The (Almost) Lost Art of Listening in Demand Generation

Marketers talk. A lot.

Well, a lot of us do. But some of the best, most successful marketers I’ve known listened a lot more than they talked. I’m guessing it has something to do with the fact that 76% of B2B enterprise marketers have a content strategy but only 50% say their content aligns to buyer pain points and challenges via ANNUITAS B2B Enterprise Demand Generation Study.

ListeningThere’s definitely a disconnect somewhere.

Content Marketing StrategyReally listening means not listening for what you want to hear, but being open to hearing it all. Julian Treasure, an author and speaker on conscious listening says a major obstacle to listening is a common tendency to filter and judge others’ talk based on pre-existing assumptions, expectations and intentions. Whether that manifests as marketers listening for the sound bites that prove their messaging is on point or “happy ears” when sales is sure that the prospect is ready to buy despite signals to the contrary, improving our ability to listen is key to content strategy for a successful demand generation program.

Too often, content strategies aren’t based on buyers. Often that’s because a group of marketers holed up in a room somewhere for a “workshop” and hatched a strategy without any input from buyers. What’s even worse is going to the trouble of lining up customer and prospect interviews and wasting that precious resource by not asking the right questions or not listening and processing what is being said.

A previous article provided tips on how to make sure you’re gathering the right inputs for building personas. Once you have those inputs, what are some things to listen for that can inform your content strategy?

Formats
Listen to format clues. For example, if a persona really prefers white papers to dig deep into technical topics, don’t abandon the format because it isn’t what all the cool kids are doing.

Channels and Buying Function
Don’t fight their preferences. If a persona values peer relationships and networks above all else, listen to them and make all of your content easily shareable so they can share it. If they don’t respond to vendor emails at the top of the funnel, make sure your top of funnel content is optimized for search if that’s their preference. Maybe their part in the buying committee is later in the process and you don’t need to create as much top of funnel content for them. It all depends on what you hear.

Opportunities
Find a way to rise to the top. There are some personas who use vendor web sites as their go-to source of information. If that’s the case with your buyer, and your competitors often fail to provide the relevant content they need, take the opportunity to outshine the competition and provide buyers what they want, where they want it.

Motivation
According to Forrester in B2B Prospecting Goes Digital In The Age Of The Customer, 72% of B2B marketers said engaging anonymous buyers before they self-identify is a major challenge. Content that is built with the buyer in mind can go a long way to driving that crucial first step of self-identifying, but there’s another aspect of listening to get it right – understanding motivation.

In the past, I’ve heard really smart people make bewildered statements about how they can’t believe that someone would not behave logically, knowing what we know they know. The truth is, people buy, not companies, and people come with their own agendas and motivations, which may or may not coincide with the logical conclusion we think they should make when presented with all the facts.

Listening for motivation is a little more nuanced. Few people will come right out and tell you their motivations, and many may not be self-aware enough to tell you if you asked. To get to motivation, you’ll need to triangulate a bit using multiple sources to get to their key priorities and pain points, understand their internal customers and what’s going on in their industry and role that might motivate them differently than pure “logic” tells you they should act.

When it comes to building a solid content strategy as part of a demand generation program, remember:

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Epictetus

Author: Lee Anne Wimbly @lwimberly Senior Direct, Strategy, ANNUITAS