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From ABM Engagement to Enablement: Leveraging Buying Group Signals in B2B Tactics

Posted June 6, 2022

From ABM Engagement to Enablement: Leveraging Buying Group Signals in B2B Tactics

Posted June 6, 2022

Join Jessie Johnson, Principal Analyst at Forrester, Nikki Candito, VP Demand Strategy and Dee Blohm, SVP Corporate Marketing at Anteriad discuss how to successfully leverage buying group signals to change buyer engagement, to buyer enablement.

See the specific chapters below:

00:00:00 – Using the Game Clue To Decode Complex B2B Buying Behavior

00:02:57 – B2B Buyers Are Doing More Due Diligence Than Ever

00:04:12 – Three Actions to Go From Engagement to Enablement

00:07:53 – The Importance of Utilizing All B2B Buying Signals

00:08:59 – Dimensions of B2B Buying Signals: Fit, Current State & Interest

00:10:18 – Where B2B Buying Signals Come From and Categories

00:11:22 – Leveraging Buying Signals to Deliver Contextual Interactions

00:11:57 – What is Contextualization?

00:14:00 – Three Phases of Contextualization Cycle: Analyze

00:17:38 – Three Phases of Contextualization Cycle: Activate

00:22:11 – Three Phases of Contextualization Cycle: Adapt

00:00:00 – Using the Game Clue To Decode Complex B2B Buying Behavior

Jessie Johnson: So, we’re all somewhat familiar I think, with this game of Clue or Cludo, depending on where you are in the world. And as we play, players capture and analyze clues from objects and paths and assumptions that are based on other players’ activity with the goal of solving a murder mystery to win the game. The game is designed around what’s known and what can be deduced as players move through different rooms to capture, analyze, and action those clues, the move of a single player impacts the rest of the board.

So, this also gives us a way to think about the dynamics of the other players based on how they interact with that player one. Who knows what and when? How does that affect progression toward resolution of the game for everyone that’s involved? And this looks a lot like buying groups in B2B. We’re not just connecting and orchestrating content experiences for an individual player anymore, we need to keep in mind everyone that is part of this journey.

So today we’ll use the classic board game Clue to decode complex B2B buying behavior and respond with a hyper-relevant and hyper-personalized buying experience. We’ll take a look at the changing buyer expectations and how we can respond to those expectations by sensing and responding to buyer needs to deliver interactions with immediate value across the buying journey.

So, what are we able to see? We’ve become so focused on lead conversion from different delivery channels, often competing for source credit, that silos are created by these lead lens views that really limit our insights and skew our perception around what opportunities are actually there in the pipeline.

The reality is that there has always been a group of people involved in complex B2B purchase decisions, not that individual lead. Once we see buying group opportunities, we can more effectively align processes and technologies to integrate these insights and develop a more effective revenue engine.

Buyers are moving together through the purchasing. But seeing those buying groups isn’t enough. We need to enable the members of those buying groups based on the role that they play in the decision process. So, technology purchases now make up 77% of all purchases. Up from 63% in 2017, and that’s driving more complexity and more people that are involved in that decision process.

Now we see that 83% of B2B purchases include those complex buying groups.

00:02:57- B2B Buyers Are Doing More Due Diligence Than Ever

Jessie Johnson: And they’re doing more research, more due diligence than ever before. B2B buyers are investing more of their time, that’s their most valuable asset, and the biggest shift that we’re seeing in buying behavior is a significant leap in the average number of buying interactions up by 10 from 17 in 2019 to 27 in 2021.

And so how do marketers respond to these seismic shifts in buying behavior? Modern B2B buyers don’t want to be sold. Today’s empowered buyers expect interactions and information gathering to happen on their terms across digital and non-digital interactions. They expect interactions with providers that are open, connected, intuitive, and immediate.

Rather than try to control that buyer’s journey in a linear fashion, marketers must meet buyers where they are, anticipate their needs, and enable that next step. So, as we think about real time buyer enablement, it’s the shift from selling at our buyers to helping them get the information that they need in the moment to support their decision process.

00:04:12 – Three Actions to Go From Engagement to Enablement

Jessie Johnson: So, we have three actions that can take us there, and the first is that we need to shift from delivering interconnected touchpoints to offering buyers interconnected insights. To do that, we need to invest in our marketing infrastructure so that we can do more than just collect that data. We need to be able to analyze that data in order to identify recommended actions and execute on that action, and then evolve that action as we continue to learn more about our buyers and what’s working and what’s not.

