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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Three Sure Fire Ways to Guarantee Customer Advisory Board Success

Are you considering starting a Customer Advisory Board (CAB), or do you have one in place and are wondering how to ensure continued success? We've executed hundreds of CAB meetings, and while there are many keys to success, when someone asks me what makes a CAB program successful, I respond with these three important elements:

  1. The right people in the room
  2. Relevant content
  3. Follow-up communication

 

The Right People in the Room ... on Both Sides

Based on your CAB strategy, make sure the customers you invite are able to help you think through key issues and areas of your business, and answer the critical questions you will pose to them that will help drive your strategy, future services and/or product direction. People who can answer these questions are typically the decision-makers and high-level influencers, and you want to hear their combined perspectives. Also, attendees from your organization should be made up of the leadership team and/or P&L owners, plus functional leaders in Marketing, Sales, Development, Finance, and Strategy. Their only requirements are to be good listeners, ask probing or clarifying questions and never, ever fall into "selling" mode.

 

Relevant Content ... and Listening

Put an agenda together that includes topics of interest to your customers as well as to your internal team. What are customers' market needs and aspirations? Identify gaps; understand where they believe your organization may be able to help. What does your internal team need feedback, guidance, and input on - strategy, marketing, sales, product? Use this forum to listen and validate your team's perspectives on how they view customer needs. Leverage your time together to share ideas and learn from each other.

 

Follow-up Communication ... and Act

The final element to ensure CAB success is to follow-up with your advisory board members after the meeting. Based on their feedback, determine with your executive team what actions to take, who will be accountable, and the timing to complete. Let your CAB members know you've taken their feedback seriously by developing an action plan and sharing it with them. See another blog I wrote on this topic: Take Action After Your CAB Meeting.

 

 

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Social Media’s Role in Identifying and Acquiring Customers

 

If you are a B2B or a B2C organization, your next potential client is most likely searching on Google right now for information regarding your services. That might be a pretty scary statement to read if you don’t have an online presence other than a website. Getting found on the Internet is no longer limited to Google Ads or maintaining a website. In order to have a strong online presence, every business large or small must utilize social media.

 

The first step in Building Customer Advocacy through Social Media begins with both Marketing and Sales engaging with customers in Social Media Channels.

·      Marketing Role: Identify and engage in discussions regarding product/application solutions to potential/target clients via LinkedIn discussion groups, online forums and Twitter# tags

·      Sales Role: Networking among peers of target industries to identify potential/target clients

Social Media has quickly jumped to one of the top ways to identify, acquire new and keep existing clients. A recent survey by Dimensional Research reported that 90% of Customers said their buying decisions were influenced by online reviews from social media: Twitter, FaceBook, Yelp and Company Sites. This means Marketing and Sales need to work together on the 4 Functions of Social Media in order to identify new clients and Acquire new customers.

 

 

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Is the Revenue Decline at Oracle a Blip or a Sign of Major Industry Shift?

What’s happening at Oracle isn’t isolated.  It is a symptom of what looms largely ahead for the information technology industry.

According to the Wall Street Journal's Don Clark and Steve D. Jones in WSJ's CIO Journal, Oracle blames its sales force for the decrease in sales…WOW!  But, it’s true. Oracle, and the other technology companies who have been kicking everyone else around, have made their bread and butter selling to IT leaders.  These IT leaders are also by definition, "leaders in IT."  As buyers, they understand and can translate the bits and bytes of technology offerings. They make the final purchase decisions and oversee implementation and support.  They also get to be their own judge and jury by defining their own success criteria, which are typically the factors most relevant to IT (uptime, response rates, etc.).

With technology solutions migrating from in-house applications which are purchased and managed by the IT department, to cloud and other delivery platforms outside the data center, purchase and evaluation decisions are being made by the business unit leaders the IT leaders have traditionally supported.  And also by definition, "leaders in business" have a completely different way of analyzing, managing, and buying the services that support their business.  My favorite quote so far which highlights the difference between IT and the new untraditional buyers of technology comes from Michael Hickins, the Editor of The Wall Street Journal's Morning Download, “Indeed, many of them are heads of marketing who used a credit card to pay for cloud based marketing automation or reputation management applications."  According to Nucleus Research Inc. analyst Rebecca Wettemann, "Among that customer set, 'there’s some trepidation' about dealing with Oracle."  Again, WOW!

