Customer Retention is 24K Magic

It is simple: Everyone gets excited when a new customer is signed. There’s a celebration, bells are ringing, and lots of recognition and rewards are handed out. Song’s like the Bruno Mars' “Uptown Funk” or “24k Magic” are blasting in the hallways and everyone feels as though the most popular person in school just asked them to prom.

Been there, done that: How much celebration is there when a long standing customer renews for the 6th straight year? Forget that they haven’t bid out the work in 3 years (no competition=greater margin) and they are already in your system (low cost of support, faster payment = greater cash flow).

It still only generates the excitement of listening to a has-been, one-hit wonder backup band like the frosted haired Vanilla Ice. Yes you’re at a concert, but it’s short and stale.

Now the reality: It costs 3-5 times more to acquire vs. retain a customer. Getting your current customers buying more of your stuff means it’s harder for them to leave you (increased switching cost) and current customers are much less likely to bid out your work (increasing profitability). Shouldn’t you evaluate how your how you are spending your sales and marketing dollars? If that sounds like your firm, don’t fret. Even carpools and Karaoke can be cool (thanks to James Corden). 

Opportunity: Evaluating your sales and marketing mix today re-prioritizing the balance of acquisition to account growth can make a huge difference in top and bottom line results. Now that’s something the entire leadership team will be thrilled to hear about. 

 

Just maybe then you’ll become the most popular person in the company (or at least the leadership team) and the CEO throws you the keys to the company G6, backstage passes, and VIP access to the after-party on the Bruno’s current tour. Now that’ll generate 24K Magic in the air!

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B2B Strategy Case Files: What If Both B2B and B2C?

When we wrote The B2B Executive Playbook, I had every hope it would forever change the hearts of minds of B2B enterprise.  Recently, however, my colleague and B2B strategy guru @seangeehan received the following email from “Still B2Cing," so I guess our work is not completely done.

 

Oh yes, we’ve seen this situation many times, and it is particularly pernicious as the challenge lies on two fronts:

  1. The overall enterprise has both B2B and B2C markets, such as a manufacturer who sells both direct to consumer and through a distribution network, as well as a massive organization like GE.  No one could possibly believe the executive who runs the GE lightbulb division has the same approach to growth and profitability as GE Aircraft. Unless the ELT understands the differences, most often we see the executives with the flashier high-profile B2C resumes take charge, and it is most often a disaster for the B2B side of the business. Hybrid organizations such as these are the most difficult to manage and grow unless you have the right playbook in place for the each side of the business.

  2. Ex-P&Gers who won't or can't adapt (or insert here alumni from most consumer packaged good companies). These proven, smart folks tend to struggle in their transition to most non-CPG companies, but especially when they move to B2B.  Most of them stick to what they know, apply the same go-to-market methodology/formula, and expect similar results.

The most common example of hybrids are financial institutions who have both consumer and commercial segments.  Because the hybrid situation is so prevalent there, we showcase Wells Fargo in The B2B Executive Playbook and how they address their hybrid organization, particularly the B2B side.  They have adapted specific B2B practices to address the commercial side of their business. Very smart.

Other industries that commonly have both B2B and B2C markets and offerings include hotel and hospitality, as well as computer and technology (Microsoft, Symantec, Dell).  Let’s take Dell for example. After successfully making B2C history selling PCs to consumers, as a growth strategy Dell began acquiring B2B firms (middleware, integrators, etc.) and building solutions for B2B customers (e.g., mainframes).  However, they did not change their go-to-market strategy and approached CIOs fairly similar to how they marketed to college students.  It didn’t work, and eventually Dell went private after stock tumbled. Our company, along with Dell’s biggest corporate customers, tried very hard to get them to understand that a different approach was needed. The CMO didn’t agree (ex-major CPG executive) despite our very “dynamic” conversations.  Suffice it to say, that CMO is no longer there, which is the unfortunate outcome we have seen for so many talented B2C executives. 

Facing similar challenges, both IBM and GE have all but left the B2C world, and one reason is they found it difficult to do both successfully for mostly the same reasons as other B2B/B2C hybrids.  Either you invest to execute different strategies, or you focus on one. There really isn’t a “one size fits all” solution.