And as we can see, marketers are already leveraging a variety of different data sources to truly understand their buyers and deliver a better customer experience. So, looking across first, second-, and third-party data sources, marketers are finding ways to connect those insights and understand what matters the most. It’s not an issue of the quantity of data that I might have across my systems, but it’s the quality of that data.

What does that tell me about my buyer or customer, and how can I use that to respond with the best-fit message at the right time? So, from there, we need to use that data to do more than just be easy to find, through our ads in our websites, we need to shift to offering buyers a frictionless engagement.

This means fewer steps, fewer clicks, fewer dead ends. We want them to spend their time on informed discussion and discovery, not searching for how to register for something. And so, we’re already seeing these mechanics in place and in play. We have marketers leveraging things: digital analytics website activity to better understand buyer personas, what those personas need, and then to provide actionable inputs into personalization of the next tactic and to understand what’s working across the tactic mix overall.

And then finally, we need to roll all of these insights and this idea of frictionless engagement into this idea of contextual experiences. So, we’ve been personalizing our tactics for a while now as marketers. When our content is discovered, we need to aim higher than personalization for the B2B buyer, we need to start offering buyers contextual experiences that resonate for every situation.

And we see demand and ABM marketers are increasingly leveraging AI for decisioning and execution within that tactic mix to deliver a more personalized and relevant customer experience at scale, using intelligence and automation. So as we move from engagement to enablement, We need interconnected insights that help us choreograph the information, requirements, actions, and interaction paths of an individual buyer with the rest of the buying group as its members move together through their purchasing journey, we need to deliver frictionless interactions so buyers can spend their time on the right things and we need to provide immediate value, through contextual experiences, and this is all powered by signals and sensors and our ability to understand what signals matter most and respond to those in real-time while informing that next tactic.

00:07:53 – The Importance of Utilizing All B2B Buying Signals

Jessie Johnson: And we have a wealth of buying signals at our disposal. Each signal can convey critical information about the buying entity and opportunity either on its own or when combined with other signals.

I always think back to the days of marketing. Yeah, I have somebody’s jacket size in my marketing automation platform. That’s not going to matter to me long term in that immediate interaction, it might. But really looking for those signals that we can use now and later, and what they actually tell us about that buying entity and the opportunity and on the tactic side, how do we best treat those individuals in context of their buying groups? So, if we start to ask the right questions of these signals, we get some really solid answers that we can start to bake into our program and tactic planning. And if we think about, really the role of the program, it’s not, I have a white paper ready and I’m going to, put it out on all of my channels.

00:08:59 – Dimensions of B2B Buying Signals: Fit, Current State & Interest

Jessie Johnson: Programs are a planned and methodical way to enable a defined audience through a mix of inbound and outbound tactics. So, we’re looking at both inbound and outbound, what we can plan, and then what we need to respond to in the. So, across all of our program types, we can use buying signals to better understand both the individual and the composition of that buying group, or even retention group if it’s a customer marketing play in real time.

So, this understanding then supports our tactic-level use cases and techniques like personalization and retargeting. We have current state signals, so these indicate need interaction drivers. Is now the right time to engage? And then finally we have interest signals. So, interest tells us exactly that.

What themes and topics is the buyer most interested in order to solve their challenges? And as we can see in our bracket there at the bottom intent data falls somewhere in between current state and interest. Not every website visit is going to signal intent to buy right now, but it does indicate interest in current state, which can help us paint a picture of true purchase intent.

00:10:18 – Where B2B Buying Signals Come From and Categories

Jessie Johnson: And if we look down in the lower right there, we have signal sources. Where’s everything coming from? So, we have directed, detected, and derived signals. Easy way to think about this. Directed signals, that’s your first-party data sources. We’re in control of the design of the sensors for those signals. Detected signals come from third-party data sources from social listening. Derived data sources. We talked a little bit about listening for what matters, and then what do we do with that? Derived data sources or signal sources come into play when we start to combine signals from these other two buckets, we might combine a directed signal with a detected signal that can amplify the derived signal. Don’t worry too much about the D terminology, but just take a look at, where are your data sources currently and what are the most meaningful signals that you can listen for to inform these elements for timing, triggers, treatment and transition.

