Anyone responsible for B2B demand-generation programs—whether on the marketing or sales side—knows that self-reported data from prospects must be taken with a grain of salt. Whether it is titles or contact information, or the often ‘loaded’ questions about timeframes for purchasing, buyers regularly enter data that is not wholly accurate because it serves their purposes at that moment in time. And that means quite a bit of the data we collect (especially from prospects that are earlier on in their buying processes) is riddled with errors.
I know we all whisper it, but it’s true. B2B buyers are liars. They are. There, I said it.
If you’re in B2B marketing and sales, you probably aren’t surprised by that statement, and you probably suspect it yourself. But where’s the proof? How and why do B2B buyers lie? And what are the implications for your demand generation programs?
The “lying” by B2B buyers is a nuanced reality. It’s not something that buyers do out of spite; it’s something they do both intentionally and unintentionally to better manage the dynamics of their interactions with vendors—to gain control in the buyer/seller relationship. But if we are going to anticipate and respond to this situation, we must better understand these nuances.
So here’s my take on the nature of the “lies” and how we can respond as marketers.
How and why do B2B buyers lie?
Here are some of the key points to understand about our interactions with B2B buyers:
Buyers are only willing to share a limited amount of information at the initial point of contact with your organization. In the beginning of cultivating the buyer/seller relationship, you don’t know the buyer, and (s)he doesn’t know you. Yet we as marketers too often ask the buyer to tell his/her complete life story to download a white paper—even though that is the first point of contact you’ve ever had with that buyer. There is something wrong with this approach.
The results of a recent study indicate that, at initial stages of contact, buyers only provide accurate and complete information on the most basic of information they’re asked to supply for things like white paper downloads. Only name, email address, industry, company name and job title have high rates (i.e., greater than 50% of the time) of being “always” completed correctly.
What about those questions we use to further qualify potential leads? According to the same study, technology buyers say they “always” provide accurate answers to custom questions only 29% of the time. That means 71% of the time there’s some degree of lying going on.
Craig Rosenberg (a.k.a. the ‘Funnelholic) commented on this in a past post on his blog. He explains it’s just too early in the process of getting to know a buyer to go so deep with qualifying questions:
It’s noble to try, but don’t use reg forms to do the job of your lead qualification or sales team. You are scaring great prospects off, and are hurting conversion to little benefit. Use your reg forms to confirm interest, target your market, and get their info. Gather more data on your second date or your third when you’ve both invested some time.
This point of view is supported by other marketers that have tested the impact on quality and quantity of registration requirements for their own demand generation programs. “[A] lot of people—more than 75%—DON’T sign up for papers requiring registration, which means the vendor is missing the opportunity to share and disseminate their knowledge,” comments Jay Hallberg, VP of Marketing for Spiceworks in a recent Q&A with the Savvy B2B Marketing blog folks.
So-called “BANT” information for buyers and their organizations increasingly must be discovered on an implicit basis, not asked for on an explicit basis: What does this mean? BANT stands for budget, authority, needs and timing, and it is a basic set of criteria that nearly all B2B marketing and sales organizations use to assess potential buyers and their organizations. Implicit data is behavioral data (i.e., the things buyers tell us through their actions). Explicit data is self-reported data (i.e., the things buyers tell us directly, such as by filling out a form online). And the issue I’m calling out? It is simple: Not only do buyers not want to share this information at first contact, but more than ever buyers often don’t really have accurate, explicit answers to BANT questions, so we have to figure out when/where they’re moving forward on an implicit basis.
Recent research by DemandGen Report found that the B2B buying process is less formalized than ever before. “More than 8 in 10 respondents said the buying process did not follow a traditional path where a budget was established, criteria outlined and then an RFP distributed to a pre-set list of solution providers,” according to a post by Andrew Gaffney summarizing the report.
B2B buyer organizations are becoming more agile and making more decisions on a non-planned basis. But this is bad news for our BANT criteria. A lack of formal process means we can’t really get the information we need when we ask about that process. So the best indicator of a buyer’s real intentions is his/her behavior (i.e., actually doing the things that indicate they are considering a purchase). This means that BANT increasingly is something that must be gathered on an implicit basis, and it speaks to the importance of B2B marketers using behavioral factors to better score and route interactions with prospective buyers via marketing automation.
