Client testing: Four easy principles to predict the success of B2B campaigns


Marketers are embracing data in all areas but one – testing sales propositions and messages with buyers. We know which email subject line works best and what content is most popular, but very rarely gather information from buyers on whether the core of our campaigns is compelling in the first place. Will the proposition and messages deliver the desired outcome of the campaign – convincing prospective buyers to take a meeting, change their approach and ultimately buy your service? Many marketers prefer not to pull on the thread.

But by the time you get to A/B tests it’s too late to make significant change – even if that’s what’s needed to make the campaign work. This is a missed opportunity to improve the commercial success of campaigns. The creative can be superb, the execution inspired and the segmentation on point, but if you haven’t tapped into an unseen problem or opportunity that your buyers value, and clearly articulated why your organisation is uniquely placed to help, you’ve limited the campaign’s ability to generate demand for your solution and convert profitable work before the first email is even sent.

Ensuring campaigns support sales is particularly important when traditional marketing techniques are generating diminishing returns. According to CEB, just 3% of the leads we create actually convert into revenue. Generating demand and converting new business is getting harder, so marketers are looking for every opportunity to maximise the impact of their campaigns. None of us can afford a flop.

In our experience, buyer testing is the key to effective campaigns and increasing overall £ROI. Done right it uncovers the insight needed in the beginning to create appealing and targeted campaigns, and provides certainty that your proposition and messages will be strong enough to drive sales. The good news is that it needn’t take up huge amounts of time or budget.

To test or not to test

Marketers are put off the idea of buyer testing for a few reasons:

“We don’t have time.” Testing is perceived as laborious and time consuming – adding weeks to already tight campaign timelines. When you’re trying to deliver multiple campaigns each year, the idea of testing every proposition and message is justifiably daunting.

“We don’t have any more money.” Building campaigns can be an expensive business and every cost must be justified. Running tests has typically been eye-wateringly expensive and seen as adding further complexity to already intricate projects.

“We already know what our buyers think.” Organisations frequently ask clients for feedback and input, so question how much they will learn from buyer testing. Is there really more value to unlock?

“We can’t change the campaign anyway.” Campaign themes are often set at a global level. Service-line, sector or in-country marketers therefore see little merit in testing when the direction is already set.

“We’re not sure how to test.” Understanding what to test and how to do it effectively is a stumbling block for many marketers. Without knowing where to focus your time to make the biggest impact, it can feel safer not to try – especially when it comes to precious relationships with prospective buyers.

You’re right. These are completely valid arguments against typical approaches to buyer testing – which involve hours of interviews to gather expansive, academic “insights” on high level campaign concepts, days of number crunching and a huge bill – but not buyer testing in general. There is a better and faster way that enables you to effectively test your proposition and messages, and positively adapt global campaigns to suit your service, sector or market – all without second-guessing what really matters to buyers or throwing your budget and timeline out of the window.

It’s buyer testing, but not as you know it

Google Ventures’ ‘sprint’ philosophy has inspired our new accelerated approach to building propositions and messages that sell. Sprint is a fast and focussed five day agenda designed to solve complex business problems quickly – Google call it a “‘greatest hits’ of business strategy, innovation, behavior science, design thinking, and more – packaged into a battle-tested process”. Buyer testing is a key part of our campaign sprint – two of the five days are dedicated to testing – and is critical to set campaigns up for success before we dive in to commission supporting research or create content.

Doing our proposition due diligence has proven its worth time and again. We were recently asked to help a consultancy develop a go-to-market campaign for a new service. The market is dominated by one competitor, so they needed a powerful proposition that would encourage prospective buyers to switch. Our client was convinced that their audience is cost sensitive and therefore we should lead with a saving message. In fact – after prototyping four options – cost was the least compelling play we tested with their buyers. Furthermore, the focus on cost actually turned buyers off their service altogether. By uncovering this early on we were able to steer the campaign towards action – creating a pipeline of new business from scratch in a challenging competitive environment.

We live by these four principles to remove hassle and maximise value from buyer testing:

  1. Start small. Good testing doesn’t mean expensive focus groups or labour intensive surveys – which is where time and expense can escalate quickly. It’s about focus and prioritisation. Five 30 minute interviews with potential buyers is enough to see clear trends in the feedback – the points in your proposition that are resonating and those that aren’t. First act on the comments and then, if you like, do another five interviews to hone the message further. We like to include interviews with ‘live’ prospects wherever possible – our clients say that involving them in the process helps to progress sales conversations for relevant services.

  2. Use a prototype. It’s hard to give meaningful feedback on an abstract idea or a collection of phrases in a flat document. Help buyers to give constructive feedback by creating a realistic prototype that shows your proposition and messages in action. How would you usually share the campaign with buyers? Perhaps with an email, landing page or report. Create a potted version in your branded template using the proposition and key message – or even try a few different ones to see which works best – and build your buyer interview around it. The prototype doesn’t need to be perfect – it’s about giving buyers enough context to determine how they would act if presented with the information and to provide considered comments.

  3. Steer toward action. Open questions encourage unthinking, negative responses. Faced with a question like “What do you think of X?” buyers may be unsure how to respond and naturally gravitate towards what’s wrong not what’s right. An invitation to give feedback is often treated as a license to rip something to shreds. Instead ask action-specific questions like “Would reading this convince you to do Y?” to confirm the campaign will deliver the outcome you desire.

  4. Ask why. Don’t stop with the first question – always follow up positively, not defensively. If clients aren’t taking the action that you want, why not? Is there something that they just don’t buy? Or is the problem you have diagnosed not one that they recognise? This insight is gold for improving the campaign and maximising results – helping you to uncover ways to strengthen the proposition and messages to encourage them to take the next step towards purchase.

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