Feel lost? Understanding the hidden B2B buyer’s journey

Feel lost? Understanding the hidden B2B buyer’s journey

As previously published on 8/5/21 in The Drum

by Scott Gillum
Estimated read time: 4 Minutes

Years ago, doctors treated gastric ulcers as a chronic disease, most likely brought on by stress or spicy foods. As a young pharma rep carrying the world’s first billion-dollar drug in my bag, I’d actively promoted how this wonder product could relieve the symptoms for their ulcer patients.

That was until the day I met a doctor who questioned why we weren’t selling a drug to cure the problem. It was a very valid point, one that would not be fully understood until a couple of years after I left that job.

Given the success of that drug, other similar products would soon follow, all for the relief of ulcer symptoms. Pharma companies followed the money, rather than investing in developing a cure.

Recently, I recalled this memory while looking at Scott Brinker’s Martech Landscape, which now includes 8,000 companies. There are companies investing millions of dollars into B2B marketing technologies that have hardly moved the needle on marketing performance – tools created to treat the symptoms of poor performance rather than fix them.

This issue has persisted for years. Performance should be improving by now, unless we’re missing something.

Here’s an example: ask a salesperson to describe their ideal buyer in detail and this is what you will likely hear. They want more buyers who are ‘risk-takers’, ‘innovators’, ‘people who are looking to make a name for themselves’ or ‘big-picture thinkers’.

What you won’t hear is prospects who are ‘technical buyers’, ‘budget holders’ or the ‘CEO’. Do you see what we are missing? Sales reps are describing personality attributes that make prospects ideal buyers, not their role, title or budget authority. The martech stack doesn’t capture those descriptors.

Still not convinced? Ask a salesperson why they lost a deal when they should have won it. You’ll probably hear “they had an existing relationship” (trust) or “they have used the solution/service in the past” (security). These are emotional decision drivers also not capturing or seen in CRM tools.

Get at the cause to find the cure

There is a buyer’s journey that is hidden. Our sales and marketing tools are not built to capture, track or provide us with insights into what to do about these ‘soft’ factors that impact deals. And it may be more important than anything we are tracking or measuring today. It’s time, like the doctor I encountered all those years ago, to ask the question of why we aren’t fixing the problem.

In 2005, a couple of Australian researchers named Barry Marshall and Robin Warren were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their work on linking the bacteria Helicobacter Pylori to the formation of gastric ulcers. They won this coveted prize after spending decades trying to convince the world of their discovery, even coming to a point where Marshall ingested H. Pylori to prove the causation to ulcers (it worked, he developed an ulcer three days later).

Marshall’s research was hugely disruptive and would eventually lead to the demise of a multi-billion-dollar therapeutic class of drugs. Their joint research in the late 80s was discredited for years, until the first drug of its type (the one I promoted) came off patent. Suddenly, gastric ulcers could be cured by prescribing a common antibiotic (which, ironically, was also manufactured by the same company).

Millions of dollars have been invested into martech tools, yet our sales and marketing performance have not improved. This industry is thriving by treating poor performance as a chronic disease – developing tools to keep the focus on extending reach and increasing scale, not on improving conversion rate or return on effort and investment.

Just as Marshall and Warren used postmortem research and forensic medicine to link the cause and effect of H. Pylori on the body, we are doing the same with breaking down deals closed, both won and lost. We are starting to get at the ‘cause’ – and to find a cure.

What we’re finding doesn’t necessarily match with the conventional wisdom of the day. Intent data may not actually show any real intent. Lead nurturing programs may be set up to nurture prospects that will never become leads. Campaigns may be targeting ‘buyers’ who are actually the exact opposite, a personality type that is more likely to kill a deal than help to close it.

It’s called personality-based marketing, and it has the promise to cure our ills… but please don’t make me ingest a lead to prove it.

The Most Important Driver in B2B Sales… and No One is Measuring It.

The Most Important Driver in B2B Sales… and No One is Measuring It.

As previously published on 7/7/21 in The Drum

by Scott Gillum
Estimated read time: 5 Minutes

Selling something to someone is risky…for them, not you, especially if this is a first time purchase. You’re asking a buyer to take a risk making a decision with the organization’s money, on a vendor or solution they don’t know, with only the promise of a reward to come.

The first part of the buyer’s journey involves three things – collecting information (about vendors, solutions, etc.), defining/understanding the need/problem, and trying to mediate risk (see the first two).

The point; where there is risk, there is an emotional buyer. The rational driver of the decision making process takes a backseat to the emotional side of the brain. And now for the problem, the way we qualify and measure the quality of a lead or buyer is almost completely rationally driven.

Let’s take BANT (Budget, Authority, Need and Timing) as an example. Do they own or have access to a budget? Rational. Are they the decision maker? Rational. Do we understand their needs? Check, rational. Do we know the decision making timeframe or when the budget might be available? Check, and check.

Maybe it’s unfair to use BANT, so let’s try using Strategic Selling as a framework. Are they the economic buyer? Rational. Are they the technical buyer? Rational. Insert your own process or steps from marketing automation, ABM program, CRM platform, etc…, and you’ll come to the same conclusion.

The point is, our performance is poor and does not improve because we are not capturing half or more of the key elements of the purchasing process. We track an action or activity without understanding the reason behind it.

Downloading a white paper, attending a webinar, or requesting information may or may not indicate intent. Without understanding the reasons behind those actions, we can only use metrics based on similar actions from the past and that is why our performance is so poor. It’s also the reason why it is so difficult to improve performance.

Our metrics too often reflect rearview mirror actions, recording what happened in the past without insight into what will happen in the future. AI will begin to fill in that blank but it will be informed only by looking at what actions happened in the past as well.

