The Mountaintop Insights, Inspiration and Perspective for Enlightened Marketers

March 8, 2010

Appealing to Human Values in B2B Marketing – Part 1 of 3 on Online Demand Generation

I have been working with large enterprise for the past 12 years primarily focused on Demand Generation, online Demand Generation to be precise. It took until until last year for one of what I consider to be, the last stones to fall into place on my holistic approach to this art form. Just 11 years to learn that lesson… not bad!

The lesson has to do with people and the conflict of personal and corporate values.

Who are We Marketing to?

I think many of us always tend to think about industries, positions, company types when we think of B2B targeting for our demand generation efforts. In my mind, this misses a crucial element in not only the messaging but the demand generation process which is the person we want to engage. So the first part of my realization is that no matter what, we are always selling or marketing to people, not businesses. A lot of you are saying, “yes, and???” because that’s not really something that’s rare knowledge. But here is where I followed the rabbit down the hole.

How Does this Make a Difference in Marketing?

Human beings are complex creatures, constantly processing tons of information every hour of every day to make decisions and stay within the boundaries of our own rules, society’s rules and the rules of the companies we work for. But what happens when a person has two conflicting set of values, say their personal values and the values of the corporation they are working for? Who wins the values conflict?

The answer depends on who you are targeting and how willing they are to compromise themselves and/or the companies they represent. So how do we market to someone who already has two sets of values in conflict? Are we going to push our own values on them to introduce a third factor in the conflict?

Understanding and Overcoming Values Conflict

A values conflict can be tricky depending on the type of person you are dealing with; some will be absolutely unwilling to compromise others will be very willing to compromise. Compromise could be personal compromise (based on the strength of the relationship you create) or corporate compromise where they are willing to bend rules to do business with you. Either way, there are several proven ways to improve your effectiveness.

  1. Play the horse, not the course. Focus on improving your attractiveness to certain types of people, not companies. A example of this is to be able to easily engage CFOs and COOs, instead of just appealing to an industry or sector.
  2. Align your values with the person. You can’t lose in this situation if you align to them instead of the brand they work for. Most times you will hit key values they both share anyway, but aligning to personal enables better engagement of the individual.
  3. Focus on them, not you. Make sure your approach is customer-centric, not about you. Do your research and make sure you know what they want for their business and themselves.
  4. Identify and Provide Solutions for Value-based Objections. This is probably the toughest one as it requires deep understanding of the customer’s values struggle. The best advice is to create scenarios that call values into question and create messaging, content and processes to overcome these with minimal to moderate compromise of personal values.

Much of this can be woven into your corporate websites, online content and digital presentations. Even corporate videos can be aligned to use this approach by using specific types of individuals and talk tracks to get the point across.

Closing with a Story

One of my fist clients and now a dear friend had a values struggle when I first met her. I was introduced to her by a colleague for a website RFP she was managing. While I came well regarded, my little company did not come near to meeting the requirements of this particular RFP. Her company absolutely forbid doing business with small companies as they were deemd unreliable from a delivery and service standpoint; a value her company held dear – reliable service and quality deliverbales.

As we talked and I got to know her and she began to understand me, a values struggle became clearly evident for her (although I didn’t recognize it at the time).  For her, my approach was very different. I asked good questions, I listened intently, I was available at all hours of the night, I clarified things for her that needed to be clarified, and I quickly developed top of mind presence with her when it came to thinking about this project.

Her struggle came to a head when I submitted my proposal versus all of the other large vendors. Mine was 3 pages plus an exec summary of one page; all the others gave 20-30 page proposals full of rhetoric. She told me later that it was at that point she knew I had won her business, that I understood her so well that I could articulate a solution for her in 3 pages.

But the struggle she went through was intense and the final decision called on her to question the values of her company or rather the rules formulated from the values of her company and make a decision based on her own set of values. The project was a great success for her and 10 years later we are still solid friends.

Has it always turned out this way? No. But it has given my little firm the advantage many times and won us some great client relationships – relationships that last into today and hopefully many, many years into the future.

Disagree with me? Let me know; I love good debates and would like to hear other stories that support or debunk my theories.


Jeff – Sensei

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