00:11:22 – Leveraging Buying Signals to Deliver Contextual Interactions

Jessie Johnson: So how do we make all of this happen? We have talked about some places to find signals, what to listen for, what do we actually do with those signals inside of that program, and tactic mix. So, we need to then focus on delivering those contextual interactions through our tactic strategy. So, we’ll take a look here at defining contextualization. So, before we jump in, we need to figure out, what exactly are we talking about when we say a contextual experience.

00:11:57 – What is Contextualization?

Jessie Johnson: So, contextualization builds on the foundations of personalization and customization and contextual experiences are interconnected and immediate. Our goal is to sense and respond to those buyer needs in real-time and provide a hyper-relevant, continuously optimized experience by adapting and orchestrating our tactics as those new insights are revealed.

So, as we think about, how does that differ from a B to C contextual experience? In the B2B worlds as we think contextualization, our definition here assumes the perspective that the business buyer is also a consumer. They’re also human beings and their expectations and even the way that they consume information reflects that.

And, that individual also plays a role inside of a buying group whose members need to move together through that complex purchase process. And so, enabling the empowered B2B buyer requires the translation of all of this engagement with both digital and non-digital tactics into actionable insights to remove friction from the interaction and ultimately the buying process.

And by doing so, we provide multiple paths to connect, convert, and drive repeat purchases. So, this is Forester’s B2B contextualization cycle, and it provides a repeatable methodology for designing and deploying a sense and respond approach to buyer enablement. It’s a virtuous cycle with three phases, each dynamic in nature, and it’s based on the input and output of the previous phase as well as tactic interactions in the moment as we drive toward that next interaction.

I’ll take a look here at the three phases. Nikki, did you want to jump in?

Nikki Candito: Go through the phases first and then I have a question.

Jessie Johnson: You got it.

00:14:00 – Three Phases of Contextualization Cycle: Analyze

Jessie Johnson: All right, so we’re going to start out with our analysis phase. So, we need to figure it out. What is going on? What is the buyer trying to do? What is our business objective, or our program objective tell us that we would like to have that buyer do?

The buyer’s intention is what they want to accomplish. They want to read a case study or access an interactive tool to better understand solution ROI. This is the basis for their participation in that tactic.

On the other side, we have our tactic intention. So, this describes what marketers hope to accomplish with that tactic as we attract, engage, and enable our buyers, helping them fill information gaps, maybe think differently about a problem, inspire change and sentiment, or take a desired action. So, our goals then combine buyer and tactic intention to sense and respond to those buying signals with measurable outcomes. So, what happens next and how can we use that to inform the timing, the triggers, the treatment, and the transition of our program plays?

So, to get there, we need to understand our audience. We need to understand what motivates them to engage, considering both extrinsic and intrinsic motivations. So, as we think about the B2B buyer as professional, extrinsic motivations are really results-focused, filling those information gaps, confirming fit with need, connecting with another company and its peers, progressing through the complex and connected buyer’s journey.

Then we also need to understand that buyer is a human. So, the B2B buyer is a human first. Intrinsic motivations then are internally focused and include knowledge, empowerment, experience, preference, even entertainment. So, uncovering those internal factors that are driving learning discovery. Decision-making and even advocacy throughout the customer life cycle help marketers and machines better recognize the needs and preferences of the buyer.

And we do that by separating signal from noise in this phase. So, with each interaction, we’re able to capture more signals, to learn a little bit more about the buyer than we knew before. It might be tempting to respond to everything just because we can. That’s not really the best approach for the buyer if we think back to that idea of enabling them versus selling at them.

So, we want to help them along their journey rather than pushing them forward with what we know.

Nikki Candito: Jessie, can I ask a question about the buyer?

Jessie Johnson: Absolutely.

Nikki Candito: For some of our audience today, they probably have a big and broad audience that they’re selling to. They might have multiple buying groups, multiple influencer groups. How can they prioritize that audience? So then take this and push it on top of them?

Jessie Johnson: Absolutely. That’s a great question. A few different ways to take a look at that. As we think about prioritizing those buying groups, take a look at what’s already in the pipeline. Any opportunities that are open, that are stalled, that, didn’t move forward for whatever reason.

Hopefully, we have a bit of a disqualification code that we could use in our program decisioning, but that’s really the first place to look. What is the current health of the pipeline? What’s moving, what’s not? And then from there we can look at strategies to get people or buying groups unstuck.