Sean points to another notable example, Cisco. The B2B stalwart tried to get into the B2C market and failed miserably: $4-6B write down and complete shed or shut down of most of their B2C business. 

Sean focuses pretty hard on the topic of differing strategies for the two worlds in chapter two of his book.  The picture below provides a great reference point for where the approach differs between B2B v. B2C, and it primarily lies in go-to-market strategy: marketing, sales, and the biggest buzz-word today, innovation (R&D).

The one key element missing in this picture is service.  Service delivery may overlap or not, depending on industry and model.  The important point is you have to realize there may be key differences which need to be identified and addressed.  For more advice from Sean about this and other B2B strategies, check out his B2B Customer Strategies blog.

So take heart, Still B2Cing, there is hope!  Experience has taught us that if you can convince B2Cers they have landed in a different world AND they are curious and willing enough to learn and adapt to their environment, the path to sustainable, predictable, profitable growth (SPPG) becomes quite clear and straight-forward to navigate.  The missing link is found!

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Don't Let the Name Fool You: 6sense is Based in Math, Patented, and Grounded in Worldly Advice from Customers and Peers

According to 6sense CEO Amanda Kahlow, "Predicting buyers and the products they're interested in isn't magic—it's math. …And lots of behavioral, intent-related data."1 

The 6sense math is paying off for its customers. Shortly after a first round of funding in 2014, the company reported that one of its customers closed $300 million in new business as a result of the 6sense method. More recently, 6sense announced Netsuite has seen an 8x lift in conversions and $25 million in pipeline created since June of 2015, and Dell has witnessed a 2x increase in average opportunity size. Quoting Dell's Marketing Innovation Strategist, Enterprise Demand Generation Jeff Siegel, the Dell team likes to say, “If it's not 6sense, it's nonsense."3

The 6sense math is also paying off for 6sense. In July 2016, the company announced "breakthrough momentum with 4x annual recurring revenue (ARR) growth from this time last year and zero customer churn." (and their Customer Success team is still forming!)  Some of their other customers include ADP, Cisco, Cohesity, Dropbox, GE, HP, IBM, NetApp, Salesforce, and Xactly. Salesforce is also an investor, along with other lead investors Bain Capital, Battery Ventures, and Venrock. To date, over $36M has been invested.4  No hocus pocus indeed.

Born out of a consulting project with CISCO, Kahlow formed 6sense when she experienced an "Aha!" moment during a team meeting. Less than 10 years later, Kahlow continues to propel the company forward with two key moves which caught my attention.

First, to help secure and fuel future growth, 6sense shrewdly patented its method. Crediting Kahlow as the inventor, the USPTO patent covers a “machine implemented system and method of predicting future sales, leads and opportunities based on static data and/or intent buying behavioral data by connecting data from one or multiple sources.“ 

That's a mouthful. More simply put, the 6sense “network of intent data” looks at activity on thousands of B2B publisher sites, directories, blogs, communities, and forums, and combines that data with 6sense customer activity (weblogs, CRM, and marketing automation) as well as descriptive attribute data about the customer's products to make predictions about buyers. The real power of their method, according to Kahlow, is the descriptive information provided to their customers about what buyers want and where they are in their particular buying cycle, which is richer and more directional than a simple scoring of leads already in the funnel. By 6sense estimates, between 60% and 90% of B2B purchasing decisions happen before a customer makes it into a company’s sales and marketing systems. “That is, before that customer raises their hand and asks to be called."2 Those are the informed, motivated, and funded buyers 6sense finds for its customers.

According to the company press release, the patent "validates 6sense's unique formula and market leadership." So does the aforementioned results.

But what really caught my attention is the company's B2B Executive Playbook move to form a Customer Advisory Board (CAB). We have seen many companies like 6sense, whose founders lead the company to impressive growth (and several rounds of funding), lull themselves into complacency (and stagnating growth) with inside-only thinkingthe mindset that the collective brainpower of the internal team is the only store of knowledge and creativity needed for innovation and strategyUnderstandably, it is easy to rely only on the brilliance of the team who's got you there so far. Why change the formula? 

