Empathy: “the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another”
B2P (business-to-people). P2P (people-to-people). Buyer-centric. Customer-focused. We hear these terms tossed around when in marketing circles, and we know that we need to do a better job of personalizing our content. But how do we actually do that? We do it by seeing the world through our buyers’ eyes, with empathy.
Forrester VP and Principal Analyst Laura Ramos made an excellent presentation at this year’s B2B Marketing Exchange, “Empathy: The Hallmark Of The Customer-Obsessed B2B Marketer.” Based on her Forrester report of the same name, her presentation provided practical, concrete tips to create empathy with our buyers.
One of the insights Laura shared was that much of the content we’re creating isn’t valued by our buyers. In fact, in a 2017 Forrester study, 60% of B2B buyers said “vendors give me too much material” and 54% said “much of it is useless.” The truth of the matter is that most B2B companies aren’t as buyer-focused as they could be—only 12% according to Forrester research.
How do we make our content relevant and valuable? We have to have empathy with our buyers. Laura gave three rules that “customer-obsessed,” empathic marketers follow:
- Human: They treat customers as they would treat friends.
- Helpful: They solve customers’ problems.
- Handy: They are flexible to accommodate changing market conditions.
If we understand our buyers/customers and empathize with them, they respond with trust and loyalty.
What follows is my take on what it means to be human, helpful, and handy.
Human: Think of Your Customers as Your Friends
In your interactions with customers, including through your content, always keep in mind that they are humans and deserve respect. How would you treat them if they were your friends? Would you go out of your way to make them feel valued? This is the attitude we need to cultivate in all our customer interactions, including our content. Write to demonstrate you understand their problems. Be respectful of their time and knowledge.
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Helpful: Don’t Tell Them What They Need. Solve Their Problems
Your content needs to follow the buyer through the entire decision-making process. After showing them you understand their problems, help them evaluate their options. Even though you have a solution to sell, keep the discussion balanced. Build trust by not trying to sell them something that may not be right for them. When it comes time to buy, give them all the information they need to feel confident that your solution truly solves their problem. Continue to help them after the sale.
Handy: Create an Agile Marketing Team
Empathic, buyer-centric marketers test their campaigns and revise quickly. They adapt to what their buyers need. If you don’t have specific skills on staff, hire freelancers or an agency to supplement your in-house team. Maybe you need to create more interactive content like personalized videos or podcasts. Or maybe you need outside expertise to blog for you at a major conference. Like the old-time handyman, create a team that can fix any buyer problem.
Develop Powerful Personas
How do we know what our customers want and need? It starts with personas. Although the ultimate goal is one-to-one marketing based on individual buyer behavior, we still need to start by understanding groups of buyers with similar problems.
How do we get the information to build powerful personas?
- Talk to customers and prospects. Go to conferences where they are and spend time getting to know them as people.
- Get insights from sales. Your salespeople have built trusted relationships with buyers. Pick your sales reps’ brains.
- Conduct surveys that ask buyers about their pain points, their evaluation criteria, their obstacles.
- Engage a professional research firm to conduct personal interviews with people in your target personas. Develop probing, open-ended questions that get at understanding these people as individuals.
- Work with a content marketing agency that has deep expertise in developing buyer-centric personas. Let the agency do the heavy lifting for you. That’s being handy.