Here’s an example from VentureBeat: A financial tech firm noticed that Eloqua marketing automation was a predictive signal for its top prospects. The company is in a completely separate vertical, so it wouldn’t make sense to personalize messages about this platform.

However, it did help them deduce a few things. They recognized that companies running Eloqua tend to have a certain level of technical sophistication, and are usually big enough to be able to afford premium enterprise systems.

Reason #2: They’re built off of biases

As hard as we try not to, all marketers have their own biases. It’s easy to forget that not everyone thinks about your products or your brand the way you do. Unfortunately, these biases can influence your buyer personas and make them unreliable.

If you’re not sure whether your own biases have influenced your buyer personas, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do my personas mirror the customer journey we most commonly see?
  • If a customer read this profile of themselves, would they agree with it?
  • Do I have evidence to support each and every assertion within my buyer personas?
  • Do I ever overstate or overestimate the need for the product I’m trying to sell?
  • If my sales team read this profile of our best buyer, would they agree with it?
  • Do I ever overstate or overestimate the product’s ability to solve my customer’s problem?

Ask yourself these questions and truly try to think like your customer. If all else fails, hire an analyst, survey your customers, and ask other departments within your company to check your work.

Reason #3: You set it and forget it

If you’ve been in marketing for any length of time, it’s likely that you’ve already created your buyer personas. Maybe they’re effective—maybe they’re not. But chances are, if it’s been longer than six months, you need to revisit them.

Data changes, trends fade, and buying habits evolve as technology advances. It’s important that your buyer personas take these changes into account. After initial buyer persona creation, put a recurring meeting on your calendar to review them.

Keep track of any important changes within the industry, your company, your product, technological advances, and buying motivators.

When it comes time to review, make sure your personas reflect these changes. After all, your customers aren’t static and neither are your buyer personas. Don’t treat them as such.

Reason #4: You don’t have enough

If you’re a small company with one product, a single buyer persona may be enough to fuel your marketing campaigns. But chances are, it won’t be enough.

If you feel like your buyer personas are ineffective, it could be that they’re not granular enough.

In today’s marketing landscape, your customers expect all marketing communications to be tailored to their specific wants and needs. Consider these statistics:

  • Over 78% of consumers will only engage offers if they have been personalized to their previous engagements with the brand (source).
  • 81% of consumers want brands to get to know them and understand when to approach them and when not to (source).
  • 87% of consumers surveyed say that personally relevant branded content positively influences how they feel about a brand (source).
  • 63% of respondents are highly annoyed by the way brands to continue to rely on the old-fashioned strategy of blasting generic ad messages repeatedly (source).
  • 63% of consumers said they’d think more positively of a brand if it gave them content that was more valuable, interesting or relevant (source).

Take a look at each of your personas and the campaigns you’ve used to target them. Is the content you’re serving truly relevant to each person within that audience? Consider removing any outliers and creating a separate buyer persona for them.

Reason #5: They lack motivation and emotive context

If you only use quantitative metrics to compose your buyer personas, they likely won’t perform well.

This is because your customers and prospects are people—not numbers. Some people buy products on a whim. Others take a year to consult with an entire buying committee before spending money. Something that triggers a purchase for one customer may have no effect on another customer.

To create effective buyer personas, you must consult your sales and customer service teams to gather anecdotal evidence.

Determine what motivates each of your buyers to make a purchase. Is it frustration? Is it the satisfaction of getting a good deal? Or did you just catch them at the right time?

This information is crucial. Without it, you don’t truly understand your customers.

Key Takeaways

Buyer personas are essential to marketing—but only if they’re created correctly and aren’t neglected. It’s important that, as a marketer, you recognize the power of buyer personas and dedicate the time and effort needed to create them.

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