Unfortunately, inside-only thinking produces insular ideas and solutions which are not rooted in customer or market needs, especially as the leadership and product development teams get farther and farther away from direct interaction with customers, and more importantly, decision makers. They simply lose touch, and this thinking in a vacuum approach "contributes to the 60-70 percent product failure rate that continues to plague companies."5

6sense looks to avoid this pitfall with its CAB. Chartered to formalize the process to align product development with customer needs, Chief Strategy Officer Mark Dye, says their CAB allows 6sense to continue to innovate their platform and roadmap alongside the business goals of their most engaged customers.Taking customer engagement one step further, 6sense timed the launch of their CAB in conjuction with their recent Predictive Intelligence Summit, B2B ESP. With speakers from CISCO, Dell, and Forrester B2B sales and marketing industry analyst @lauraramos, 6sense seems to understand that the best results come from the thinking both inside and outside themselves. As CEO Kahlow notes, "We are thrilled to be working with some of the brightest and most innovative minds in B2B marketing and sales."With this approach coming straight from the top, I have a feeling she will keep this extended 6sense team on the path to sustainable, predictable, profitable growth.5

To my favorite skeptic's delight, I found a greeting card which proclaims, "Magic is everywhere, if you don't understand science."  Although I still like to believe in a little magic, I certainly appreciate when we can use math and science to create a sense of awe. Kahlow perhaps says it best, “The universe is a really incredible place if you put it to good use.”7 

That she is.

 

Resources.  Here are just some of the great resources I found to learn about 6sense:

1  http://www.fiercecmo.com/story/6sense-launches-tool-designed-pinpoint-b2b-buyer-intent/2014-08-06

2  https://techcrunch.com/2014/05/19/6sense-a-predictive-sales-intelligence-tool-exits-stealth-with-12m-led-by-battery-venrock/

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/6sense-announces-4x-growth-in-annual-recurring-revenue-300304671.html

4  https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/6sense

5  http://www.geehangroup.com/featured-publications

6  http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/6sense-establishes-customer-advisory-board-to-drive-customer-centric-innovation-300307442.html?tc=eml_cleartime

http://venturebeat.com/2014/05/29/hard-knock-life-for-this-family-led-to-3-ceos-4-startups/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thank You, Customer Success, for Uniting Marketing and Finance

“Over the years, I have come to dislike marketers,” a CFO at a $350M company recently told me.  “I have found they just aren’t good business people.”

I couldn’t help but smile and explain to him how his mind was about to change.

During the past several weeks, I've had the opportunity to work with my colleague Sean Geehan and the smart folks at Strikedeck to better understand the nuts and bolts of B2B marketing’s new priority, Customer Success.  Before this time, the Finance snob inside of me assumed “Customer Success” was just another slick label marketing had put on the tried and true function of customer service or the practice of simply following the immortal words of James Cash Penny, “The well-satisfied customer will bring the repeat sale that counts.”

I don’t know who gets credit for the name “Customer Success,” but my cohorts in Finance should scoff no longer.  Despite its glib name, disciplined Customer Success is serious business (over $50 million committed by the US venture community on solution providers), and it can make or break players in the Cloud Subscription XaaS Economy.  According to the Customer Success Association, “Across the SaaS B2B sector, the choice is becoming clear.  You either actively manage your customer relationships as strategic portfolio assets, or you effectively cede control over them and your company’s future to chance and/or the competition.” 

Whoa. Those kind of words place Customer Success at the crux of SaaS company strategy, so much so that the CS Association advises, “The ultimate strategic goal of the Customer Success role is sustainable corporate profitability and growth.  The method is to make your customers as profitable and productive as possible.”  With such an important strategic imperative, Marketing, who has to date been driving most Customer Success initiatives in XaaS companies, is now placed in an even more significant position.  I wonder if these marketers realize their elevated status (most think they are still low men and women on the corporate totem pole), or that to take advantage of it, they get to think again about a group to whom they can't help but feel a gravitational pull: Users.

"The fate of your B2B company rests in the hands of a few people," our team has said for years about the connection between executive decision makers and B2B strategy.  While this is still extremely true, in the SaaS model, users are taking back some of the attention because the adoption and use of their seat licenses have become a significant factor in determining the economic value borne by the purchase of SaaS technologies.  And, more importantly, it has become the onus of sellers and their technology to make sure users adopt and use it.  As such, a subscription based business is probably the closest a B2B organization has been to needing to consider users and their happiness strategically in quite some time. Furthermore, the importance of keeping user cheeks happily in license seats requires Marketing and Customer Success to plan, coordinate, monitor, and possibly even design most of the major functions of service delivery.

