Aligning your brand promise with customer needs and expectations can be daunting when your organization operates within an intricate business-to-business ecosystem. The conventional sales funnel now seems to fall short in fully capturing your B2B buyer’s process for choosing a product, service or supplier. For many business communicators, a prevailing replacement for the funnel is one that more closely matches today’s highly nuanced experience for B2B customers—the stressful, yet potentially rewarding adventure of an escape room.
Inside the escape room, a well-calibrated B2B marketing strategy can make all the difference in determining your customer’s fate. It’s up to you. Will your customers:
- Succumb to entrapment and abandon the purchase;
- Slip away through a hidden detour toward your competitor; or
- Confidently open the door to accept your brand?
Escape rooms first gained popularity as a video game genre about 30 years ago but recently took off again as a live experience. Originating in Asia and then spreading worldwide over the past decade, the number of escape games in America has grown a hundredfold in four years, from 22 in 2014 to more than 2,200 today.
Working as teams to uncover hidden clues and solve puzzles to unlock the exit, potential escape artists face a confusing array of choices. The game master—an unseen observer whose ominous voice looms large in the background—tests players’ mettle by counting down remaining minutes and teasing them with shortcuts. All the while, players cope with a wide range of emotions: ambition, fear, frustration, and joy.
Sound familiar? For modern B2B marketers, escape games serve as a compelling proxy for customer buying decisions with recognizable constraints: Detect and select information to make a critical choice under a strict deadline.
By guiding customers to a completion of the purchase challenge, the prize is a sales conversion for you and the fulfillment of a need for them. A series of successful outcomes leads to brand acceptance, which can deepen into loyalty and advocacy over the customer lifecycle.
Customer Journey Map
One essential planning tool that mimics the escape room is a customer journey map, which is a visual representation of how your customer thinks, feels and acts at each stage of the decision to buy, purchase again or give referrals.
Among many benefits, your strategy to strengthen buyer relationships can reduce customer acquisition costs and turn happy customers into valuable brand endorsers. Yet the post-purchase experience can still go awry. Your customers could try new products or adopt expanded services and find that performance falls short of expectations.
Therefore, accurately charting a customer’s decision-making journey can ensure that your well-crafted and precisely positioned brand messages produce sales conversions and mitigate business missteps.
The purpose of mapping the customer journey is to build a measurement framework that can inform marketing decisions and related investments of time and resources. Building a customer journey map goes beyond collecting transactional data. Your map will be incomplete—and unreliable—unless it reveals both a customer’s emotional and business reasons for selecting your brand over others.
Business and Emotional Ties
A study of 3,000 B2B customers, conducted jointly by CEB, Google and Motista, found that there was very little difference in perceptions of differentiators among leading brands in a category. Of those customers who detected a difference, only 14 percent were willing to pay a premium for product or service differentiators that deliver “functional benefits (e.g., high performance) and business outcomes (e.g., achieving business goals).”
However, the same research found that emotional connections with brands proved important to B2B customers. For nine B2B brands examined, 40 to 50 percent of their buyers felt that sharing personal values with the brands counts in their decisions. In comparison, only 10 to 40 percent of consumers in a separate study believed that emotional ties to B2C brands matter.
By mapping the business criteria and emotional rewards that motivate your top customers while they form decisions, you can prioritize your marketing investments based on the content and media channels that will resonate most strongly with them.
What should go into charting your top customers’ journeys? Visualize your B2B customers’ escape rooms by using their matrix of considerations:
· Navigating the Nuances. Even before determining the suitability of your products or services, your B2B customers can experience a battery of preliminary negotiations and considerations. These factors can include an internal hierarchy of decision makers, multi-layered supply networks, long sales cycles and heavily regulated business operations.
Engaging customers with empathy starts with creating a composite analysis of their preferences and behaviors toward your brand. One powerful indicator is customer loyalty, which can be calculated as a Net Promoter Score®, a survey-based comparison of your organization’s fans and critics. However, NPS® needs to be buttressed with other markers to present a more holistic understanding. Employ qualitative research (e.g., one-on-one interviews, focus groups, ethnographic observations) to more deeply evaluate customers’ buying motivations at specific phases and in particular settings.
· Decision by Committee. Buying groups today number 6.8 people, up from 5.4 in late 2014. Consider the presence of other parties who influence the purchase decision, such as a procurement manager, financial executive, legal counselor, sustainability advisor or IT/facility manager. Much like an escape game, your customer journey map should reflect how buying teams of customers and other authority figures negotiate.
For instance, directly inquire about the trade, business and general interest publications that these internal influencers read—and add them to your media mix. Help your own customers build consensus around choosing your brand by shaping your storytelling and design to resonate with the business interests of their internal stakeholders.
· Choices of the Heart. At their peril, some B2B communicators dismiss the need to understand deeper customer motivations in tandem with business reasons that drive buying decisions.
Emotional appeals will matter as much as arguments based on credibility and facts. Your customer may be feeling anxious about his or her job security, and that uncertainty could manifest itself as a bias toward a solution that notches a quick business win.
What is the best approach to understanding your customer’s need for a balance of emotion, character and logic in business decisions? Gather intelligence to develop customer-centric messages that convey strong brand appeal and an equally sound business reputation.
· Detours. Over time, negative experiences along the customer journey have a corrosive effect, carving out “hidden passages” through which customers can defect to your competition.
Without a feedback mechanism in place, you will be unaware of growing discontent among customers. Don’t blame it on customers “ghosting” you. Whether it’s a face-to-face conversation over a meal or an AI-powered virtual agent who engages during an onscreen customer transaction, you must continually gauge the status of your customer relationship and measure business performance.
· Captivity. B2B customers depend heavily on clues you provide in the form of product and corporate information. Research firm SiriusDecisions estimates that a staggering 60 to 70 percent of B2B marketing content produced remains unused by sales teams. Unless marketers, sales teams, channel partners and distributors work together on strategy and enablement, the door to conversions will remain shut.
In many B2B scenarios, supply partners are the first to know about changes in customers’ business conditions that shift their buying criteria or personal motivations. Your ability to avoid sales abandonment or customer defections to your competitor will depend on how tightly your communications can help link your supply chain relationships—from sales partners and retailers to end buyers.
As a B2B marketer, you can leverage similarities between escape room maneuvers and your buyer’s own decision-making experience to develop a customer journey map for your brand content and media planning. By becoming more attuned to your customers’ business and personal values, you can help them navigate escape rooms—and unlock the door to your brand.