Treat: Listen to your customers. Distinguish yourself from the pack. Know you’ll get great results.
Too many B2B marketers are falling for the “trick” traps in this “trick or treat” world of marketing messages. And a report we covered this week explains this and gives us opportunity to reflect, refocus and start delivering unique messages we can call our own.
Listen, Listen, Listen
“Listening to your different customer segments and understanding what drives their purchase decision-making behavior is crucial to focus brand messages on the really differentiating drivers,” researchers who crafted the October report by McKinsey & Company, "How B2B companies talk past companies," told CMSWire this week.
This is one of the most poignant reports we’ve seen recently on B2B marketing, much like the telling numbers collated by Econsultancy last month in their B2B internet statistics compendium. Why?
It’s the first global B2B marketing survey across six sectors, researchers said: banking and insurance; machines and components; utility services; IT-related products and services; chemicals, commodities, and basic materials; telecommunications products and services.
It had more than 700 respondents, all being decision makers with substantial influence on supplier selection for their company, researchers told us. They used documents from Fortune 500 and DAX 30 companies.
“A unique methodological mix of quantitative research and outside-in analyses demystified some common beliefs about branding not being relevant in B2B industries as well as the fact that there is a mismatch between customer needs and stated positioning of the majority of B2B brands,” researchers told CMSWire.
Honest and open dialogue, which customers considered most important, was one of the three themes not emphasized at all by the 90 companies in the report’s sample. Effective supply chain management and specialist market knowledge, where valued by customers, were not by B2Bs.
See the disconnect here?
B2B’s Work Far From Done
This reflects B2B’s “nascent efforts” to engage with its key stakeholders — the customers and suppliers/partners, said Vanessa DiMauro, CEO of Leader Networks LLC.
“B2B firms are just starting to learn how to talk with their customers and suppliers in an ongoing way and not just episodically — at the point of sale,” DiMauro told CMSWire.
B2B companies have created online communities and developed digital strategies to talk to their stakeholders, DiMauro said.
However, she added, there is still “significant, strategic work to be done to turn the megaphone around to truly listen and impact core operations with the insights garnered through the social channel.” Competition has forced B2B companies to realize the “need for speed to market and heavy pressure to innovate faster,” and they are “starting to understand the business imperative to create communities of practice as a channel to listen to and respond to their customers and partners.”
“I definitely see increased attention to social business strategy as central to supporting the overall business goals of a company and not just a hollow program,” she said.
Who’s Listening Well?
DiMauro shared with us the names of some organizations that have deployed strategies that help them effectively listen to customers:
- National Instruments, a $1.1 billion firm that sells measurement and control systems, saved $7.8 million through an online community that has reduced the number of calls to its contact centers, DiMauro said.
- Madison Electric Products introduced an online community so that customers could help the firm develop new products. The private Ohio-based company makes more than 2,000 products for the electrical suppliers. From the ideas that customers have submitted thus far, Madison has launched six products and has three more scheduled for this year, according to DiMauro. As a result, the new products have helped lift Madison's sales 30 percent.
- The Analog Devices’ Engineer Zone is a great example of a strong online community, DiMauro said. It’s a community of 12,000+ that helps people solve electronic design problems. The vast majority of community members (84 percent) say the community helped them speed their design process, and three-quarters were more likely to buy products from the company because of the community, DiMauro said.
Action Steps for B2Bs
So how can B2Bs take the lessons from the report and deploy them into action? DiMauro shared a few ideas:
- Be strategic in your engagement initiatives. This must support or accelerate business goals in order to be valuable.
- Develop communication programs that truly reflect the needs of the audience. Be sure to ask them what they need from your B2B firm and from their peers before unleashing an engagement effort and developing efforts that maniacally service the audience.
- Listen, learn and utilize closed-feedback loops. Not all product or service ideas or suggestions are worthy of implementing, but show transparency and accountability to those customers or partners that have taken the time to communicate.
- Develop business metrics that matter and are aligned with the organizational strategy. Too often social business/online community efforts fail to demonstrate real value. The initiative needs to proactively align with one or more functional organizations (e.g. customer service, product management, R&D). Come to agreement on meaningful ways that the community initiative will measure success — in alignment with the functional organization — and establish an operating model for incorporating feedback or insights. Document the current measure of success and establish a realistic target that aligns with strategic objectives of the functional organization.
Just as the researchers told CMSWire this week: “Our analyses showed a surprising similarity among the brand themes that leading B2B companies emphasized, suggesting a tendency to follow the herd rather than create strongly differentiated brand messages.”
Don’t go for the “tricks.” Stay with the “treats.” Your B2B candy bag will be a lot more plentiful.
Photo in opening paragraph courtesy of Hannamariah (Shutterstock).