How to Create Valuable Customer Conversations

A pandemic, economic uncertainty, and social distancing — what a kerfuffle we are in right now.

As marketing leaders, it’s an incredibly difficult time to direct our teams. Everyone is struggling to navigate our current situation. Yet, while we’re all figuring out how to juggle emotions, families, dogs, toilet paper shortages, and a calendar full of conference calls, the revenue team has to press on in building a pipeline and establishing predictable growth. It can’t be done the way we did it before.

How Do We Engage With Potential Customers?

I’m used to having the answers and providing my team with a plan of action — but I’ve been stumped by our current situation. I mean, what direction do I give my team at a time like this? How do I tell them to keep engaging with prospects when things are changing every single day? It’s not as simple as saying, “do your best,” or “use good judgment,” or “be empathetic.”

Yes, of course, those are all great things for your team to do. However, we must have a real strategy — with formulas to back it up (I love a good formula) — to navigate these unusual circumstances. This strategy must use tactics supported by behavioral insights. What you do next has to be backed by knowledge about what buyers actually are doing right now and who’s in-market for your solutions.

My team was fortunate in that these behavioral insights already informed our targeting and our tactics. With an ocean of uncertainty out there, insights have been our lighthouse illuminating our path to our prospects.

I’m passionate about having great insights into prospects on the buying journey. That’s what I needed to bring when I evaluated our current landscape — and I analyzed everything at least 100 different ways. Finally, I hit that a-ha moment: buyer insights are now more mission-critical for revenue teams than ever.

If you have a valuable solution, you have to continue connecting with your potential buyers. However, just believing your product has value is not enough. Sales and marketing teams need new confidence for their outreach and message. The standard message you used before will almost definitely get you blacklisted today. These days, you are one wrong email away from being the subject of a lengthy LinkedIn post calling out your company for being tone-deaf and insensitive.

Add to that the fact that industry events and tradeshows have been canceled left and right. What once seemed like surefire lead generators are gone for the foreseeable future. Yet just because events aren’t happening, that doesn’t mean we can lower our pipeline goals. We’re still responsible for predictable revenue growth. Does that mean we get to move event marketing money to another marketing function? Which one works the best at a time like this? Will we even get that event budget back to do it?

So, when industry events and tradeshows are gone, and business operations are changing every day, how can we possibly connect with buyers and continue generating revenue without acting completely oblivious to the current climate?

Use the Three I Formula

Back in March, when the world was just starting to experience life during a pandemic, we held a traveling-turned-virtual CMO breakfast series. During our sessions, we asked more than 200 CMOs the same question: Where are you focusing your marketing budget now?

Their top three areas of focus (in order):

  • Account-Based Marketing
  • Executive Thought Leadership
  • Sales Enablement

What does that mean right now? Where are we supposed to target our ABM tactics, thought leadership content, and sales team outreach? Will we have to turn on a dime to avoid being written off by potential buyers?

Here is where the Three I Formula comes into play. I previously mentioned that insight into your buyers is mission-critical at a time like this, but there are specifically three types of insights that are key to creating valuable conversations with your target buyers.

The First I: Intent

First and foremost, when it comes to buyer insights, you must be able to identify who is currently looking to buy. Assuming your industry hasn’t been put on pause, there are still businesses actively seeking a solution like yours. The challenge is that most buyers choose to remain anonymous until late in the buying journey. That’s where intent data comes in.

Intent data gives you visibility into what your target accounts care about. It answers the very important question: “What does this account intend to do?” An account’s intent is extracted from a combination of first-party data, like which buying personas are visiting your website or interacting with a specific campaign, and third-party data, such as the topics they’re researching on B2B websites.

You can reach revenue-generating nirvana when you know the following:

  • the exact topics your target audience is researching;
  • which website pages your target accounts are visiting;
  • which buying team personas on an account are the most engaged; and
  • which customer territories are most active.

Armed with this information, your marketing team has a better understanding of the most important topics for your audience. On the flip side, your sales team can see who and what is most relevant to their accounts, allowing them to reach out to engage in valuable conversations with the right buyers. The best part? These insights are delivered in real-time — because, guess what, there are changes every day!

The Second I: In-Market

While you might be experiencing a decline in inbound volume, in-market accounts still exist. It’s your team’s job to uncover those accounts and establish valuable relationships. Intent data starts you on the path toward understanding which accounts your team should be working on. Predictive analytics enables you to focus resources on the best accounts and contacts while ensuring outreach is perfectly timed.

Predictive analytics allows you to find patterns in a buyer’s activity so you can gain a better understanding of how an account compares to your ideal customer profile (ICP), which contacts are most important to engage, and where they are on the buying journey.

Predictive analytics solutions use a variety of different signals to find patterns. First- and third-party intent is an important source of data to fuel predictions, but your predictive analytics solution also should consider a prospect’s current level of engagement with your sales and marketing tactics — and how that compares to historical opportunity data.

When an account is predicted to be in-market for the solutions you sell, your team has a critical chance to reach out. When it comes to connecting with prospects, the early bird gets the worm. When you’re able to time your outreach to hit the account’s in-market window, you can be the first vendor a buyer talks to.

Being the first to make contact puts you miles ahead of the competition and allows you to build a solid relationship with your prospect before the other guys even identify their targets.

The Third I: Industry

Understanding your buyers’ industries is extremely important — especially at a time like this. How is an account’s industry positively or negatively impacted by the given situation? How does that situation affect the overall industry and business model? Having insight into the industry gives you an idea of how the account is adapting to the situation at hand, whatever that situation may be at the time.

For now, let’s use the global health crisis we’re currently experiencing as an example. Picture the impact of COVID-19 like you would the impact of an earthquake. How much has an industry been affected? The travel industry is smack dab on top of the epicenter, while your everyday cornflakes producers may feel just a slight tremor. That impact level — and how different industries are able to adapt to the situation — shapes your targeting.

It’s also important to look beyond the accounts currently plugged into your CRM. Depending on how much changes in a certain situation, the accounts you were targeting before may not even be relevant now. You must be able to recognize buyer patterns well outside your own CRM data if you want to fill your pipeline adequately.

Unlock Mission-Critical Buyer Insights

Together, in-market, intent, and industry insights (try saying that five times fast) provide all the information you need to market effectively and sell to your target accounts — in any situation.

The Three I Formula supports the top three priorities for CMOs right now:

  • A well-oiled ABM machine means you can capture insights for an entire buying team at an account level. When you know which accounts are in-market and can add value to their specific business needs, you can easily guide them through the buying process.
  • Marketing teams use thought leadership content to warm up their target buying personas before having the sales team make any outreach. With the right buyer insights, marketers can ensure they’re delivering content that not only answers all of a prospect’s burning questions but also steers the prospect toward learning more about your solution.
  • Enabling the sales team means giving them the insights they need to move accounts down the funnel: from wanting to engage with your team to want to purchase your solution. Sales enablement solutions driven by the Three I Formula provide sales with the account-level data they need to engage the entire buying team and move them through the buying journey.

Even in the best of circumstances, the three Is are crucial to creating meaningful, valuable conversations with prospects. As the revenue-generating function, every member of your team should always know what prospects want and how to target your outreach to land the right message.

When times are tough, using the Three I Formula will help you limit your missteps and put limited resources to work.

So, press on in your pursuits to build meaningful relationships with prospects and generate revenue. With insights about the accounts in-market, their intent, and their industry, the Three I Formula will help you fill your pipeline and push through tough times with newfound confidence.

Latane Conant is CMO of 6sense.

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