2014 MustDo B2B Marketers Should Shut Up and Listen

customer experience, 2014 Must-Do: Shut Up and Listen in B2B Marketing

Shhh. Your B2B marketers are talking. 

"These days there are so many ways to listen to our market and understand what people really want, but B2B marketers are still caught up in a one-way conversation," said Paul Gillin of Paul Gillin Communications.

Today, we deliver the third piece in our "2014 Must-Do" series — why you need to listen better in B2B marketing. Last week, we discussed getting back to basics in Web CMS and becoming agile in B2B marketing.

Listen Up

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Two 2013 reports — one by the Google/CEB Marketing Leadership Council and another by McKinsey -- emphasize how out of touch B2B marketers are with the needs of their constituents.

McKinsey found the marketing focus for big B2B companies are of little interest to the people they're trying to reach. The Google study found emotion plays a much bigger part in B2B buying decisions than in B2C. Why? Probably because careers and even companies can be on the line -- compared to, say, the color of a handbag in B2C marketing.

"The McKinsey research also found big B2B firms mostly talk about the same things like innovation and corporate responsibility," Gillin told CMSWire. "The buyers McKinsey surveyed showed almost no interest in those topics. So what you've got is a lot of B2B companies repeating each other's messages without actually listening to what customers want."

So why aren't B2B marketers good listeners? At its core, marketing is about delivering a message, or talking more than you listen. However, with the growth of social media, conversations have become a more important part of the customer engagement process.

"This is a relatively recent phenomenon," Gillin said. "And it takes time for veteran marketers to adjust their tactics."

Get Ahead of the Message

Become a good listener even before your campaign begins, Gillin added. Use customer communities to test messages and get feedback before spending a lot of money blasting out to the market.

"There really is no excuse for fielding bad campaigns anymore because this kind of input is so cheap and easy to get," Gillin said.

Ensure your marketing campaigns spark dialogue. Allow your customers to talk to you and be willing to adjust campaigns to reflect what they say.

Marketing messages need links to appropriate social networks where customers can contact the company.

"Marketing campaigns need to be much more fluid today than they used to be," Gillin added. "That means they should be designed with the expectation that changes will be made as feedback comes in from the market. People often let pride get in the way of common sense. Feedback is an opportunity to improve, not an insult to your intelligence."

Marketing Gone Awry

Even before the advent of social media, big companies made costly marketing gaffes. Gillin cited the 1985 New Coke campaign and the 1996 McDonald's Arch Deluxe as two prominent examples of expensive mistakes companies made because they failed to ask their customers the right questions.

"Those are famous consumer examples, but similar gaffes occur on a smaller scale in B2B scenarios all the time," Gillin said. "Often it's because products are released without full testing and then the company ignores feedback coming in from the field. This can become very expensive."

He cited Dell’s battery recall in 2006. The company had to replace four million notebook batteries, making it the largest battery recall in history. Reports had come in that the batteries were catching fire, but by the time Dell acknowledged the problem, it had a huge expense.

But Dell eventually listened. "Give Dell credit. Today it has a state-of-the-art listening program in place that catches complaints very early and fixes them before they become disasters," Gillin said. "It's committed to never letting a problem like that occur again."

How Do You Listen Better?

Use your ears more, of course. But how exactly? Gillin said he would make a requirement that all of his exempt employees meet with customers at least four times per year — at a conference, in a focus group or just by phone call.

"Social media is a great way to aggregate feedback and spot trends," Gillin said, "but the best kind of listening is still person-to-person."

McKinsey's report cited among others IBM's Smarter Planet branding effort and American Express' Open Forum messaging efforts as examples of good listening:

 

When customers feel they are involved in the decisions a vendor makes, their level of commitment grows significantly, Gillin said.

"They actually take ownership of the products," he said. "They’re not only more likely to buy but also more likely to evangelize the company to their peers."

Title image by IdeaStepConceptStock (Shutterstock).