From The Editor | December 12, 2022

Follow, Understand, And Help Your Buyer: The Modern Paradigm For B2B Marketing And Sales


By Perry Rearick, Chief Editor, Follow Your Buyer



Paradigm is one of those big words that is packed with meaning. It is often used to introduce ideas intended to be epic and have a foundational impact on us. It appears in science, philosophy, TED Talks, and 280-character posts on social media.

But paradigms are often misunderstood. A paradigm is a foundational set of concepts, thought patterns, and practices applied to a variety of disciplines. It is a mixture of both theory and research-based facts. It is not a process to be strictly followed like IKEA assembly instructions, but rather a guide.

Here’s the best part! While operating within a paradigm, we can achieve desired outcomes, but at the same time become better informed about our actions in a way that enables continuous improvement.

B2B marketing and sales is overserved with tactics and failproof processes to deliver better results. What we need is a modern paradigm, a different way to think about B2B marketing, sales, and our buyers. The paradigm is called follow, understand, and help.

Why Does B2B Marketing & Sales Need a New Paradigm?

Tom Roberts, President of Vertmarkets, a B2B publishing, media services, and data analytics company, traces the origins of this new paradigm back to the mid-1990s. It was then, Roberts says, that “the digital publishing model came into being.”

B2B sellers who invested in digital advertising received something they had never received before, engagement data. It took the guesswork out of measuring the results of their advertising efforts. However, according to Roberts, “the data was misinterpreted and B2B sellers wanted to call every engagement a lead that was ready to buy, and they followed up like they were.” This delivered disappointing results and sellers questioned whether the engagement data was even real. Unfortunately, this misinterpretation continues today.

Over time and as more engagement data was compiled, Roberts recognized “that the world of B2B marketers was not thinking accurately about what a real B2B buying process is.” Vertmarkets began a deeper examination of the data and the B2B buyer’s journey became clearer.  

Who is driving the new paradigm?

A healthy B2B seller and buyer relationship is one that is interdependent, both parties need one another but also operate autonomously. This wasn’t always the case. In a complex B2B buying process, the buyer traditionally relied heavily on the expertise of the seller to help them make buying decisions. Buyers would contact sellers early in the buyer’s journey to gain critical information they were seeking to support their buying process. That was before the convenient availability of digital information.

Now, buyers have delayed contacting sellers and according to research by Gartner, they are completing more than 80% of the buyer’s journey before having direct contact with a seller. The critical information required to help buyers throughout their journey is available to them on-demand and without the need for contacting a seller. Relying on engagement data collected over three decades, Vertmarkets has identified eight steps in the typical B2B buyer’s journey.

  1. Understand current issues.
  2. Establish objectives.
  3. Set strategy.
  4. Explore options.
  5. Set vendor criteria.
  6. Examine alternatives.
  7. Plan implementation.
  8. Measure results.

So, who is driving the need for sellers to transition to a new paradigm? Your buyers are!

The New Paradigm—Follow, Understand & Help

Intellectually grasping paradigms comes much sooner than our ability to operate within them in a way that makes a difference. And it’s because they often require a significant change in the way we think about things. This paradigm is especially challenging! Roberts says that there are three guiding principles, or concepts, that comprise the modern B2B marketing and sales paradigm, follow, understand, and help your buyer.

Follow Your Buyer.

Some years ago, while on a flight, I sat beside a gentleman who was a design engineer for an automobile manufacturer. He spent much of the flight on his laptop creating a new instrument panel for one of their models. I was curious about the process he used, and he described it entirely as observing what drivers do when they are in their cars. He wanted to experience driving their cars just like their owners, buyers, did.

That is what following your buyer means. Roberts describes it as walking in the footsteps of your buyers and experiencing their lives as they do, or as closely as possible. Too often B2B sellers rely only on market research that categorizes and generalizes the behavioral trends of buyers. While this research is invaluable to B2B marketers it is only a start and what we need is to experience our buyer’s world as they do.

Understand Your Buyer.

When we really follow our buyers, our understanding grows exponentially. Our guesses, hunches, and assumptions all become facts. This level of understanding requires sincere inquiry on the part of the sellers that defies the tradition of pitching.

When we pitch solutions, we ask questions so that we can set-up something we intend to say. The new paradigm calls for us to seek to understand before we seek to be understood, something that has become a mantra for Roberts and Vertmarkets. For example, what are the personal and business goals of our buyers, and what significant challenges do they think are in their way?

When seeking to understand our buyers, we cannot forget about following them. To really understand them, we must follow them on their path and through their thought processes as they share their wins, losses, challenges, celebrations, and disappointments.

Help Your Buyer.

“Helping our buyers, not selling them requires a great deal of self-discipline”, says Roberts. Buyers seeking critical information needed to support their own decision making, don’t want to be sold. They’re not buying anything; they are trying to solve a problem.

The modern paradigm calls for sellers to help buyers through every stage of their journey.

  1. Understand current issues: inform them of current issues impacting their business and industry.
  2. Establish objectives: help them see what can be accomplished when they overcome their current challenges.
  3. Set strategy: offer examples of winning strategies.
  4. Explore options: introduce multiple solutions to their problem.
  5. Set vendor criteria: offer thoughts and best practices for decision making standards that will solve their problem. 
  6. Examine alternatives: weigh various options against what the market offers.
  7. Plan implementation: share best practices for adopting a particular solution.
  8. Measure results: introduce ways to measure progress.

There is still much work to do!

Nearly thirty years have passed since the introduction of digital publishing. According to Roberts, there isn’t a company in the world that doesn’t have growth aspirations and is on some sort of path toward getting bigger. He says that “this causes real problems because it places a lot of pressure and focus on sales.” Everything must serve an outcome of more sales and growth.

Roberts admits that many organizations “don’t have the patience or discipline to disconnect themselves from what used to be viewed as a causal relationship between a particular marketing activity and a specific sale.” But buyers tell us that the process they use to make a purchasing decision is far more complex than we have historically believed and we must listen to them.

Tom Roberts is the President of Vertmarkets, a B2B publishing, media services, and data analytics company.

As a publisher for almost 40 years, VertMarkets has connected millions of buyers and suppliers in over 100 industry specific markets across the globe. The first online B2B publisher in 1995 with the launch of Water Online, we continue to offer the tools to facilitate, understand and build professional relationships.

Our teams are devoted to the creation of valuable long-term professional relationships - whether it’s through our print and online publications, at one of our industry events, or during a professional training course. VertMarkets’ focus remains the same - to provide a platform where the world’s business and community leaders can meet, engage, influence and collaborate to bring important new products, services and solutions to market quickly.