Recently, I was on the phone with a prospective client. We were discussing our firm’s approach to the market which focuses on valuing the customer and creating a personal connection with them. As I continued to rattle on, I was interrupted by a question, “what does creating a personal connection have to do with a B2B customer?” I have to admit that the questions stopped me in my tracks. While my mind went to “because your customer is a human being and wants to be treated as a unique individual” regardless if they work for a B2C or B2B business, I realized that the question was sincere. It struck me then that in some industries, there is a perception that the goal should be to preserve a business as usual stance. The logic goes something like this: You have a product or service that other businesses need, you send them the sales sheet on all the benefits, and they make a decision based on those said benefits. The truth is that marketing has evolved – and, yes, even in the B2B world – your customers want you to understand their specific needs, value their unique wants, and understand who they are – personally. This is the reality, so holding firm to how things used to work quickly results in your company lacking relevance. No one wants that. Here are the top changes to the business to business customer behavior and how your company can utilize them to flourish.
One of the Masses
Within the B2B space in particular, many companies tend to follow the lead of other companies. They look at their competitors’ marketing and try to emulate or do the same. Now taking cues from the top performing companies, and examining how your company could enjoy similar success, is smart strategy, but what happens more than not is a sea of marketing sameness. The brands start doing much of the same things which results in a lack of differentiation in the eyes of the customer, and often drives the last thing that the company wants, the customer making purchasing decisions based on price. If this is the only noticeable criteria, guess who gets the business? The company with the most inexpensive offering.
B2B businesses, more than most, need to forge a path of marketing innovation. They need to say we’re going to do things differently because we know that marketing has progressed, and what worked yesterday doesn’t work today. Namely, treating your customer like a number versus an important individual who has very real wants and needs when it comes to selecting the right business partner. Think of it from their perspective, if they choose a vendor that doesn’t understand what they face internally in terms of selling through the partnership, they are toast. That is why savvy marketers take the time to understand their customers on a personal level. They employ personalization tactics that helps drive purchase intent. Personalization doesn’t just work for brands that are direct to consumer, they work for business to business because people have unique needs as individuals, and these individuals take these needs with them into their professional roles.
Modern customers want you to be understood, valued and appreciated for their uniqueness because everyone feels that their needs are special, distinct or unlike others. The sooner B2B marketers understand and apply this way of thinking, the better.
But we don’t have the budget
The other interesting phenomenon that we have noticed with B2B businesses is that they are often underfunded when it comes to marketing budget allocation. This may be because they put much of their resources toward the sales team, but sales people need marketing like peanut butter needs jelly. They are the ideal combination, but what often occurs is that marketing has too small of a budget to be effective, and what minuscule budget that they do have is used primarily to create sales aids. However, the customer doesn’t want another sales aid. They want to be exposed to marketing that is customer-centric. Of course, a sales aid or two is needed at some point but companies would do a lot better if they applied the rules of brand awareness, engagement, interest, and conversion in earnest. I know that might sound silly, but you’d be amazed by how many business-to-business brands focus solely on the conversion and forget about how conversions are earned.
Today’s business to business customer needs to understand market trends, customer demand, the latest advances and how all of it improves their company – and their job – performance. That doesn’t mean that they need another peer-reviewed study. They need customized marketing that addresses their distinct needs. Perhaps they could also use a survey or quiz that provides them with a list of recommendations, market insights, and other valuable information that helps them feel assured that your company is the right fit for them. Sounds compelling doesn’t it? Still, we see so few companies that really understand that in a crowded market, what matters most to your customer should be your highest priority. Can you imagine if a B2B company really devoted significant resources to developing content marketing assets that felt tailor-made to one particular client? They would be in a class by themselves, and trust me, their potential client would take note.
Beyond that, personalization is the way of the future. In fact, a recent study confirmed that 88% of U.S. marketers saw measurable improvement to their marketing performance via personalization. B2B companies wrongly assume that only applies to direct-to-consumer, but that is incorrect. At the end of the day, the buyer is still a person. They make decisions based on the emotional connection and value that a brand offers them. The same applies to the partnerships, products or services that they purchase on behalf of their company. The partnerships are a reflection of them. They don’t want to work with just anyone, but rather the company that provides a customized offering. Thus, investing the resources to create a personalized experience that meets their individual and their employer needs separates your brand from the competition. B2B companies would be wise to take heed, and make the necessary investments in their marketing budgets now.
To be accurate, the aforementioned should read “please don’t sell me.” One thing that seems to prevent companies from really understanding their customer’s needs is the idea that every interaction must be a sales pitch. We see this with our firm all the time, we schedule a discovery call and before we can learn anything about the potential client (which helps us mold the conversation to their unique needs) someone proclaims, “tell us why we should hire you?” The truth is that our firm doesn’t want to sell you. We want to create a meaningful, mutually beneficial, partnership with you. Business-to-business companies often do the same but in reverse. They assume that they need to start with the sales pitch. In reality, the client wants a lasting partnership that they can trust. They want to get to know your company a bit and build a relationship with you. They want to experience your company’s value firsthand. They don’t want your company to be in full sales mode on the first interaction or every encounter thereafter. This is antiquated thinking. Rather, they want to do a bit of discovery themselves through their lens not yours. This is where awareness comes in yet again. The initial and subsequent interactions reflect whether your company values the long-term relationship or is simply looking for a short term sale. You tell me, which is more persuasive to your prospective client? I’ll just leave that one there.
Now more than ever, the customer is in charge. The sooner that B2B companies realize this and embrace it, the better. This behavior isn’t going to change, it is just going to be amplified. That means wise B2B companies should lead the charge of innovative marketing before their competitors catch on.