00:17:38 – Three Phases of Contextualization Cycle: Activate

Jessie Johnson: One of these we think about program planning and our objectives there as we think about this, not to be confused with this phase here, but we have a program objective that is activation. So, we have activation, validation, and acceleration. So, as we, we think about this activation process or phase here, and we’ve taken our priority buyers, our buying groups, our accounts, our customers, and we need to figure out then what are the desired actions that we want them to take? It’s not just clicking on that CTA and filling out a form and getting a white paper so that we can count leads in our databases anymore. So, the buyer’s behavior in relation to these desired actions is what helps inform our program rules that drive entry and transition into those programs, and then also drive the interaction planning underneath those programs.

So, if we think about tactics, when we say tactics, and we look at this idea of an interaction path, we might have a series of tactics that is actually plotted along the interaction path for any individual buyer.

Then we add in that buying group context and they start to go like this. It’s all inter intertwined and connected. But the key thing that we want to keep in mind here is for that individual, to whom those tactics are targeted, what are these key actions that we want to motivate along this interaction path?

Maybe it’s consuming X bit of content. They sit on it for a little while. If we can get them to share it with another member of a buying group, that’s even better. But what comes next? They’ve read content, maybe it’s a case study. Let’s invite them to listen in on a customer panel. What is the best possible outcome, knowing that within that interaction path, we still can’t quite control it as much as we want to plot out that, that next best interaction?

So, making sure that, based on what we know about our audiences and the analyze phase. Everyone has somewhere to go that’s very relevant to them.

And if we think back to that, to our three actions, none of these interaction paths should have a dead end. There’s no such thing as, Thank you. Close your browser. Let’s recommend some additional content or conversations that can be had as a result of the content that they just consumed. What did you learn? What’s next?

And that’s really where treatment comes into play. So, this is where we’re thinking about the combination of messaging offers, creative elements, delivery mechanisms, customization requirements that best map to what we understand about our audience as well as our program objectives. So, what are signals and sensors doing in this phase?

So, what’s, what will have start to happen here is as buyers. With these tactics that we’re now presenting in the moment, or even looking at how they arrived at that tactic to begin with, we start to detect new signals. Are all of them going to matter? Not likely. But some of those are really going to matter for what we want to do next.

So, if we think about how we’re using some of those signals, we need to focus our acquisition of those signals and our response strategies on what transmits the most meaningful information in the moment, and then how that sets us up to drive toward that next action in our adapt phase. We’re also thinking about engineering sensors here in this phase as well.

So, we might be introducing new content formats or delivery mechanisms that the buyer maybe hasn’t engaged with in the past, or its new inside of this particular program plan. So, each of these, with each of those engagements the content consumed starts to activate new sensors, what can we understand about the content topics that people are engaging with?

Can we take a look at delivery mechanisms and get a better idea of persona preferences? So, we need to start to figure out, as. Listen or detect more buying signals through this interaction and our activate phase. How are we going to use those going into our adapt phase?

00:22:11 – Three Phases of Contextualization Cycle: Adapt

Jessie Johnson: So, timing is everything. If we think about the now and the latter, we’ve talked about how we deliver the most value in the moment. Now, as we get into the adapt phase, we’re going to start to look ahead a little bit. So, buying signals that are leveraged for program and tactic timing decisions, transmit key information about the personas involved in that decision process, what stage they might be in, and what their information needs are.

We then use those signals to inform entry into program plays. So, our rules determine that program entry and transition. The program types maybe are acquisition, retention, engagement, whatever that program is designed to accomplish these signals. Tell us when should somebody come into the program and when should we start to fire that messaging. So, what are some of those triggers that are going to initiate that tactic-level response?

So, our triggers function really as the, and in sense and respond. Examples of some of these trigger conditions that could fire a tactic response now versus later include the acquisition of new signals resulting from buyer interaction with a program tactic, content consumed, what they’re putting in that chat window. Maybe we’ve detected a new website visitor from the buying group or event attendance. So, all of this transmits new information about the buying entity that wasn’t available prior to that interaction and that we can use to continuously inform and drive toward that next interaction.

Dee Blohm: But ladies, thank you both very much. Thanks everybody for attending. Make it a great week.

Nikki Candito: Thanks Dee. Thanks Jesse. Bye everyone.

Dee Blohm: Thanks, Jessie. Bye now.