Episode #172: The Secret to Successful B2B Marketing

We’re taking a quick break from our Modern Marketing Plan series to talk about a fascinating article I recently read: “The Blandscape of B2B Marketing Content Needs a Bit of Emotion,” written by Ardath Albee. It’s an insightful look at ways to address the complexity of B2B selling, and more than worthy of a Unified-CXM episode. 

You can take a look at Ardath Albee’s article here:

See all Copernican Shift podcasts
The Copernican Shift on Apple Podcasts


Coming in for landing; here comes the helicopter. All right, hello, hello, hello, hello, hello, hello. Welcome to the Unified CXM Experience and, as always, I’m your host, Grad Conn. I’m the CXO, Chief Experience Officer at Sprinklr and today we’ve got a bit of a special show. We’ve been doing a series on how to create a marketing plan, focusing on the zero moment of truth structure from Google. So we’re going to come back to that in the next show. But today, I read an article and I thought it was fabulous. And so I just wanted to talk about this article. You can check it out yourselves. But I wanted to talk about it. And maybe I’ll extemporize a little bit around the article, kind of putting in some of my own thoughts. But it was just one of those articles you read once in a while, where you just love the fact that the author has identified core issues that always are banging around in the back of your mind, but it’s that sudden crystallization of, “Yeah, geez, she just got that bang on”. And it was just a great article. And so I’ll just talk about that. And that’s what we’re going to do today’s show on. And then tomorrow, we’re going to come back to the second moment of truth. And actually, tomorrow is actually a special session. We’re going to be drilling into the zero moment of truth and focusing on influencers. So that’s going to be tomorrow’s show and then we’ll get to the second moment of truth and go on from there.

So, article. The article is in an online publication called Customer Think. And the title of the article is wonderful. It’s called The Bland Escape. The bland escape of B2B marketing content needs a bit of emotion. Needs a bit of emotion is a nice way of just phrasing it, too. I love that. And it’s by Ardath Albee, and I’ll give you a little bit on her. So Ardath Albee is the B2B marketing strategist, and the CEO of her firm Marketing Interactions and she helps B2B companies with complex sales and uses persona driven content, marketing strategies to drive results and outcomes. So she wrote this article, and I’m going to liberally quote from it, and feel free to take a look at it. So basically, the first thing she says that I thought, “Oh, damn, that’s smart”, is that she says that we all applaud the folks who insist that B2B is like B2C, because we’re marketing to people in both cases. And when I read that line, I thought, “Uh, oh”, because I say that all the time. You know, it’s P2P, it’s person to person marketing, and we’re just talking to human beings every time. So I thought, “Okay, well, looks like she’s about to serve up a little bit of humble pie for me here”, which I always enjoy. And then she said, it’s a sentiment that’s slightly misplaced, which again, hmmm, nice terminology, she’s not saying it’s totally wrong, like I would probably do, or it’s rubbish or hogwash, it’s just slightly misplaced. Like, all right, okay, so I’m not way off course. And what she says is that, even in the most complex B2C purchase, say, buying a house, it’s less complicated than buying collaboration technology for a thousand-person company, which is a little bit of a V8 moment. Yeah, she’s right. In fact, we actually use a quote in one of our decks, that the only thing more complicated than selling B2B software is buying B2B software. It’s a very complicated process. And one of the things that’s challenging about it, is you have to gain the consensus of your colleagues in many cases, not all, but in many cases, you have to gain the consensus of your colleagues in order to make that purchase stick. And then you’ve got to drive adoption and get people to use it. And then there’s a lot of complexity around understanding the technology, there’s usually a reasonable amount of competition, and a lot of products that look very similar. Of course, the vendors don’t help everything by constantly trashing each other and saying that one doesn’t do this. And that one doesn’t do that. Of course, they both do it so that all that makes it very, very complicated. I think what she’s saying is that true piece, you’re still selling to people. But keep in mind that the task that the people are trying to do is much more complicated in a B2B context than B2C.

So I’ll extemporize a little bit here. So what I liked about that is it also fits into something I’d also say, which I think is right, which is that one thing that we may not do as well as we should, classically in B2B, is help our champions and help the people that we’re selling to sell to others in their firm. And this idea of buyer enablement, everyone does seller enablement, this idea of doing buyer enablement, enabling your buyer with the data, with the quotes, with the case studies, with the raw material to be able to say to their peers, “This is a good decision because of X, Y, and Z”. That’s super powerful.