As one example, let’s look at one of the primary drivers of adoption and use: training.  In the not-so old days as a user, it was his responsibility to learn and adapt to whatever technology the decision makers several levels above his pay grade chose to purchase and install (I am reminded of a major software conversion required at a major US bank because the CEOs at the two companies golfed together).  To learn the new system, users might get to attend a class or benefit from hands-on training, but many times it came in the form of a set of very large binders through which time had to be found to dig and find answers.  Online training later offered a more efficient Q&A search tool, but again, the content was fairly static (and boring) and nowhere near our modern day definition of “interactive.”  All in all, learning the new system on which a user performed his job was really his responsibility, if he wanted to perform well.  The technology wasn’t going anywhere, or at least until when GAAP said it could.

Today, learning the system is no longer altogether the user’s responsibility.  Users expect the technology either to be intuitive enough so that even a caveman could use it, or to teach them with on-demand “Live Chat” training and quick answers to their questions in forums and chat rooms.  In fact, when I talk to millennials about their jobs, they expect to be taught how and when they want to learn.  If they don’t feel competent quickly enough - or they just don’t like the technology - they just won’t adopt and proceed to influence a move to an alternative.  It’s “There's another app for that” mentality. There is always another app or similar technology that can do the job just as well, but maybe it has better chat rooms with more clever emojis.  When their employers see adoption is low, they can scrap the technology by unsubscribing and moving their data elsewhere.  Gone are the capital expenditures that had to be amortized and force users to use or lose.

The Technology Marketing and Sales research and services company ITMSA recently held its annual Marketing Leadership Forum which included a panel discussion of leaders from Amdocs, Cisco, and Oracle on customer experience and customer success and the role marketing must take in both functions.  In his summary of the session, ITMSA President CEO Dave Munn notes the perspective of Steve Pinedo, vice president, Oracle Global Cloud Customer Success, “the shift to the cloud is driving dramatic changes in customer expectations for technology based solutions, with new demands for immediate and frictionless support and value at every stage of the relationship.  From a marketing perspective, this puts customer success front and center, and makes reducing customer churn the number one KPI.”

Customer Churn.  This is where the finance nerd inside me really takes notice.  As Sean wrote in his recent post "Customer Success: Applying Science to the Art of Customer Engagement," churn (the rate at which customers leave) is the metric which could finally give marketing and customer engagement a measurement by which these efforts have a benchmark, and benchmarks mean funding and more importantly, credibility and stature with The ELT. 

Armed with churn rates, Marketing may now have the words Finance has longed to hear.  Whenever Sean and I speak to a group of CFOs or financial leaders, we remind them of their right to demand ROI on the investments they make in marketing.  Unfortunately, their marketing peers have struggled to find an irrefutable number by which they can say, “Our programs elevated our position to Leader in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant,” or even, “Our efforts contributed to raising our market cap.”  The churn rate statistic erases this previous shortcoming as the metric becomes more heavily weighted in technology evaluations and company valuations.  Marketing leaders can now say, “Our Customer Success Program, with its new onboarding engagement plan, has lowered our churn rate and brought us a new round of venture funding.”  With this type of measurable contribution to the organization’s growth, how can a CEO or CFO not take notice?

Marketing has an excuse no longer to shy away from numbers and figures, and they should embrace this opportunity to take ownership of measuring, monitoring, reporting, and hopefully bragging about their contribution to low churn. This might be an overstatement, or even blasphemy, but marketing finally has a reason to embrace at least one statistic.  And they get to talk about user decision making behavior again.  Win-Win!

I end here by sharing a graphic I found on the Customer Success Association website because I think it effectively ties together the relationship between Customer Success, retention, and profitable growth.  It's a picture to rally around and unify all the corporate languages.

 

 

 

 

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Customer Success: Applying Science to the Art of Customer Engagement

Over ten years ago, our team built a model to describe what we believe is the core of B2B sustainable growth. Called the “Customer Engagement Lifecycle,” it depicts the importance of active, meaningful engagement with your customers and why you cannot realize profitable growth without it.  Market leading companies such as Oracle, AmerisourceBergen and HCL have long understood this principle, and their return to investors shows it.

