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Ardath Albee

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Curiosity and Context: Keys to Engagement for B2B Buyers

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Many B2B marketers have jumped on the bandwagon about answering their buyers and customers' questions. There's a bit more strategy involved to do so in a way that drives momentum, but what I'm not seeing is marketers attempting to promote the curiosity that motivates their buyers to ask the questions they haven't thought of yet.

Campaigns are dead. Even Forrester says so.

Curiosity and Context are the fuel for engagement. And in B2B, you're going for the long-term - not the one-off. Consistency and longevity critical. The story must build across stages, pulling buyers forward by building anticipation for what's next - for them to understand how they get the outcome they want with your help.

So what drives engagement?

Curiosity. A desire to know more. Ideas that reshape the way people think about a concept, inviting them to ask new questions in exploration.

Context that uses stories based on how problems and priorities might be playing out for prospects and customers.

Perception of low effort that makes it stupid simple and appealing to create a dialogue with you.

A sense of empowerment that comes when buyers feel they are driving the conversation, not your agenda.

Anticipation to get what's next because your story (content) has motivated them to "turn the page."

Simply making a list of questions and answering them is not the solution to creating lasting engagement that drives revenues for complex sales. Why not? Because there are hidden questions, subconscious needs that buyers don't think to ask until their curiosity is aroused.

Reasons why content doesn't create curiosity:

There's no Open End.

Much of this has to do with corporations thinking that they need to be the definitive answer to prove their expertise. There's no room left for discussion without the risk of the buyer looking stupid or presenting an outright challenge. Let's just admit that we don't know everything - never will - and get it over with already.

It's not Novel.

A lot of content is a restatement of stuff other people have said so many times that there's nothing new. If this is a constant, these are the responses you can expect. People will either scan and see they've read the same stuff before and leave. Or they'll finally reach their breaking point and either mark your brand off their resources list or post a comment expressing their irritation. Either way, your value to them has diminished.

It's trying to talk to Too Many People at once.

When you don't know your audience well enough or you have limited resources, you try to do too much with one content asset. This usually means that it's so high level that it doesn't speak with meaning to anyone.

The Context is Skewed.

You are still using gut instinct to tell you what your audience cares about. But you've missed the points that matter to them. Perhaps you nailed the topic, but the angle you've taken tells them you really don't understand their situation or what they care about. In this scenario, there's just no motivation to engage because the buyer knows you don't "get" them.

It sounds Too Good To Be True.

You know your Whizz Bang solution is the next best thing to sliced bread. But you've emphasized so many upsides without the details, struggles or whatever else it takes to get them that the outcomes sound too good to be true. This immediately arouses disbelief about all the stuff that's been omitted or the veracity of what you're saying and results in diminished credibility - even if what you say is true!

I could go on, but I think I've made the point. What it comes down to is being human and highly relevant. But it's also a sense of mirroring - or being seen as a peer. No one likes to be lectured to by someone who thinks they're the smartest person in the room. If you want to create engagement with an upside, you have to be curious, too.

Buyers are looking for expertise, certainly. But they're also sure that their situation is unique - which it is. And they want to know that you're flexible and agile enough to adjust to it while still delivering what you promise.

B2B marketers need to tread the line between using their expertise to mentor buyers and curiosity that shows you're interested in them and what they need and want. Sometimes this means showing them that you didn't have all the answers when you started helping a customer, but that you helped them figure it out and overcome the unforseen challenges encountered along the way. In other words, revealing your humanity.

B2B complex sales have inherent risk - both for the company and the buyer. In many of the interviews I do for persona projects, what I hear repeatedly is that buyers want to work with people/companies who they feel care the most about them. I've heard many customers say the equivalent of "They just seemed to "get" us."

When I probe deeper it comes back to an alignment with context and the quality of interactions that the buying team had with the vendor they chose to solve their problem.

What are you doing to show your buyers that you "GET" them?

 

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More Stories By Ardath Albee

Ardath Albee, CEO & B2B Marketing Strategist of her firm Marketing Interactions, helps companies with complex sales increase and quantify marketing effectiveness by developing and executing interactive eMarketing strategies driven by compelling content.

Her book, eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale, was published by McGraw-Hill.

Her articles and blog posts have been used for university ezines, published in CRM Today, Selling Power, Rain Today and Enterprise CRM News. Marketing Profs has incorporated her blog posts into a number of their "Get to The Point" newsletters.