Human understanding in B2B: navigating the dark funnel

Our latest Lab Leaders episode welcomes Eoin Rodgers, Managing Partner at TMW Business, a B2B specialist with over 17 years’ experience working with the likes of Microsoft, Fujitsu, and Canon.

Eoin and Faye discuss the dark funnel and give advice to brands who have lost sight of their buyers’ needs and motivations.

What are some of the new forces at play across B2B?

We’ve been talking a lot about the dark funnel, but it’s actually not as sinister as it sounds. All it means is that traditional B2B marketing efforts are becoming unsuitable for today’s buyers: the pendulum of power is swinging back their way.

There’s a change in demographics with Gen Z and millennials gradually pushing baby boomers out of the workforce. Coupled with shifts seen during the pandemic and the buyer journey jumping from around 17 to 27 engagement touchpoints, this has meant that B2B marketers have forgotten about the buyers in the equation.

Over the years, the B2B obsession with relentlessly marketing the same way to the same people and expecting different results has come to a head.

 

Would you say this is a tough moment of self-reflection for the industry?

It’s a ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ kind of moment. There’s only so much selling that a brand can do to uninterested buyers. We can’t convert demand that doesn’t exist. Rather than continuing in this self-perpetual insanity loop, it’s time to break the cycle and think outside the box about how to create more demand.

 

Is it less about volume and more about the quality of messaging?

It’s about connecting with people in the right way. I said this almost 15 years ago and I will say it again, content is at the heart of what we do. We’ve almost ruined content marketing by making it so transactional.

We should be looking at different types of content and listening to buyers when they say they’re interested, rather than pushing anything vaguely relevant their way.

 

What do you think is needed to get better performance out of B2B?

One thing that we need to challenge is this quid pro quo, content market exchange that’s very typical of B2B. It’s becoming less and less effective as buyers know exactly what to expect once we collect their data – they’ll either be:

  • Spammed to death for eternity
  • Receiving unwelcome field calls

We’re seeing an interesting trend emerge in ‘telephone apprehension’. New Gen Z and millennial buyers all grew up with text-based communications like BBM, MSN, and WhatsApp. So, the idea of speaking to someone on the phone is a little bit alien, even off-putting for these audiences. They actively don’t want telephone interaction to be part of the buying cycle. Despite this, a lot of B2B brands still rely quite heavily on tele validation, tele qualification, even telemarketing. It’s almost like they’ve forgotten that how humans like to experience brands is important.

 

How can brands connect with buyers on a more human level?

The good news is that people will keep consuming content, it just needs to be the right type of content. It comes down to dropping the transactional spin and focusing more on content experience rather than content conversion.

 

Thinking about the demand creation side of B2B marketing, what could be more effective than the tactical, sales driven MQL approaches?

We’re seeing a big resurgence in this idea of B2B brand experience. During field research, I’ve been discussing that double focus of brand and demand, or short-term sales focused activities supported and amplified by effective brand building and customer experience marketing.

B2B marketers have become so preoccupied with converting demand, that we’ve forgotten all about creating it. For example, it’s easy to jump straight to an idea like a content format, golden nugget, or silver bullet, without thinking through the topic itself. For podcasts and webinars, the subject matter is the real hook. It’s less about the content format and more about the content topic.

How can you refine content creation and build that into a journey that has more emotional connection?

I think it’s an evolution, not a revolution. The change might be uncomfortable for marketing teams that have become too fixated on conversion. Especially since that may be the main objective for the wider business too.

Brand and demand need to work synergistically together. Marketing teams are realising that they can’t afford to overlook the significance of brand experience. With the world changing, going back to brand and purpose, sustainability, ethics and equality is really important. This is something that wouldn’t have been on the agenda for B2B brands even five years ago, but that recognition is starting to dawn.

 

How do you help clients navigate away from transactional marketing?

Talking to clients about the dark funnel has actually been quite an enlightening process. When we present them with data that substantiates the shifts in the marketplace, it’s often a wake-up call. Once they’ve bought into the idea that change is needed, the onus is on figuring out the best steps to make that change happen.

Fundamentally, this is about building better content that continues to be readily available to buyers. This flavour of content marketing serves to ‘help and not to hype’, it is focused on the needs of the buyers rather than the needs of the brands or marketing teams.

 

Do you think there is a change coming in terms of the ways we measure success?

We do need to start measuring things differently. Despite marketers being trapped in the dark funnel, customers are continuing to go through the buying journey so there’s still plenty to measure and capture. We just need to place an importance on different things.

It will help to take a step back and start thinking of marketing as a magnet rather than a cattle prod. We can use emotional insight and motivational drivers to figure out the content and processes that speak to the buyers.

 

What’s your advice for how brands can swing the pendulum inside their own organisations?

Start small with a pilot or proof of concept. It’s going to be reasonably difficult to persuade people away from their perception of how marketing works. A critical launch point is understanding the areas of engagement and influence for your audience.

The trick is to go beyond the persona development that we’ve been focused on for years to really get to grips with every aspect of your customer:

  • What do they engage with?
  • Where do they go for information?
  • Who do they trust and listen to?

Then you’ll need to ask yourself: how can our brand start to become more available to our audiences in the right places and in the right ways.

 

Navigating the Dark Funnel with UNLIMITED

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