Others have not been so easily convinced, and I have always scratched my head wondering why stock charts and sales figures have not provided sufficient proof.  Perhaps “end results” metrics such as these do not provide the short term measurements needed to guide the daily, monthly, and quarterly activities that lead to profitable growth.

Enter Customer Success, the professional function which is becoming increasingly critical to companies in the subscription economy.  Unlike Marketing, who historically has been criticized for not applying enough math to its art in order to demonstrate returns, the basic function of Customer Success is measured by a key metric, churn rate.  And since churn can be measured almost daily, it is a number that can galvanize the efforts of an entire organization.

In a recent interview in the Huffington Post, Shreesha Ramdas, CEO of Customer Success Automation platform Strikedeck, explains that Customer Success has quickly become essential for companies to retain and expand their customer accounts, especially those in SaaS and subscription businesses because they feel the pinch of churn much more than other type of business. According to Ramdas, “There is pressure on public companies utilizing a subscription model to report on churn, since venture capital firms give high weightage to churn rates. As such, Customer Success has become equal in importance to Sales, Marketing, Engineering, and Product teams within SaaS companies.

“Today many companies use Customer Success as a competitive differentiator and lever for growth.  The importance of Customer Success can be understood by looking at four statistics:

  1. There are currently more than 200,000 jobs open for CS.
  2. Google search traffic volume for Customer Success has tripled in last five years.
  3. More than $150M in investment has gone into the industry.
  4. There are now more than 500 new meetups, conferences, and events on this topic.

Making Customer Success a priority is no longer an option, but rather an imperative.”

To me, this means customer engagement, which is a key driver to Customer Success, now has a metric to which CXOs must pay attention and invest.  Successful customers are often the ones willing to proactively endorse your company and product to the world.  If you sustain long-term relationships with customers, your business will be able to use that revenue to expand and improve your offerings, resulting in more sales with higher margin.  In one of our previous blog posts, 3 Keys to Retaining and Growing B2B Revenue, we discussed how 80% of most companies’ revenue comes from 20% of their established customers.  By that measurement, losing just 5% of your customer base to churn can potentially sink an organization. The solution for churn is Customer Success, the post-sales retention team who ensures engagement and encourages advocacy.

Given the expansion of the Customer Success field in the past five years, toolsets to help manage its operations (and of course measure and monitor churn) have become extremely prevalent.  Forrester has called Customer Success a Hot New Software Category, and points to the growth of the subscription economy as the catalyst. Vendors such as Amity, Bluenose, Gainsight, Natero, and Ramdas’ Strikedeck all provide software in this space to operationalize the way customer accounts are managed in order to “preserve revenue, expand revenue, and boost customer advocacy.”

Last week, we witnessed first-hand the Strikedeck platform bring together customer engagement and advocacy to define, enable, monitor, and optimize Customer Success.  Impressed by the approach they have taken, we believe that tools like Strikedeck will be required by almost every company, be it a SaaS, Subscription, eCommerce, Service, or even non-software companies.  Simply measuring happiness using customer surveys has become passé.  Strikedeck’s ability to collect data on customer happiness from a variety of sources, including drops in product usage, increases in support ticket volume, and degrading sentiment in customer communications, is amazingly simple, yet innovative.  

What is most powerful about the Strikedeck platform, however, is its ability to provide not only predictions on causes of potential churn in a given organization, but also guidance on actions to prevent it from occurring, such as additional user training, enhancing the skills of support staff, and even how to proactively engage with all levels of the customer base.  Automation is important for scaling customer engagement, but their tools such as workflows and playbooks help standardize best practices and optimize economic value for customers.

Even further, this use of predictive analytics can help organizations proactively retain and grow its current customers by using the toolset to understand what drives their satisfaction.  In his recent article on CMS Wire, Ramdas summarizes the role platforms like Strikedeck play, “The game is no longer a race to acquire new customers, but rather to hone in on retention and upsells.  What can companies do to prevent churn, ensure renewals and drive upsells? The first step is to know which customers are likely to churn, and which ones are likely to renew and/or expand.  This sets the stage for predictive analytics to become the hero.”

For over 15 years, our team has delivered services around customer engagement, from conducting assessments to planning and delivering the initiatives that lead to sustainable, profitable growth.  I am excited to see how the profession of Customer Success management applies the science necessary to give customer engagement the credibility and funding it deserves.  

