What I love most about my job is that I get to talk to a ton of smart, inspiring marketing and sales professionals on a daily basis. Whether they are influencers in the space, speakers, authors — you name it — my days are filled with great conversations. I even started documenting some of these talks in our new CXO Conversations series!
This has been a challenging time for everyone, but I can’t help but notice how resilient B2B organizations are and how much time they have taken to learn and evolve when the going gets tough.
I’ve also seen and read some great thought-leadership content lately, and there is one book that recently came out that I believe is a must-read for any marketer’s arsenal: “Fast-Track Your Business: A Customer-Centric Approach to Accelerate Market Growth,” written by Laura Patterson.
I had a chance to sit down Patterson to talk about the book and learn more about the importance of customer-centricity and data in marketing. The conversation even resulted in one of the greatest analogies I’ve ever heard — which compared the B2B sales process to dating — that you don’t want to miss.
Read on for some of the highlights of our conversation below!
Demand Gen Report: Tell us about the inspiration behind the book.
Patterson: This book took two years to make, and our company has always been about growth. When we started 21 years ago, we started by asking ourselves: How do we help our customers grow? How do we use data to help them do that? How do we help them be more customer-centric? In 1999, those were the really big questions. Twenty years later, everybody's asking those same questions. Instead, what started happening was marketing got more siloed into functions and the data got more overwhelming and difficult to manage.
DGR: I feel like marketers have so much data that they don't know what to do with these days.
Patterson: Yes, there is a huge percentage of unused data now. It just languishes on the line. I think the reason it does is that people don't ask good questions. It all starts with asking good questions. So that's the inspiration from the book. We're living in a really dynamic environment and we need to help business people be able to live in that dynamic environment. As I was and thinking about this book, it was the CEOs themselves who started talking about the things they needed in order to grow, and that they were all about growth. There was a CEO who once said, the most important thing is customers, not revenue. He said to read about revenue later, focus on customers now and the revenue will come. Between that message and all of this, that was the inspiration for this book, focus on customers.
DGR: In B2B marketing, it's always been about just generating as many leads as possible and having product-centric messaging. Why is the shift towards customer-centricity so important, especially today?
Marketing people still see themselves in service to the sales team, from a lead gen perspective, as opposed to a strategic player to the leadership team for creating demand, which are two different things. Too many CMOs have become connected to the sales team, thinking that their job is lead generation, so they're not strategic partners anymore. If your pay is declining, your influence probably is too. So CMOs who are not paying attention to growth are going to lose their strategic value, and they're going to lose their influence.
DGR: Are there any challenges that you've seen come up in terms of just generating that growth or getting that customer-centric model aligned across the organization?
Patterson: B2B companies truly don't understand the complexity of the B2B customer journey. They haven't really looked under the hood to understand what's going on inside the customer organization.
I think the other challenge is asking the right questions. This is one of the things I've been talking about a lot lately, especially around data and customers. If you don't know what decisions you need to make, you can't ask the right questions. If you don't ask the right questions, you don't know what data to really look at or what data you really need.
It’s about knowing what the decisions that need to be made are and being able to ask the right question — it all starts with the right question.
DGR: Let’s talk about data. Engagement and intent data have been big topics for us. What's standing out to you critical for growth marketing teams?
Patterson: Let's just talk about dating for a moment. I think this is a really important example. Imagine that the woman or significant other is the buyer and the man is the company for the sake of this conversation. When they are first introduced to each other and that guy says to the girl, “Would you go to bed with me?” at the first meeting. It's over! Even if there's attraction, it's kind of over. It’s a little too early to make that offer, right? Even if she has engagement, even she has intent — the offer is too early.
The relationship has to have a cadence. The question should be, “Would you like to meet and get to know each other better?” You start getting information about each other from other places. Then maybe you have another date and somewhere along the way, you get to kissing and holding hands. There's still no intent to get married. But you're in a stage of interaction and engagement. If you're too early to the game and the guy says ‘will you marry me’ and he's too early, he or she may say it's too soon. You have to meet family, you have to meet friends, you maybe want to go on vacation together. Maybe you exchange house keys, maybe you start spending the night over, maybe you move in, whatever those things are. That's the complex B2B sell. It's a consultative sell. Look at how many people are involved in this process. Your friends, your parents, your siblings. All these people are involved in the buying decision.
Then the guy asks her to marry him, she says yes, and he gives her a ring. You have intent, but you still won't have a purchase. She just said yes. From the time they're engaged to the time they get to the altar, or wherever they're going to go to say I do and sign on the dotted line. A lot can happen. It's still not a deal. See the complexity of that?
That is the complexity of the relationship in business. And I think a lot of businesspeople have forgotten that. You need all that information up front. It’s still about people buying from people. We have to remember that marketing is still a people business. And even though we're working with data and we have all this information, in the end, it's still about the relationships. We can't substitute human with just data and forget the human equation.
DGR: I'd love to hear, from your perspective, what are two or three things that you really want readers to expect and take away from this book.
Patterson: Number one: Start with the customer in mind. This is your North Star.
Second, if you don't have a good axle — the right culture that's customer-centric — no matter what you try to do, it will not turn the axle of the wheel. People just want to jump right in and they forget that they need culture, organizational structure, the right people, the skills, the systems or tools, the data, the analytics — those are all in the axle.
The third thing is picking the right measures because that decides how we work. It's really important to set customer-oriented measures.
DGR: What’s next for you?
Patterson: The book will be available in an audio version, so we’re finishing that up. The book has been doing really well, and I'm pleased with that. I really like the work and I really like our customers. We’ve been working with one customer now for only two months, and we have gone from zero opportunities to 36 opportunities — really solid opportunities in six weeks. Just because we're thinking differently.
Don't focus on getting a deal. Focus on building a relationship — not on making a pitch. It's just amazing how that affects how we engage with each other.
Nowadays, not everybody's going to be ready to make that purchase. Their budgets are slashed, they don't have the resources or whatever it may be due to the pandemic and events shutting down. But people are still trying to maintain those relationships because the minute things go back to normal and buyers ready to purchase, they'll remember you for having that authentic and engaging relationship during a time when they weren't even prepared to buy.
Get your copy of “Fast-Track Your Business: A Customer-Centric Approach to Accelerate Market Growth” here.
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