So she goes on to talk about how emotion can play in the B2B context. So after saying, “Hey, it’s more complicated”, so understand that. Check. I added in the buyer enablement stuff a second ago. Then she says there are nine types of ways that emotion plays in B2B marketing, in the context of this consideration of it being a more complex way of buying and selling, so I thought, “Okay, great, I’m going to check these out”. So the first one is empathy, representing emotion. So the buying isn’t just about logic, which is what most B2B marketing materials do. Buyers want to get to know you and the issue here is that if I get to know you, it starts to help me understand what my experience is going to be like using the software, and what my experience is going to be like with the services team and with the support team, and with the customer care team, and anything else that I’m doing. And I need to feel that I’m doing something where I’m going to be excited about the process of owning the software, as much as I am of the process of buying it. The second thing is insightful ideas that stimulate ‘what if’ exploration. It’s emotionally engaging because it generates anticipation and curiosity. Love this actually, this idea of creating curiosity on how things can be different. I just had a customer call, actually a prospect call a few minutes ago. We were doing some stuff that was like, interesting, he’s like, “Check, check, interested, interested”, then I gave him something very new. I can’t tell you what it is. And it was like, “Really? Well, that’s interesting”. That curiosity was piqued. And when you can get curiosity going, it’s very powerful. So that’s the second one. The third one is FOMO, we probably all know what that means ‘fear of missing out’. It’s emotional, which is, “Hey, everybody is using this particular platform, you should get on the same train, because it’s a powerful platform and well regarded”, and stuff like that. So that’s good. Risk is also an emotion. We want to minimize it for buyers.

And I do think that there’s one thing I like to say about B2B buyers. And this is me, and this is not coming from the article. But I’ve always liked to say that  B2B, in some ways, is a simple category because to a large extent, your selling career success. We’ll express it a little bit more nuanced in a moment, but you’re selling career success, and you’re selling against career failure, or getting terminated or fired, because you bought the software. So that risk component comes in in the fear piece. You don’t want to overdo that. But it is a little bit of why people used to say, “No one ever got fired for buying IBM”. They played into that. Well, it wasn’t like an official campaign. But that was sort of the word on the street that IBM was a safe purchase because you could say, “Hey, well, geez, we bought IBM. I know, it didn’t work. I know. But like, what else could we do? We went to the best”. If you went to, say, buy Burroughs, and it didn’t work, it was like, “Wow, you should have bought IBM”. So you know, it made it really powerful. But this idea of career success, let’s just unpack this for a second. So the career success piece, that’s a little bit of a crude way of saying it in some ways. But if you think about when people are buying something, or doing something with a vendor, or you know, building out some type of functionality, there’s a real component of “I want to be an innovator in the company, I want to be able to enable my team to be able to do things they couldn’t do before. I want to drive more revenue, I want to manage cost down, I want to manage risk for me as a company”. Security products play this game all the time. “What would happen to your company if there was a ransomware incident?” “Oh my gosh, that would be terrible. I want to make sure that I don’t have a ransomware risk in my company”. And hey, this particular anti-ransomware software is less expensive than its main competitors. Those are how you build those stories. I do think these components of revenue, cost, and risk are the three reasons why people do anything in business and so it’s always nice to link to at least one of those but it’s awesome if you get two or three. She actually mentions career advancement.

The third thing is investing in the idea of change. That’s emotional. Will it work? Will it not work? This idea of what if it fails, imagine what we can do when we have it. And so really tying into this emotion around change and the excitement of it, and what makes it powerful, and what makes people want to do it. The digital transformation initiatives that have been launched over the last two and a half years; all are part of this. There’s a lot of that going on out there. And there’s a great case study right now on Prada on the Sprinklr website. Prada has undertaken a massive digital transformation campaign that’s going extremely well. And they’re using Sprinklr to drive their customer experience management component of that change. But the change involves many aspects of the digital OS that Prada is deploying and it’s exciting. They’re seeing it come into the results for the company because people aren’t going to stores as much. The use of storytelling in B2B materials is also emotional if it’s done well. There’s a really great book called Story, interestingly, and Story is sort of the bible for all script writers in Hollywood. If you think about Story, I’m just going to actually look up script writing. Here we are, yeah, it’s called Story – Styles, Substance, Structure, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee. Robert McKee does these great seminars where he basically screams at you for three days on what an idiot you are, which is a wonderful actually, and, and then tells you and teaches you how to write a good story. I’ve actually gone through one of his seminars. It was wonderful. And it was a great, great memory actually. I did that a long time ago. But it was a wonderful weekend, even though I just spent the whole weekend sitting there being screamed at.