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3 Keys to Retaining and Growing B2B Revenue

In the B2B World, 80% of your revenue comes from 20% of your customers. The reality is that losing just 5% of those customers could potentially sink your organization. So in this age of big data and rapidly evolving technology, what are the best ways to retain and ultimately grow those customers?

B2B companies must meaningfully engage with their customers to evolve loyalty into advocacy, and engagement begins with a relationship.  Through our work with over 50 leading B2B companies, we have found time again the following three key relationship building practices lay the foundation for account retention and growth:

1.    Educate, Don't Sell.  B2B relationships start with education, not a sales pitch. Educate yourself on your customer's industry, market, challenges, and opportunities, and then demonstrate how you can show them a path forward.  Providing relevant content through discussions and forums, blog posts and articles, and research is an excellent way to establish your credibility and begin the customer loyalty to advocacy journey.

2.    Customer Advisory Boards create a platform where you can leverage happy customers and drive innovation through customer co-design and collaboration. The end result is overall market alignment in offerings, communications, and strategy.

3.    Executive Summits bring key decision-makers together to preview a strategy, product, or market innovation. Through these focused exchanges, customers become first-to-know, first-to-buy, and first to advocate your solution in the marketplace.

Structured, proven, and dynamic educational forums, customer advisory boards, and executive summits help organizations develop a deep understanding of market conditions while building the rapport with key executives. This powerful formula turns customers into true advocates and is the best recipe for retaining and growing your top customers.

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Beware of the Invisible 2x4 to the Head

The acceleration of change continues to shift gears, from the speed of sound to that of light. And it’s impacting more than the just the hot topics of today, such as the Internet of Things and Big Data, as well as the hot disruptive organizations leveraging technology, like Uber and Tesla.

Did you ever imagine that transparent wood would become a reality?  Apparently a team of scientists at Sweden’s Wallenberg Wood Science Center sure did, and it’s no longer just the stuff of science fiction.

While, for some reason, I wasn’t moved to digest the full official scientific paper “Optically Transparent Wood from a Nano-porous Cellulosic Template: Combining Functional and Structural Performance,“ simply reading the WSJ summary was enough for me to recognize yet another case of how combinations and convergences of seemingly unrelated scientific advances could upend both longstanding and new markets. For instance, this new wood contains properties that can trap light for extended periods of time which would provide a remarkably light-weight and efficient solar panel, much more so than materials currently used by commercial manufacturers.

What’s more, this “transparent” wood is actually stronger than wood’s natural composition. It could revolutionize all areas of construction, energy, and any other industry which uses or produces wood, including logging, timber, and lumber. So I suppose this new material, a technology I never imagined could be on the drawing board, could even disrupt the metaphor of living in glass houses. Now that’ll give @claychristensen something to think about (the disruption of metaphors).

I’d now like to request the folks at Wallenberg make the Harry Potter invisibility cloak a reality.

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How to Connect B2B Buyer Needs with Your Company’s Solutions

Much has been written about the differences between the B2B and B2C buying process.  At its crux, the key difference lies in the amount of research, exploration, validation, concurrence, and approval necessary for B2B purchases due to the typically large investment they require.  All of this activity extends the length and complexity of the buying process considerably as B2B buyers take the time and diligence needed to make absolutely certain the product or service will solve present and future needs.  The success of B2B sellers, therefore, rests in their ability to assist and guide decision makers through each phase of this multifaceted process.

I recently read an article that showcases perfectly the Top 7 Attributes of B2B sellers, as identified by 700 B2B buyers who collectively represent $3.1 billion in annual purchases.  According to these influential decision makers, top B2B sellers:

  1. Educate me with new ideas or perspectives
  2. Collaborate with me
  3. Persuade me that my company would achieve results
  4. Listen to me
  5. Understand my needs
  6. Help me avoid potential pitfalls
  7. Craft a compelling solution

 

With the Top 7 Attributes clearly identified by those who are living what you are sellingTM, B2B sellers must now consistently demonstrate them so decision makers recognize and value them.  Sales training and personal development can improve the individual acumen and skill in a B2B sales organization; however, this is just a start.  Institutionally, B2B organizations must also gain a more intimate understanding of the world in which their customers and prospects live.  The most effective route to gain this comprehensive view begins with an active Customer Advisory Board (CAB).

