man waiting for a train as one passes him by
Measure the gap — the difference in the perception of the relationship between buyer and seller. PHOTO: Tinou Bao

The business world is changing dramatically and, in many ways, is taking advantage of scientific methods to enhance the functions of sales, marketing and account management.

Within the B2C marketplace, big data and analytics are continuing to play an increasingly essential role in client engagement, marketing and ultimately, conversion.

These tools help marketers calculate aggregates and averages to try to predict the wants and needs of individual consumer segments.

Think about a simple purchase like buying a can of soda. The soda brand doesn’t treat its customers like individuals because each consumer probably spends about $100 a year. What the soda brand does is segment its markets and design for the average.

The B2B world uses scientific methods in a very different way. Rather than aggregating into big data sets, we see what we call "intimate big data" — data that provides an understanding of a one-to-one buyer at a deep level.

After all, for B2B businesses with complex decision-making and high-value buyers, it’s the opposite: The customer is the head soft drink buyer at a major retail chain, and her opinion is worth a fortune. With intimate big data, it’s not only possible, but probable to drive lasting revenue, one relationship at a time.

Beyond Net Promoter Score

The truth about the gap — the difference in the perception of the relationship between buyer and seller.

Marketers have long used Net Promoter Score (NPS), sophisticated market surveys and the traditional customer satisfaction survey to understand their clients. All of these have been great tools, but in many respects, they are technologies of decades past and represent only a surface-level view.

Focusing on individuals requires a deep understanding of relationships. Our research shows that while “satisfaction” measured with these tools is a great predictor of disloyalty, it’s a poor predictor of whether someone will buy more of a product or service.

Before working with us, one of our commercial insurance partners found 73 percent of their lost clients were “satisfied” or “very satisfied.” Data from Harvard Business Review supports these findings, reiterating that 20 percent of “satisfied” clients reported intent to leave an organization.

So instead, measure “the gap” — the difference in the perception of the relationship between buyer and seller. Ask the client how they perceive their relationship with the seller. Then ask the same of the seller. Chances are there’s a gap.

Why Coaching Is Vital

Like wearing a Fitbit will not make you fit, measuring alone will not drive retention, revenue and organic growth for your business. For that, you need a personal trainer — a coach.

Coach because your people are your greatest competitive asset. In the B2B world, almost all products and services today work the way they should.

Frankly, this makes it difficult for companies to differentiate on product and price. Differentiating on the reputation and social acceptance of a brand isn’t enough either. Think about HP, GE and FM Global. The list of great B2B brands is lengthy, which creates a level playing field.

What’s left are individual relationships, and the next generation of B2B marketers is differentiating on the value a buyer receives from the relationship they have with an individual seller or account service person.

Differentiating on People

Product companies like manufacturers are adding services to differentiate on people instead of on price. Service businesses like consulting firms, advertising agencies and insurance brokerages are focusing on client experience to highlight the reliability, skills and counsel of their people.

Once you differentiate on your people, you have to help them grow. Coaching behavior change is vital in helping individual sales and account people close gaps in their client relationships and use the data they have gleaned from measuring the relationship to their benefit.

Coaching practices or behaviors, like the act of writing things down or helping a client sell an idea internally, are shockingly simple and have profound, positive effects on client perception of a relationship.

So measure, sure, but then analyze and act. Without coaching, even the most thoroughly measured relationships can’t reach their full potential.