Growing businesses confront an ongoing challenge of how best to invest limited Marketing dollars when they are faced with unlimited “one-off opportunities” to produce a brochure, a website, PR campaign, and other tangible marketing deliverables. Whereas consumer marketing emphasizes concept testing – BTB businesses fall into the trap of thinking they know everything because their audiences are smaller and they initially grow through word of mouth. Growth quickly involves the addition of new markets. At this point, an important transition takes place and the working “value story” may no longer apply. Scarce, costly sales time is wasted by missing the point of what is important to the new stakeholders. The natural bias of businesses with limited or no marketing resources is to view Marketing as a luxury to be pursued when sales are up – not as a necessity to set the course for Sales activity. Marketing Reconnaissance can be applied to “test” a value proposition in a more intelligent way before making the much bigger investment involved in producing collateral or sending out a salesperson. Additionally, with limited resources, this exercise will ensure marketing and sales initiatives are aligned and reinforce the same value story.
The process itself involves identifying a list of stakeholders for the targeted markets – often a much broader list than would be “called on” by a sales rep. The list may include both existing and future customers and the program may target different “titles” or disciplines depending on the level of strategic feedback that is desired. A wide range of topics can be covered outside the obvious discussion about customers’ needs and product/service benefits. Additional information may include legal and regulatory challenges and issues that may impact the way the product/service is introduced. The future customers might represent a cross section of different vertical or geographic targets. These customers are contacted by an outside party that can conduct an in depth interview and engage in a strategic discussion with the interviewees. This is the heart of the matter and this exercise should be entrusted to someone that can represent your business appropriately – possessing reasonable, but not necessarily expert knowledge of your business. A certain amount of objectivity can be advantageous in letting the customer or partner provide some education. When interviews are complete, the interviewer/researcher should be able to give you a factual and strategic summary of the content of the discussions. Herein lay the keys to your message and target audience. This information can now be used to tweak Sales presentations, support materials, and prioritize marketing programs.
Other BTB resources that contribute to Marketing Reconnaissance include event marketing, the development of partner programs, Customer Advisory Boards, Executive Advisory Boards, case study preparation, testimonial development, major accounts programs, and VIP relationship management programs. Each of these marketing events creates a valuable customer touch point and an opportunity to understand how you can help your customers grow by emphasizing the right pieces of your product/service portfolio. Having a third party engaged in developing these tools can aid in opening up the discussion to broader issues and eliminate the temptation to defend the prevailing company position. Regardless of size and financial status of a company, these fundamental marketing opportunities are affordable and effective. When considering how to spend Marketing resources, all of these programs can be weighed in as alternatives.
Marketing Reconnaissance is a living and breathing form of “Marketing Intelligence.” It allows you to engage your customers in and ongoing strategic forum and at the same time, set the stage for an actual sale 3-6 months down the road. Far from rigor of quantitative research applied in consumer product marketing, the Business-to-Business (BTB) environment presents a unique situation where quality is more important than quantity. With a more readily defined number of customer targets, it’s likely that the company will develop a one-to-one relationship with the stakeholders. Therefore, conducting up front intelligence gathering from customers, potential customers, and partners – helps preserve valuable “tactical” marketing dollars that may be needed to re-educate existing customers, support partners, and address other market development priorities. It also demonstrates to your stakeholders that you are investing in their business and builds your share of mind with key executives.
This type of up front investigation is a discipline that is rarely used in growing enterprises. It is applied in larger businesses with a strategy and business development team, but smaller entrepreneurs have not been as aggressive in exploring these techniques for many reasons. Some business owners may think they are doing it, but without documenting and sharing the information, valuable intelligence is lost. Without objectivity, many areas are left untouched. Equipped with this knowledge, an executive team can obtained cherished insights into what is really happening with their existing and future market segments. On the flipside, the interviewees often appreciate a meaningful diversion that takes them out of the every day tasks and allows them an opportunity to really think through their own business challenges and priorities. Time-starved executives cannot afford the time to listen to a sales pitch that doesn’t clearly say “what’s in it for me?” Intelligent Marketing assures that you can answer this question and fully leverage your sales effort.