The most widely-known benefit of a well structured Customer Advisory Board is the platform it provides to help executives build relationships with key stakeholders, including customers, internal constituencies, suppliers, wholesalers, distributors, alliances, and partners.  A successful CAB is unequivocally proven to turn customers into true advocates

while helping organizations retain and increase revenue opportunities.  These results are well-documented by the companies who have achieved them.

When structured correctly, however, a CAB also helps organizations develop an unprecedentedly deep understanding of market conditions, key drivers of the industry, and how their customers are impacted by and react to them.  Armed with this insight (knowledge which cannot be learned from reading blogs, articles, or other online content), B2B sellers can now better demonstrate the Top 7 Attributes by educating, collaborating, understanding, helping, and listening to decision makers at each point of the buying process with more immediate relevance.  Therefore, the insight learned through a Customer Advisory Board enables B2B organizations to more effectively connect their solutions to buyer needs and craft solutions that are both compelling and invaluable to the decision maker.

If your organization currently operates an active Customer Advisory Board today, be sure you are developing the Top 7 Attributes by discussing key topics of their business and industry with them.  If your organization does not currently operate a CAB, you might be losing out to those who do.

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3 Keys to Retaining and Growing B2B Revenue

In the B2B World, 80% of your revenue comes from 20% of your customers. The reality is that losing just 5% of those customers could potentially sink your organization. So in this age of big data and rapidly evolving technology, what are the best ways to retain and ultimately grow those customers?

B2B companies must meaningfully engage with their customers to evolve loyalty into advocacy, and engagement begins with a relationship.  Through our work with over 50 leading B2B companies, we have found time again the following three key relationship building practices lay the foundation for account retention and growth:

1.    Educate, Don't Sell.  B2B relationships start with education, not a sales pitch. Educate yourself on your customer's industry, market, challenges, and opportunities, and then demonstrate how you can show them a path forward.  Providing relevant content through discussions and forums, blog posts and articles, and research is an excellent way to establish your credibility and begin the customer loyalty to advocacy journey.

2.    Customer Advisory Boards create a platform where you can leverage happy customers and drive innovation through customer co-design and collaboration. The end result is overall market alignment in offerings, communications, and strategy.

3.    Executive Summits bring key decision-makers together to preview a strategy, product, or market innovation. Through these focused exchanges, customers become first-to-know, first-to-buy, and first to advocate your solution in the marketplace.

Structured, proven, and dynamic educational forums, customer advisory boards, and executive summits help organizations develop a deep understanding of market conditions while building the rapport with key executives. This powerful formula turns customers into true advocates and is the best recipe for retaining and growing your top customers.

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Branding and Positioning in the B2B World

One of the biggest differences between B2B and B2C is branding or positioning your company.  Many extremely successful marketing leaders in B2C have a difficult time making the much needed adjustments to be successful.  In my book, The B2B Executive Playbook, I referred to Michael Jordan’s dominance in basketball and being labeled “World’s Greatest Athlete.”  But, the world’s greatest athlete failed miserably when he tried professional baseball.

He may still be the greatest athlete, but he needed to apply his skills much differently to be successful in baseball.  What he also lacked was experience in baseball.  I’ve witnessed dozens of successful B2C marketing executives who have been met with the same results as Jordan did when they crossed over to B2B marketing. 

Commonly, I run into high-profile executives much like the one I worked with who came over from a major soft drink company.  He is a great individual.  He amassed all kinds of accolades and had great success at his former company as a brand leader of its flagship product. His honors included national advertising and marketing awards as well as several industry awards.  The financials were incredible too…market share gains, profitable growth, etc.  Then he jumped to a B2B and became the CMO in an industry which he had no experience.  The CEO was so excited to land him and even made him over product development as well.  He applied the B2C formula that made him a huge success at his old company.

Well, his new company had about 10,000 customers, but their top 50 customers were 50% and the top 200 were around 75% of the revenue of this $5 billion company.   He didn’t fully understand the impact of this and violated nearly every B2B success principle outlined in the book.  Most of what he did was in the name of branding, (new look, logo, tagline, positioning, etc.).  He committed millions to what made him wildly successful at his B2C Company…updated look and feel of logo, tagline, entertainment/event sponsorship and a broad ad campaign. 