The core of Story is this idea of creating an arc for the character. So typically, things start at stasis, everything’s kind of fine. A really great movie, in terms of the classic expression of this structure, very easy to see it is Gravity with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. It’s a great version of this. So everything’s kind of fine, they’re repairing the satellite, dumpty, dumpty, dum. And there’s something called an inciting incident. The inciting incident is something that happens that changes the stasis. So in the case of Gravity, and this movie is almost 10 years old so I’m going to tell you what happens in it. If you haven’t seen it yet, I don’t know what to say. And so a broken satellite from a failed Russian missile test comes spinning in and destroys the shuttle, and a couple of the astronauts and then George Clooney, and Sandra Bullock are now kind of flying free in space and trying to figure out how to get back to Earth. So the inciting incident creates this journey. And then what has to happen is the two of them, and eventually, one of them, I won’t say which one have to essentially overcome a series of obstacles, which is the hero’s journey. So they get to the space station, and it’s kind of exploding, and then they get to Mir and it’s kind of exploding, and they get to the Chinese space station and it’s kind of exploding and they’re kind of dancing from platform to platform just trying to basically survive. And then there’s the ending. And the ending is essentially a type of return to stasis. In the case of Gravity, the person who returns to Earth returns to Earth. Now, they’re not repairing a space satellite anymore, but it’s a new kind of stasis, because they’re on the ground, and they’re fine.

And so that sort of classic story structure is what you try to build into a B2B journey, which we don’t do very often, we don’t often throw the obstacles that were in front of the person. So there’s usually a problem. And then the solution is our product. That’s kind of a boring story. It’s more interesting if there is a problem, or there’s kind of a business issue. And then there was a struggle to solve the business issue, maybe different attempts with different types of software, different approaches, and then they bought ours. And then there’s this struggle, and whatever the struggles are, they get to a point where suddenly they’re at a new level of business performance. That’s more interesting to read. It’s also more realistic. Everybody knows that it takes time, and it takes effort, and it takes energy to make this stuff work. And so if you tell me the real story, I’m going to be more engaged, and I’m going to trust you more. And I’m going to feel like I’m going to be able to have a relationship with you that’s more honest.
And then she talks a little bit about the format of content to inspire emotion. So maybe fewer talking head videos and more quick reads with stats, source links, and things that I can use right now. Because remember, going back to buyer enablement, I may want to share this with others on my team, take them through this journey and show them, that’s the same kind of journey that we’re going to do as well. And so that’s kind of the core of it.

I’m going to end with a quick thing about brand building. And I think she’s got sort of a nice idea in here, which is, think about brand-building not only about awareness, but also likeability. So it’s not sufficient for someone just to know about your brand, they also have to like your brand, which kind of intuitively makes sense. But likeability is not an index I see very often on brand-building campaign objectives. So with only 5% of buyers in the market at any one time, you need to ensure that the experiences provided people who could become our buyers are making a favorable impression. So we need to delight people, make them glad they spent a few minutes with us, or ideas or content, our brand. So this goes to the idea that that content needs to be delightful. Content needs to be interesting, engaging, fun, really surprising. Maybe not the thing I normally expect to see. Oh, that’s really cool. What a neat brand. I really like them. I may not be in the market to buy that right now. But I enjoyed that engagement. I’ll look forward to doing that again.

Anyway. So just kudos to Ardath Albee, she did a great job in this article, I really enjoyed reading it, it really touched on a lot of fundamental issues in B2B selling, which I think are core to it, and kind of tip of the hat to the work she did and the thinking that she did to go into this article. Maybe we’ll interview her in the future. Randy, what do you think? It’d be kind of fun to bring her on.

Yeah, I think that’s a great idea.

What we should do is we should send her this podcast, or the videocast, whichever one we want. My hair looks pretty good today. So let’s send her the videocast and just say, “Hey, would love to interview you and bring you on the show and dig in a little bit deeper”. So I think that’d be really fun. So we’ll do that and look forward to that in the future. For today, I’m going to wrap. This was the Unified CXM Experience and I’m your host, Grad Conn, CXO or Chief Experience Officer at Sprinklr and we will see you … next time.