Tagged: BtoB services marketing

Storytelling is Key to Effective B2B Marketing: What’s Your Story?

By Bev Burgess, SVP ITSMA Europe, burgess@itsma.com and Vincent Rousselet, VP Market Insight and Strategy, Amdocs

When Tim Cook emerged onto the stage of the Flint Center for Performing Arts in September 2015, he was about to tell not just one, but two stories. The first one was overtly in support of the day’s launches: the iPhone 6, iWatch, and Apple Pay. The other was the continuation of Apple’s story, a narrative started by Steve Jobs and running ever since.

Why is storytelling such a powerful technique? Stories reach three distinct parts of the human brain, directly connecting with our instincts, emotions, and higher-order, rational thinking. Over thousands of years of evolution, our brains have been wired to communicate in this way: stories turn us on.

Truth is, a war for the attention of buyers is being waged. Every minute of every day we create 204 million email messages, 684,000 bits of content shared on Facebook, 100,000 tweets, and 48 hours of new YouTube videos. And this only keeps growing.

Because storytelling engages audiences emotionally, it can help win this battle for attention. No surprise that, from HP to BT, from Telefonica to Orange Business Services, from Hitachi to Amdocs, an increasing number of organisations, having observed the effectiveness of storytelling in B2C, now deploy the technique in B2B markets.

In fact, in ITSMA’s 2014 Budget and Trends Survey, when asked about essential skills for the future marketing organisation, 53% of senior B2B marketing executives surveyed put storytelling at the top of the list, on par with leadership skills (51%) and ahead of data analytics (36%). Sadly, storytelling is the third most difficult skill to find, behind data analytics and subject matter expertise, according to ITSMA’s 2014 Marketing Talent Survey.



“Storytelling is the art of simplifying the complex,” says Chris Williams, head of global marketing at Amdocs, a global software and services company. “That gets harder to do the bigger a company becomes and that’s the reason we’re launching a new company-wide program that puts the art of storytelling at the very center of our marketing strategy and culture.”

So, how do marketers go about creating stories? Simply put, stories have three components:

A plot or storyline: this is the essence of the story, which, according to experts, can be articulated in as few as six words.

A story—or narrative—arc: starting with an opening scene, following various crises including a point of no-return, reaching a climax and finishing with the dénouement, the arc is the journey you are taking the audience on. Think Steve Job’s 2005 commencement speech in Stanford.

A cast of characters, with predetermined roles: A hero and a villain is a good start. When they are joined by other archetypes, the story becomes more engaging. As part of its Rock Stars campaign, Intel put forward the co-inventor of the USB, as one of its heroes.

Apple may for now remain the best storyteller around, but it is clear many B2B marketers are catching up on the act.

This blog post is an extract from a longer article originally published in the 2014-15 Winter edition of Market Leader, the magazine of the UK Marketing Society


Getting the Golden Nuggets in Personas: Buyer Interviews

By Julie Schwartz, ITSMA, jschwartz@itsma.com

The resounding consensus among both respondents to our recent survey who described themselves as “very effective” in using buyer personas and B2B buyer persona experts is that the most valuable insights for persona development come from qualitative, one-to-one interviews with buyers.


So what is the best way to approach this specific kind of research project?  Here are ITSMA’s observations and recommendations:

In-depth, one-to-one interviews are essential.  The form these buyer personas interviews take can vary: it depends largely on available time and resources.  They can range from 20-minute phone calls to all-day work shadowing.  Start with what is easy to accomplish in the first iteration and take it from there.  Remember that the idea is to understand buyers in their own environment and context.

You don’t necessarily need a lot of them.  Ten qualitative interviews is a good start, and may prove sufficient.  When you start to hear – and anticipate – the same answers from one interview to the next, you probably have enough.  Keep in mind that your interview pool should include both customers who recently bought from you and buyers who went elsewhere.  You won’t get everything you need from customers alone.

They don’t even have to be your customers. Sometimes it is difficult to interview your own customers. Customer databases may be woefully out of date (not your database, of course!). You might know who is paying the bill, but not who was on the selection committee. I am always surprised to hear how possessive sales can be, preventing even their own marketing department from talking to their customers. Approvals can seem to take an eternity. If you face any of these hurdles, don’t despair. You can glean first-rate insights from interviews with buyers who match the characteristics of your target audience. You just want to be sure that they recently (last six to 12 months) evaluated a purchase for the types of services and solutions you sell. In many cases, recruiting interviewees outside your customer base will reduce the timeline for buyer persona project completion.

Interview technique is key.  Taking initial answers at face value probably won’t generate the kind of insight you’re after.  Keep asking follow-up questions to get at why they make the decisions they do.  What are their thoughts, fears, goals, and objectives throughout the buying process? Who else is involved? How do their goals and concerns differ? Nugget_sm

Create an interview environment on their terms.  People often prove surprisingly open about their experiences and emotions in the buying process when someone takes an interest in understanding their perspective.  This is easy to accomplish if you exercise your skills as an open, neutral listener.  This is the main reason why salespeople should not conduct these interviews.  Interviewees want assurance that they won’t be sold to during the call and that they aren’t undermining themselves in any future negotiations.  It’s not a question of sales lacking the skills, but one of interviewee perception.

Get outside help.  While we strongly support the idea that the skills to develop and apply personas should be core to B2B marketing departments, getting support and learning from experts dramatically smooth the learning curve.  Rather that plowing through the frustrations of trial and error, learn best practice approaches from the start. Furthermore, if you decide to go the route of recruiting interviewees outside your customer base, you will want to hire a professional recruiter.

Get the interview aspect right and you’ll strike the kind of gold that would make any forty-niner proud!

With thanks to my coaches at the Buyer Persona Institute and Tony Zambito.