Your prospective, individual buyer is not the sole decision-maker at his/her organization. Even if answered truthfully and accurately, the responses of an individual buyer to questions posed via online forms only constitutes a portion of the buying picture. Perhaps we can call this “unintentional” lying, but it is the skew that results from one contact inside an organization having his/her perspective on the situation—which may not be consistent with the perspective of the larger group that will approve the final purchase.
The fact is that B2B purchase decisions are not made by a single buyer most of the time. Increasingly, a complex, savvy buying unit makes B2B purchase decisions inside organizations. For purchases in the $25K to $99K range, nearly 2/3 of the time there are four or more buyers engaged in the decision, according to data in recent marketing report. For purchases in the $100K to $999K range, 92% of the time there are four or more buyers engaged in the decision. And it goes up from there.
Buyers aren’t ready to talk to us when they are downloading a white paper, anyway. Any content marketing strategy requires understanding the B2B buying process and rationalizing content and engagement around this process. Earlier on in the process — when a buyer is first becoming acclimated to, and wrapping his/her head around a problem, it’s more important to help educate and shape the direction of a buyer’s thinking in a hands-off fashion than it is to capture his/her information yet. Initial lead capture must be staged a step or two below the point of initial research and consideration. Lead capture is the launching point for dialogue with a prospective buyer, but it requires having established a growing relationship and having credentialed your organization upstream.
Not only is this good practice, but this is increasingly how buyers expect to act. The nature of the B2B buyer has changed in a Web 2.0 world, and buyers expect to be able to do more research on their own time and unhindered by proactive vendor interactions. B2B buyers spend 79% of their time in what Robert Jolles calls the “Acknowledgment” phase in his classic text, Customer Centered Selling. Acknowledgment phase is the phase where buyers are on the fence, thinking about a problem but not yet ready to act or to pursue a formal buying process.
Buyers need to go through a process of self-education before they move beyond the Acknowledgment phase and before they are ready to become a lead. So attempts to glean information from them through forms, early on in this process will only lead to buyers providing incorrect information because they want you to leave them alone … until they’re ready to talk to your organization.
How can B2B marketers tune their demand generation programs to anticipate (and overcome) these buyer lies?
The good news is that there are several techniques that have emerged in recent times to help B2B marketers cope with this situation and to gain leverage in their interactions with potential buyers.
Three ideas you can embrace today:
> Require less up front; progressively profile and append data instead: Make your content targeted at the earliest stages of the buying process free. Don’t require registration. And when you have that first white paper that requires registration—because it represents the next step in the buying process—just get their email address. You can continue to send nurture emails and invite prospects to Webinars and events where you can iteratively ask more information from the buyer as they continue their process. This approach is known as progressive profiling. You can also append information such as industry data after the fact, using resources from folks like Dunn & Bradstreet. Such an approach is more appropriate to the rhythm of interaction with buyers in a Web 2.0 world, and it is more appropriate to the give and take that is part of real relationship building.
> Score based on a combination of demographic and behavioral data: Don’t explicitly ask buyers everything you want to know; instead, observe and infer. If you have found that 49 out of 50 prospects that take X action, such as visiting a specific page on your website, have a high probability of wanting to buy from you, then use that information to increase the buyer’s lead score and have a sales person contact him/her. A lot smoother than having a check box on your first reg page that says, “Would you like someone to contact you?”
> Combine marketing automation with human contact: Craig Roseberg called this out in his quote. Don’t expect to learn everything about a prospective buyer through online or automated interactions. Marketing automation should exist to help power your lead management and content marketing strategies and give you greater operating efficiency, but you still need a combination of smart processes, people and technology to be successful. A piece of these strategies should include live contact via Webinars, field events, inside sales and field sales interactions. Use these live points of contact as key steps in your progressive profiling—building this into what you know about your prospective buyer and informing the next steps in your interaction. Again, technology can weave all of this online and offline insight together, but the buyer facing piece must be a combination of online content and offline interactions.
What do you think?
What are your experiences with buyers “lying,” and how has your company responded in its demand-generation programs?
Tags: Andrew Gaffney, B2B buyer, b2b marketing, behavioral scoring, Content Marketing, Craig Rosenberg, customer experience, demand generation, Email Marketing, Jay Hallberg, Lead Generation, lead management, lead score, Lead Scoring, Marketing, Marketing Automation, progressive profiling, Robert Jolles, Segmentation and Targeting, Web 2.0