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Applying Buying Situations to Marketing Objectives

by Hank Barnes  |  November 10, 2015  |  Submit a Comment

As regular readers know, our Future of IT Sales special report was just updated and a big theme for us going forward is using Buyers’ Situations to guide sales and marketing approaches.  Taking the ideas even further and focusing on marketing got me thinking this week.


I was talking with my colleague Todd Berkowitz about this.  Todd focuses on product marketing and often coaches clients on the need (and how) to get marketing out of being viewed as purely a lead machine.   My discussions are often a bit different–with a heavy emphasis on positioning and storytelling and the customer buying cycle.  But I also share Todd’s view.  In fact, I’ve never been particularly comfortable with the idea that marketing is just the folks that produce leads (that most people complain about), runs events, or creates “communications.”   For me, marketing should be more strategic and has always been about two big, related ideas:

  • Making It Easier for Customers to Buy
  • Making It Easier for Sellers (all Routes to Market) to Sell

With that view, and thinking about our buying situations , there might be a way for marketing to establish objectives that are realistic, achievable, and have a big impact.

As we shared earlier, understanding the most common buying situations (based on your target customers, market maturity, and company stage) is critical to designing sales models and marketing approaches.   You should optimize for the most common situations (and prepare to evolve over time).  What does some of this mean for marketing, based on buyer readiness?

If your target customers are typically not ready to buy (i.e. unaware of the need to change or aware but not ready), then a focus on highly qualified, or “sales ready” leads, could be unrealistic.    You won’t find buyers with budget.     Instead, the focus should be on driving awareness and thought leadership.   Showing the customers why they should consider a change.   The definition of a lead, and the expectations need to be different in these situations.  Your sales teams need to be prepared to evangelize and get involved in changing the customer’s perceptions.   Marketing should also focus intensely on creating and refining an ideal customer profile.  That profile can then guide prospecting efforts that sellers execute to create more opportunities.   Finally, a focus on key influencers is critical to build momentum.  For startups in early markets, these are the areas where marketing should focus.  A pure “lead” focus won’t work.

However, as markets mature and more buyers are aware of the company and category, you’ll have more buyers that are ready to buy.  In that case, sales ready leads need to be a higher priority.  Beyond that, marketing should spend a lot of time focusing on how to optimize the buying experience overall –making product options, pricing, and contracts as streamlined and simple as possible.

This situational focus has helped me make sense of objective setting.   Yes, leads matter, but the buying situation, the market situation, and your own company situation all need to be considered when setting objectives.   Without that perspective, the objectives are often unrealistic.

(Note: this also applies to who you hire for both sales and marketing.  For example, I’ve seen startups hire sales reps that were stars in their prior companies.  But those companies were large, known brands with lots of existing customers.   These reps did a great job selling to customers that were ready to buy.   They were savvy, customer focused, and driven.  But in the startup environment, they struggled.  They weren’t used to a different class of lead.  They weren’t comfortable with the increased need for their own prospecting.  They did not know how to help customers create budget in new areas.  They weren’t right for the situation.)

Once again, whenever I talk about this increased focus on adapting to situations, it seems like common sense.  And it is, but we often want to look to the “best practices” of others.  That’s fine–if they are in the same situation as you.  But that is rare.  Consider best practices, but adapt them to your situation.  Set your objectives based on that.   Review things regularly to see if the situation has changed. When it does, adjust your plans and objectives.   Don’t set plans without situational context.

I’m confident this will help you set more realistic objectives and deliver value against them.

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Category: future-of-sales  go-to-market  

Tags: lead-generation  marketing  objectives  sales  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
6+ years at Gartner
30+ years IT Industry

Hank Barnes explores the dynamics, challenges, and frustrations enterprises face when buying technology products and services. Using that customer-centric lens, he advises those responsible for marketing technology products and services, general managers responsible for product portfolios, and startup CEOs on next practices to drive success for their customers and their business. Read Full Bio

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