Imagine the world of advertising if Pedigree commercials were designed around their actual clientele—nothing but squirrels and tennis balls everywhere!

Obviously, the ads aren’t geared toward the dogs but toward their owners, appealing to a sense of protection, health, and caregiving because we love our pets.

While the distinction here is obvious, in some industries—especially in B2B—the difference isn’t quite as clear.

What happens when an important segment of your users (or even your brand advocates) aren’t actually those buying the product?

Personas Who Rarely Purchase

It’s sometimes the case in B2B that the person responsible for researching, evaluating, and selecting the product to be used by the company won’t end up being the primary user of the product.

If you recall an earlier post of ours on creating personas, one divide we often see at Help Scout is between “Help Desk Heidi”—the company support manager—and the person on the team responsible for purchasing Help Scout’s product.

The Heidis (or Henrys) out there are very important users of our software as they are often in charge of getting the rest of the support team on board. They are likely heads-down themselves, getting things done and refining their teams’ processes and support goals.

As important as support managers are, we’ve found that they’re generally not responsible for signing up their company. This usually falls under the jurisdiction of the founder or the IT manager.

Given these differences, the question then becomes: do you drop the appeal to your advocate in favor of appealing to your direct buyer?

When discussing appeal, for simplicity’s sake, we will stick to content. In this case, the answer isn’t so simple.

The ROI of Education

Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz, recently made an interesting presentation that outlined Why Content Marketing Fails. Rand posits that most people are too optimistic about their “funnel” generating immediate results.

Why Content Marketing Fails from Rand Fishkin

In short, the ROI of proactive education is not determined by an instant process of read, lead, pay. It often takes an extended amount of time (and multiple exposures) to have an impact. This is very obvious in B2B, as the cost of switching over is high, and the susceptibility to loss aversion is looming:

David Meerman Scott makes a similar argument, stating that inbound “assets” create lasting value over time, and as such, they can’t be measured like traditional marketing expenses:

For example, if you spend $5,000 in a given month on Google AdWords, the only thing you are buying are the resulting clicks of your ads appearing against the important phrases people search on to find your business. But as soon as you stop paying, your clicks stop too. This is the classic example of a marketing expense.

This is in direct contrast to the long term branding, search, and educational benefits of consistently optimizing customer success via content.

This brings us back to Heidi. Although she may not be responsible for making the purchase, Heidi’s position as an internal advocate to the actual buyer and her role as the longstanding user of the product make her important to the overall growth of our software. She is the persona that education potentially benefits the most.

You’ll find, especially in larger businesses, that those responsible for a certain department often have to sell an idea to their immediate boss before it can be executed. It speaks volumes that essays like How to Sell Conversion Optimization to Your Boss need to be published.

As a relevant question, who has to sell support software to their boss? Probably the person responsible for guiding the support team to success—the support manager. If the current product isn’t working or the team is growing to where it needs a different solution, it isn’t uncommon for the head of the department to be the first person to take notice.

They Have Different Jobs to Do

Help Desk Heidi and “he/she who clicks buy” have very different jobs to do—more generally applied, the department head and the person in charge of the purchase often have different objectives.

You may find that in selling in B2B, the buyer takes a “checklist” approach. He or she knows the team needs “X”, so evaluation is kept to this level of depth.

Conversely, the department head is the one most informed as to what the team needs in order to succeed. This is where advocates like Heidi can make a noticeable difference.

Helping this person succeed through information presented in your content gives you someone on the inside who is likely to sell your solution and bring clarity to the often nebulous process of picking a certain software. His or her interest in using you is a direct result of your initial favor of giving them with some sort of valuable information.

This obviously doesn’t mean that appealing to direct buyers should be set on the backburner—you may find in your industry that advocates and those who pull the trigger are one and the same. Even if they aren’t, the initial appeal to the person with the checklist still matters in getting you in the races as a viable solution.

The point is simply that advocates who don’t buy shouldn’t be neglected in your customer success strategy. Goodwill created through education can often result in a cheerleader in a bigger organization who will do your selling for you.

It starts with initial exposure to your company through content, but it succeeds because over time you’ve helped them be just a little more awesome at their job—that’s why they value your company, and that’s why they will sing your praises when it counts.

Deciding Who Unlocks the Most Value

In a recent essay published in the Harvard Business Review, Harvard Professor Robert Simons took a similar look at this matter on a much grander scale. In comparing companies like Merck and Amazon, he argued that defining a “primary customer” is what defines the business:

The bottom line is this: The strategic choice of primary customer—with special emphasis on “primary”—defines the business. This is certainly true at Amazon, which serves four very different types of customer: consumers, sellers, enterprises, and content providers. You might think that it considers all four customer groups to be equally important. But the company’s choice of primary customer is reflected clearly in its well-known mission “to be the world’s most consumer-centric company.”

Amazon devotes maximum resources to pleasing consumers, even if that means sellers or content providers sometimes feel shortchanged (sellers whose storefronts are hosted on the Amazon platform have been known to sue Amazon for more resources). . . .These practices have often been criticized as inherently unprofitable or injurious to Amazon’s other constituents. But the main results of the company’s choice are the ones that count most: unparalleled customer loyalty and stratospheric stock valuations.

As the cases of Merck, Google, and Amazon illustrate, your most important customers are not those that generate the most revenue but those that can unlock the most value in your business.

That last line is very interesting. Though his position is certainly more rigid, the idea that some personas could unlock an abundance of value while not generating the most revenue is reminiscent of our original premise—that perhaps your business has a Heidi who will play an important role in your growth.

Gregory Ciotti

About the author: Gregory Ciotti is on the marketing team at Help Scout.