We have no metrics for tracking the emotional involvement of the buyers involved in the purchase decision. And the most important of all of them is motivation.

Plenty of organizations and decision makers have needs. The question is, are they motivated to solve them. Most importantly, are they motivated to advocate for your brand or solution? The more you understand the differences in buyers’ personal preferences and motivations the more you’ll understand that the way we measure our sales and marketing activities, and performance, is incomplete.

For example, some buyers are motivated by bringing new ideas into the organization but will not advance the buying process. Others will champion ideas and drive them forward, but only if it benefits them. These behaviors ebb and flow within the corporate culture. A culture that also has its own motivations and behaviors, impacting how buyers behave within it.

And all of this is happening in real time, not in a well defined process, with rational steps neatly constructed within a linear timeline. Contributing to the challenge is the ever growing investment in the sales and marketing tech stack that chases optimization through machinery…e.g. volume. Because we can’t get better, we have to go broader.


What to Do

Sales is not just a “numbers game”, it’s also a head game, and it’s time for us to get our heads into that game. There are three steps that can help you track the “softer” side of the buying process.

  • Understand that corporate culture impacts decision making – start defining the dominant corporate culture. Is it sales, product, science, engineering, etc…? Track competing initiatives inside the org that may disrupt your sales success. This will help you understand the organizational motivation and how to align your efforts. Also, as a start, see Hank Barnes insightful work on corporate culture.
  • Understand that buyers have personalities which impact motivations – marketing has recognized that emotions exist in B2B and are being used to motivate audiences to take action, but this has not made its way into demand generation and sales.
  • Add the right tool to the martech stack – invest in personality profiling tools like xiQ or Crystal Knows to add the emotional elements that you are currently missing.

In order to improve, we need to add “why” metrics to the “what” currently tracked. As Kurt Vonnegut put it in his novel Player Piano, “If it weren’t for the people, the goddamn people always getting tangled up in the machinery…the world would be an engineer’s paradise.” For better or worse, our buyers are people, not a role or a title, and those people are rational and emotional.

The way we have constructed our measurement systems is based on an overly rationalized process driven by legacy manufacturing management practices that seek optimization through repetition. It’s not working. It’s time to rethink the machinery so we can help ourselves from getting tangled up in it.

The Real Audience for B2B Marketing is…

The Real Audience for B2B Marketing is…

As previously published on 5/21/21 in The Drum

by Scott Gillum
Estimated read time: 4 Minutes

Not the “C-Suite.” Sorry if you were hoping to hear otherwise. Despite the pleas from the sales and product organizations, unless you have a solution for a “c-suite” level issue (and few companies have that), they are most likely not your audience. 

Sure, they may have to make the decision and/or sign the deal because they own the budget which makes them an important target…for your sales organization, not marketing. 

There I said it feel free to forward this post to the head of sales. I can say this because the goal of marketing is to find an audience, get their attention and motivate them to take action. It’s not to sell them, which is often forgotten. 

So given that, who is the audience for B2B marketers? 

It’s a “director” level position. 

Now before you throw the baby “c-level” out with the bathwater, let me explain why they’re important. Actually, I’ll give you three reasons which are all backed by “the numbers.” 

  1. There are more of them 
  2. They feel the pain 
  3. They’re motivated to take action  

Think of an organization chart: there is a pyramid with the “c-level” executive on top, vice presidents in the middle and directors near the bottom. As you cascade down the pyramid there are more and more positions. Logically, for every one c-suite executive there are possibly 10’s of director level positions. And marketing, like sales, is a numbers game. More important, is the role each level plays in the purchase decision process. Typically, the “c-suite” executive is the decision maker, the VP the budget holder, and the directors, well, they’re the users. And as the users of the product or services, they are also the ones who feel the pain. 


Feeling the pain makes for a motivated audience and that’s who marketers need to get in front of with content. There is also another really important reason that directors are important and it also has to do with motivations. 

Being a source of information and bringing new ideas, vendors, and solutions to the table is a smart way to demonstrate value to the organization. They’re motivated by career ambitions so feed them information. 

Not convinced yet? Here are some numbers to back up my argument. Over the past year we’ve collected data from clients on over 10,000 prospects and leads sources from marketing activities, lead nurturing programs, and new MQL entries into CRM. 

Guess how many had “director” level titles? Over 60% and that number went even higher for MQL’s. Yet for some reason when we plan marketing campaigns, the target audience is often defined as the “c-suite.” 

The problem, the c-suite does not actively seek information from marketing channels. If they are looking for a new solution or vendors, they are relying on their network. Peer-to-peer is the number one source of information, and it’s not even close. 

Marketers, it’s time to step up and defend your audience. You need to understand and build content for directors with the understanding that they will share it with their bosses and perhaps their bosses’ boss. They are the door openers as well as the path to decision makers. 

For sales, they’ll also one day realize that they are key for them as well. Directors are at the beginning of the buyers’ journey and without motivated participants it doesn’t move. 

The truth is, just like the fact that the c-suite is not a viable marketing audience, marketing doesn’t actually motivate prospects to take action. Rather it finds motivated audiences who are seeking information, and that audience is dominated by directors. 

How To Productize Professional Services IP

How To Productize Professional Services IP

Productizing an organization’s intellectual property makes sense for many reasons. It can help build scale, improve valuations and create efficiencies. The challenge is to get the desired outcome it may require new skill sets, a change in culture and significant investment. Learn how to avoid the pitfalls and create a strategy for success from Eisha Tierney Armstrong, author of Productize in our latest podcast.



To hear Scott’s entire conversation with Eisha Tierney Armstrong, author of Productize about “How To Productize Professional Services IP”, listen or download here: