The ‘hidden’ stakeholders that influence the C-suite

Solomon Radley01/10/2018

The average B2B purchase decision involves 6.8 internal stakeholders. To effectively market your products and services, you need a strategy for engaging them all.

Conventional wisdom says the best way to make a sale in B2B is to go straight to the person holding the purse strings.

“Never mind the stakeholders who will actually use our solution,” salespeople are told. “Elevate the conversation to the C‐suite and go straight for the business decision‐makers.”

For many years, this was seen as the fastest way to make a sale. And, clearly winning these stakeholders over is essential if you want to sell your solution to a business. So, marketers focused their efforts on creating content to engage these notoriously busy and time‐poor company execs.

But unfortunately, things aren’t quite that simple.

When the CEB surveyed 5,000 B2B buyers to uncover what drives customer loyalty, they made a discovery that turns this ‘conventional’ story on its head. They found that the one thing decision‐makers care about most is whether a supplier has secured “widespread support” across their organisation.

While decision‐makers do also care about things like how easy your organisation is to buy from and whether you’re willing to collaborate with other suppliers, nothing has as much of an impact on their choices as what the rest of the company thinks of your offering.

In other words, it doesn’t pay to ignore the broader organisation when marketing your goods and services – and as you’re about to see, that has real implications for your content strategy.

Source: The Challenger Sale

“Senior decision‐makers simply aren’t willing to go out on a limb for a supplier on a big purchase,” say CEB experts Brent Adamson and Matthew Dixon. “At least, not on their own.”

This makes sense when you consider that the average business decision now involves 6.8 internal stakeholders.

No one person has the power to make a purchase decision on their own. You clearly still need great content to engage senior stakeholders at your target organisations. But, you also need a strategy for winning over the end‐users who will be using your products and services on a daily basis.

At the same time, there will be other people out there who can help amplify your message or that influence the thinking of your primary audience.

That means, to effectively market your products and services, you first need to map out all the different stakeholders you’ll need to engage with your content. Then, you need to tailor specific messages that will resonate with each of these core stakeholder groups.

Taking the time to do this properly will significantly enhance the effectiveness of your campaigns. But, most B2B marketers still don’t give this process the care and attention it deserves.

What it means to really know your audience

If you’ve ever overseen a long‐term content project, you’ll know it never pays to scrimp on the audience research.

An inexperienced marketer might prefer to get the show on the road and start creating content as quickly as possible. But, taking the time to plot your course before setting off will actually get you to the finish line faster.

You may have a lot in common with your CEO. But, the specific issues you think about on a daily basis will be quite different. Your company’s CFO will have his own concerns, and they’re certainly very different from the burning issues keeping your sales team up at night.

On some levels you might all be the same, but you all have your own unique pain points and motivations.

It’s the same at any business. So, to truly understand what messages will resonate best with the stakeholders you’re trying to reach, you need to understand not just who they are – but what motivates them as people.

The first step is to divide your overall target audience into primary, secondary and tertiary audiences.

Your primary audiences are essentially your clients and prospects who will be directly involved in deciding whether to do business with you. Secondary audiences either have the potential to join your primary audience in future or to influence the decisions of your primary audience. Finally, the tertiary audience contains people who can amplify and help spread your message.

For example, if you were the CMO of a marketing software company, your primary audience might be senior marketers. But you would also want to engage certain secondary audiences. These may include other C‐suite members who help to decide how their companies’ marketing budgets are spent and the junior marketers that will be using your software.

Once you’ve mapped out the different audiences you’ll need to engage with your content marketing, the next step is to create detailed buyer personas for each audience segment.

Who are they? What motivates them as people? What challenges or pain points keep them up at night? And what topics and discussions are they engaging with right now?

As you do this, you’ll start to realise that each of your target personas will respond to very different ideas, messages and content formats.

Creating buyer personas for content marketing

The point of creating buyer personas is to give your content team a competitive edge. So, you need to identify the key characteristics that will help them tailor messages that drive results for your business.

Don’t get bogged down researching things that won’t help you deliver more effective campaigns. Details like your customer’s gender or marital status might be useful if you were selling B2C goods to a mass market. But, they’re rarely relevant in the world of B2B.

As a content marketer, you’re interested in the key initiatives your audience members dedicate their time, budgets or resources to delivering.

What are their business objectives? What metrics do they use to measure success? Where are the perceived barriers that might cause them to question whether your brand can help them achieve their goals?

You’ll also need a firm grasp on the role each of your audiences plays in a company’s purchase decisions, as well as what criteria they’ll use to judge you against competing brands.

Finally, make sure you understand what channels and content formats each of your target personas prefers to use when researching their problems and consuming content. This will help you create content that’s personalised to each audience segment’s preferences – and tailored to the role they’ll play in influencing business decision‐makers.

To gather all this information, most B2B marketers will begin by talking to the sales team, interviewing product experts or conducting online research. But there really is no substitute for going direct to your customers.

“The only way to gather clear, unexpected insights about how your buyers make decisions is to have a conversation with them,” says Buyer Persona Institute founder Adele Revella. “You will need to uncover specific insights that are unknown to your competitors or anyone inside your company.”

Aim to spend a few hours a month interviewing recent buyers, as well as prospects who have yet to work with you.

You only need buyer personas for primary, secondary and tertiary audiences that have their own distinct characteristics. So, as you do this you may find that certain job titles can be grouped together into a single persona.

Be sure to ask probing questions to get at the specific details that matter to each persona. For example, if buyers tell you they chose your solution because it’s easy to use, ask follow‐up questions to understand exactly what about the solution needed to be easy.

In the process, you might find that the mid‐level staff who use your solution value your ability to provide them with insights that help them do their jobs more effectively. Meanwhile, the decision‐makers involved in purchasing your solution may be more concerned with the impact your solution will have on their company’s bottom line.

Once your research is complete, you’ll be in a far better position to map the ideal customer journey for your prospects and tailor messages that resonate with each of your target audience segments.

Not only will you have the insights you need to generate widespread organisational support for your offering, you’ll also be better equipped than ever to challenge and inspire business decision‐makers.

So, start marketing to your whole target audience – and map out the ‘hidden’ stakeholders you need to engage with content today.

Key takeaways

  • Look beyond the C‐suite when creating content. Company decision‐makers are looking for solutions with widespread support throughout their organisation.
  • Create buyer personas for each stakeholder group you need to engage. To do this, divide your target audience into primary, secondary and tertiary audiences.
  • Tailor content for each of your audience segments. Use the insights you uncover to serve them messages they care about, in their favourite formats and through channels they know and trust.