The Chasm of Expectations Between B2B Marketers and Buyers

b2b marketers

By Eric Wittlake, {grow} Contributing Columnist

If marketing cannot reach potential buyers, if it cannot engage them, if it cannot capture and hold their attention, even briefly, marketing will disappear. It will be like the tree that falls in a deserted forest.

Of course, this would never happen… or would it?

I recently attended LinkedIn’s Tech Connect 14 event. It was a great event, but my single biggest takeaway was actually the opposite of the message I heard from the stage. As a marketer there was a clear and distressing undercurrent: we have lost touch with today’s buyers.

There is a deep and growing chasm between potential buyers and B2B marketers. As marketers, we recognize this gap exists, but we aren’t acknowledging just how wide it is. Despite efforts to modernize our approach, our buyers are changing far faster than we are changing as marketers. The gap isn’t closing, it is getting wider.

Free access to content is a red herring

It’s true, information is more accessible today than ever before. Many buyers turn to Google, not sales, to find the information they are looking for. As marketers, we are seeing this gap and we are turning to content to fill it.

To differentiate our content, to get it seen in the ever expanding sea of freely accessible and discoverable content, we strive to create higher and higher quality content. We replace long slideshows with voiceovers (webcasts) with quick, to-the-point videos. We turn white papers into carefully crafted eBooks or even infographics. We ask people to share it with their friends or colleagues. Or even with their mom.

But this is just a distraction. The growing chasm between buyers and marketers has nothing to do with sales losing its position of power as the conduit for buyers to a library of mediocre white papers and solution overviews. The real change is one of expectations.

The emerging buyer expectations

I’ve written about raising the bar for content quality before. I missed the bigger picture: Expectations aren’t simply rising, they are fundamentally being changed. “Content quality” isn’t even the right bar anymore!

LinkedIn’s event opened with a presentation by Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy. Khan Academy’s vision is “a free world-class education for anyone anywhere” and they are already doing an amazing job of delivering against this vision. One of the things about Khan Academy’s learning model that struck me is the focus on ensuring someone learns what is being taught. Programs aren’t structured to simply cover the material and move on, they assess understanding.

This is the world tomorrow’s buyers are being raised in and today’s buyers are seeing their children go through. As marketers, we are still busy making information more accessible, but buyers are learning to expect high quality education and understanding. How will you deliver a world-class education, free from propaganda and bias, to your buyers and market?

Similarly, TED is changing our expectations. Speakers and presentations that used to only be accessible to the elite with the pocketbooks to prove it are now available to everyone. Some of these presentations are incredible (you can see a top 20 list here).

A client recently mentioned she watches a TED video every evening instead of watching TV. I’ll venture she doesn’t think very highly of the average corporate talking head video still put out by marketing departments everywhere.

When your audience looks to sources like TED for ideas worth hearing, how does the last thought leadership video you created compare?

TED, Khan Academy, Wikipedia and more are fundamentally changing the expectations buyers have of the information, education and inspiration that is freely available. As a marketer, how will you meet these emerging expectations?

Eric WittlakeEric Wittlake spends his days working with B2B marketers and (occasionally) shares his marketing views on his personal blog, B2B Digital Marketing. You can find him on Twitter (@wittlake) when he isn’t working with B2B marketers.

Photo Credit: via Compfight cc

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