Change of this magnitude and pace may rewrite the entire IT ecosystem and power structure.  Oracle out, Workday in?  Not yet sure where to place the bets, but the opportunity couldn’t be bigger for those who can translate the facts and figures of technology services into a vision that inspires the hearts, souls, and ROI targets of business (versus IT) buyers.  As such, I will be sure to use my AMEX to pay for our new IT system and make sure I get all my Delta Frequent Flier miles too.

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Why a Customer Advisory Board is NOT the Same as a Focus Group

With the myriad customer engagement programs so popular today, Customer Advisory Boards (CABs) and Focus Groups often get “bucketed” together, yet they have clear and very different objectives.

Here's a "quick reference" chart detailing some of the key differences: 

Participant Attributes

The diagram below shows the core attributes of participants for CABs and Focus Groups, and another reason why these two programs are so different.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sample Discussion Topics

And finally, here are some sample topics most common among the two initiatives.

Customer Advisory Board

  • Strategy
  • Direction of industry
  • Organization's goals/objectives to develop alignment
  • Discussions on: what services or offerings are missing; pricing/business models; overall product roadmaps; go-to-market programs (sales, marketing); account management

Focus Group

  • Reaction to logo/tagline
  • Emotional state (look and feel)
  • Usability study
  • Behavioral patterns/processes
  • Product feature/functionality

As you plan your customer engagement programs for 2013, be sure to target the right program format for the input you are seeking.  If you want to gain a deeper understanding of your customers' business, build closer executive relationships, and gain strategic mid- to long-term market insight, a Customer Advisory Board is the answer.  If on the other hand, you need qualitative short-term feedback on a product or branding message; or opinions/perceptions on a concept, service, packaging, etc., then a Focus Group is the right program.

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Top 3 B2B Marketing Challenges from 2012

The end of the year always sparks a time of reflection, while the beginning of the year represents a new journey. The three articles below are my top picks for Marketing's biggest challenges faced in 2012 and a playbook that contains the best strategy to face these issues while providing the biggest opportunities for all B2B CMO's in 2013. 

Marketing’s Broken Foundation Measurement

Data is the foundation for analytics. Analytics is the foundation for marketing driven by data and insights.

Think Like a CFO to Gain C-Suite Credibility

Information technology is about driving business results through revenue growth, leveraging economies of scale, and optimizing business decisions through analytics.

Have we Lost the C Suite by Measuring the Wrong Things?

If the latest surveys are to be believed, B2B marketing is on the verge of a “crisis of confidence” within the C suite.

The B2B Executive Playbook

The B2B Executive Playbook describes four steps that can simplify strategic planning, focus product development and sales and marketing efforts, and, most importantly, create a clear path to market leadership.  When implemented properly, it will also add sustainability and predictability to a B2B company’s top and bottom lines. 

 

 

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How a Customer Advisory Board Can Help You Prepare for 2013

A Customer Advisory Board (CAB) is a high-return, high-profile event that can heavily influence your company's competitive standing. A successful CAB provides a powerful format that turns customers into true advocates and provides executives with the information needed to align customer programs with company strategy. A formal Customer Advisory Board should be in your marketing and strategic arsenal for 2013.

A well structured Customer Advisory Board is a proven and dynamic program that helps executives and decision makers develop a deep understanding of market conditions while simultaneously building relationships with key customers. A CAB is the perfect avenue for B2B Companies that have more than 60% of their sales with their top customers to receive relevant feedback that can be used in strategic business planning. A Customer Advisory Board not only helps your organization retain your most profitable customers, a CAB will help increase revenue opportunities within your customer base.

A Customer Advisory Board creates a platform where you can leverage happy customers and drive innovation through customer co-design and collaboration. The end result is an overall market alignment in offerings, communications and strategy that will prepare your organization for profitability in 2013 and beyond.

 

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