The results were brutal:  sales went down, market share slid, margins tumbled, and because he also oversaw and shifted R&D dollars to marketing, their product started falling behind because they weren’t reinvesting like the competition.  In addition, many of their top customers were leaving them, signing exclusive long-term deals with the competition…never to return.  The only thing that collapsed more than the financial results during his tenure was the company morale. 

That CMO lasted three years. He has been gone for about three years now, and they still haven’t recovered from the damage that the B2C approaches caused to this great B2B Company.  It was like wearing a basketball uniform to a football game.  It was ugly. 

While there is no universal agreement on the definition of brand, the core is simply how the market views your company - your reputation.  It includes aspects like what your firm is known for, where the market believes you have value or have credibility, and your company’s personality and culture.

In the B2C world, the brand position is achieved much differently.  Let’s take the world’s most valuable brand, Coke.  I drink more Diet Cokes than I do anything else.  I have it stocked in my home fridge, in my work fridge and order it every lunch, etc…

The image of the Coke brand, for me as the customer, is contained to the advertising, the package design, others’ perceptions and my experience.  Think about it. Even if the package is damaged, in my head I assume my local grocer dropped it while putting it out on the shelf.  If it tastes bad when I order it at a restaurant, I put it on the restaurant for not have the right mix (syrup and water).  I actually do not know a single person who works for Coke! My touch points and interactions with Coke, as well as all my other brand goods, are similar to this (Crest, Nike, Sony, Tommy Bahama).

All of these B2C companies invest millions into understanding the various personas, segments, demographics, geographical nuances, etc. to determine how to position and manage these brands.  The same is true about all respected B2C CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) brands.

There are two additional elements in the other major B2C category: Retailers.  For  retailers such as Starbucks, Disney, McDonalds, Target and others, the brand is also impacted by the store (look, experience, etc.) and the people (knowledge, culture, interactions, etc.).

In the B2B world, the brand position is also established with all of the above-mentioned brand-building components.  The difference, however, is the priority and weighting these elements are assigned, as well as the impact that a very few customers can have.  And while it’s only one element, that impact can be the difference between Branding Nirvana and losing your job (CMOs have the shortest tenure of all C-level positions and functions). 

Why are the customers more important in branding a B2B?

Because in the B2B world, the people you are selling to are industry veterans and most are also subject matter experts.  Simply put, they are living what you are selling.  They live and breathe in the industry you are supplying.  When GE Aviation sells jet engines to Boeing, the people that are evaluating and making the decision are engineers that have been in the Aviation industry for 15-25 years on average.  When Harris Broadcast sells content distribution solutions to Disney, the people evaluating and making the decisions are have 15-10+ years in the media industry.  The expertise, level of complexity, layers of customer contacts and overall sophistication of the prospect is exponentially different.    

In the B2C world, in a blind taste, 90% of the population can’t tell a $10 bottle of wine from a $100 bottle.  Nor can they tell the difference from free tap water and a $5 bottled water of Fiji.   But a sophisticated and highly emotional marketing and branding program can yield premium dollars for something which the buyer honestly can’t tell the difference. 

In the B2B world, it’s just the opposite.  While they may not know your specific offering, they usually know their industry better than those who supply it and how they will uniquely apply your product, solution or service.  They will scrutinize, compare, benchmark, test, and go to third parties and associations for references and validation. 

Think about the CIO who has worked in the financial services industry for 22 years. If you have IT solutions to serve this market, your company better know his needs, priorities, his environment and requirements…and most of all, you better have peers (fellow CIOs) he can talk to about working with your firm.  If you don’t have this, a well-designed logo, powerful tagline, slick campaign, elaborate brochure or PPT presentation will not overcome the lack of credibility to support a premium position.  Too much is at risk in his world: security of the bank assets, privacy issues, government compliance, the customer experience and the CIO’s reputation and career.   In fact, in a recent meeting, CIOs rated peer input as the #1 credible and trusted source for supplier selection.

In the B2B world, the most effective way to build or reposition a strong credible brand is through your current customers.  It’s how they describe their experience working with your company; it’s what they say you successfully delivered to them (or fell short of).  And the higher level they are, they more impact they will have.

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