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How Top B2B Companies Use Customer Insights to Succeed: Step 1—Audience Building

| November 18, 2014
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Okay, we all know abstractly that understanding customer behavior is important for B2B companies, but what about the nitty-gritty details?

What exactly can you do to grow your audience, delight customers, and boost sales?

To uncover what truly works, we asked some of the B2B companies we admire to share specific examples of how they’ve used tactics at every stage of the sales funnel to succeed.

The businesses we surveyed market to a range of industries, and are of varying sizes, but all have one thing in common: They’ve found effective ways to use customer feedback, analytics, and user experience testing to boost their bottom lines.

So, what did we discover? All sorts of things: some expected and some a surprise even to us. In this piece, we’re going to cover key learnings about the first stage of the B2B sales funnel—audience building—and we’ll share best practices for the subsequent stages (lead nurturing and conversion, and post-conversion follow-up) in future posts.

Five Key Tactics for Building Awareness

Now, let’s dive in. How can you better build awareness and attract leads?

When it comes to the first stage of the funnel, many of the B2B companies we talked to said the same thing: This point in the process often involves tactics like content creation that initially seem difficult to test, yet there are actually a number of powerful optimization opportunities available.

In particular, respondents highlighted these five important learnings from their experiences using UX, analytics, and CRO to improve their audience-building efforts:

1. The $1 Million Fix: Make Sure Customers Are Getting the Right Message

The problem

All of your awareness-building efforts are an exercise in futility if visitors see your offerings and don’t get the right brand message.

That point may seem obvious, yet too often businesses rush off and attempt complex audience-building tactics without first getting the fundamentals right. Before doing anything else, make sure that your core value proposition is clear.

Easy to say, of course, but how do you actually test your messaging?

The solution

Unbounce, a company that specializes in high-converting landing pages, thought they’d created a great offering which showcased a few templates built into their product. Just to make sure, once this demo webpage was live, they added a survey widget to see what people thought of the templates, and the results led to a major revelation.

Almost all the customer feedback was about issues that were irrelevant to the content (prices for individual templates, how to download, etc.); it turns out people were completely missing the fundamental fact that the offerings shown were included in the core Unbounce product.

The company quickly reworked the page to clearly explain where the templates lived and how could they could be used (you can see the before and after below).

The impact was huge: conversion rates jumped by 43%, and the company saw an estimated $1 million boost in annual revenue. All this came from doing the most basic of things: asking consumers directly what message they were getting from a key page.

2. Swim, Don’t Drown: Use the Consumer Insights You Already Have

The problem

We sometimes forget that customer insights are everywhere. Most businesses have access to a wealth of information—website visitor traffic numbers, email open rates, ad click-through rates, etc.—that are all essentially customer feedback data points.

Often the problem isn’t a lack of customer insights, it’s too many. How do you make sense of all of it?

The solution

There’s an old folk saying that sharks will die if they don’t keep moving. While it isn’t really true—they do stop sometimes—the idea is a useful one when it comes to data.

BrightEdge, an SEO and content marketing management platform, has found that the best way to build a large, high-quality B2B audience is to regularly collect information and then immediately use each set of fresh insights.

The company constantly monitors its SEO rankings, experiments with 5-10 ads at a time, runs A/B tests to determine navigation flow, and tracks a host of metrics. The key, though, is not simply that all this data is collected, but that it is used.

It’s not enough to just collect data. You have to use what you learn.

[Tweet this.]

Based on new consumer insights, BrightEdge adjusts its tactics every week and tracks the impact of these changes via dashboards in its own platform. The undertaking is continual, and the results are measurable—meaning that company makes the most of its valuable data rather than drowning in it.

3. Art and Science: Follow Your Instincts With Content, Then Verify

The problem

Some inbound content tactics—such as a constantly updating company blog—are hard to test thoroughly all the time. Yes, you can do periodic usability studies and solicit feedback, but trying to think about customer behavior while meeting constant publishing deadlines can feel overwhelming.

What can you do?

The solution

An important thing to remember is that it’s okay to mix art and science when it comes to content creation. In other words, quality pieces are the result of both unmeasurable creativity and a solid, data-based understanding of your audience.

KISSmetrics, a web analytics solution, does its best to combine creativity and knowledge when it comes to its company blog, which drives most of its web traffic. The company produces a high volume of pieces on a consistent schedule, with each one going through multiple revisions internally to get polished by employees who have both a good understanding of the topics and the audience.

Don’t be afraid to combine creativity with data.

[Tweet this.]

From there, KISSmetrics monitors traffic and subjective feedback to see which posts resonate and where customers have questions. The following posts take these learnings into account and the process starts again: a cycle of creativity built on a foundation of internal insights (revisions) and external learnings (traffic metrics, comments, etc.).

4. The Enemy of My Enemy: Target Your Competition, Then Test

The problem

Ever wish there was an already-existing audience out there that was interested in your product/service category and open to engaging? There is: the people who are looking at your competitors.

This audience is especially valuable for businesses with similar products, or that are competing in a category with a few major established players. So, how do you reach it?

The solution

Often, the best way to reach your competitors’ audience is to directly go after it.

Formstack, an online form building application, did exactly this by creating a set of landing pages that compare their tool against certain competitors. These pages allow the company to address prospect questions and highlight why they are the best solution for certain users (you can see an example below).

Formstack's comparison page directly spells out the advantages to its competitors' audiences.

Formstack’s comparison page directly spells out the advantages to its competitors’ audiences.

However, the company doesn’t stop there. It continually A/B tests these comparison pages to determine which content elements are most effective for converting customers. This simple and effective tactic—creating comparison pages and then adapting them based on customer feedback—brings in a steady stream of high-quality, engaged leads.

5. Don’t Be Shy: Ask Your Audience What They Want, Over and Over

The problem

So you’ve done lots of things to better understand your customers—you’ve checked your messaging, started regularly learning from your metrics, tested your content by creating/iterating, even learned by targeting your competitors’ audiences—yet you’ve still got plenty of questions. What should you do?

The solution

The one-word solution to this problem is remarkably simple: Ask.

Often in the first stage of the sales funnel (building awareness and engaging visitors), B2B companies struggle to understand the wants and needs of their audience.

Moz, the inbound marketing and SEO platform, shows that it doesn’t have to be this way. The company is constantly looking for ways to directly ask what people want and what they’re not getting. Some of their tactics include:

  • The company created this survey to help improve its blog. Visitors are asked to describe their reading habits, what topics they enjoy, and what they’d like to see more/less of.

  • This page allows blog readers to submit their own answers to the prompt, “I’d like to read a blog post about…”

  • This Q&A section lets the community ask for expert advice and also results in an annual industry survey, which provides a picture of the market.

Jump in and get started

    Ultimately, none of these efforts are all that complicated, but they are highly effective. That, of course, is the whole point. When it comes to building a valuable B2B audience using customer insights, there are a host of powerful, simple tactics available… you just have to use them.

    Ask your audience questions, use the data you already have, and test your content instincts—you may be surprised at what you learn. And, of course, don’t forget to check out the next article in this series to see what we discovered about optimizing the next part of the sales funnel: lead nurturing and conversion.

    Do you have an audience-building tactic you’d like to share? Tell us about it in the comments below.