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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Customer Advisory Boards - An Industry Agnostic Solution

In our daily lives, we seek solutions from experts in the right industry.  Whether it's a company providing goods and services to consumers (B2C), or a business looking to partner with another business (B2B), providing the right solutions + creating customer retention = success.  As B2B and B2C organizations continually strive to improve customer retention and build customer loyalty, there is one solution across any company in any industry that can help do just that -- a Customer Advisory Board.

I recently read an article by a financial planner, Josh Patrick, CFP, and founding principal of Stage 2 Planning Partners. It's a great example of how industry agnostic CABs are, and I fully support his advice on the right way to build and maintain a CAB.

One of the benefits Josh outlines is 'synergy of the group.'  How true!  As CAB members share ideas and best practices, they not only learn from one another, they build on each other's ideas to help you.  And that leads to another benefit - by embedding their feedback into your company's new offerings and services, the bond between you and your members grows even stronger over time.  Members become loyal advocates and are willing to speak on your behalf, such as participating with you at an event and/or serving as a reference.

Our client base spans many industries from banking & financial services to healthcare to technology to media & entertainment.  I've seen first hand that regardless of the industry, the benefits of a Customer Advisory Board (CAB) program are many:

  • An opportunity to listen to the priorities and challenges of your most important customers.

  • Advice, guidance and outside-in thinking to help drive your organization's strategic direction.

  • A better understanding of market trends from your customers' point of view.

  • An ongoing initiative that helps your executive team make decisions and allocate resources with confidence and clarity.

  • Greater alignment of solutions to the market.

  • Relationship building opportunities.

The result?  Enhanced relationships with customer decision makers, loyal advocates and a greater understanding of the market you serve.

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3 Keys to Retaining B2B Customers in 2014

 

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 those customers? The key is to meaningfully engage with your customers to evolve from loyalty to advocacy.

Engagement begins with a relationship.

1.    B2B relationships start with education, not a sales pitch. Providing relevant content or discussions in social media forums, through blogs posts or articles, and research is an excellent way to 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 isan 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 social media programs, customer advisory boards and summits help organizations develop a deep understanding of market conditions while building the rapport with key executives that leads to increased opportunities. This powerful format turns customers into true advocates and is the best recipe for retaining your top customers.

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On-Line CABs Great for Users, Limited for Executives

Recently, a great question surfaced on LinkedIn about CABs: “Has anyone here implemented a successful online CAB group? If yes, how successful has it been?”

I find that online CABs can work well in certain areas, but have limited effectiveness in others.  For instance, with user groups and focus groups where you’re seeking incremental insight, online collaboration can be a great tool for getting input on feature/functionality or refining a product/service. 

On the other hand, if your CAB is more strategic in nature, and your members are the level of Senior Director or above, a face-to-face environment is more appropriate.  When seeking advice on your strategic direction, the conversations progress into deeper discussions – about business challenges and understanding your customers’ priorities, industry trends and sharing of market insights.  Face-to-face engagements build a certain degree of trust and provide a safe environment for sharing and networking, which we find results in a genuine “bonding” of the group.  Members appreciate the professional accomplishments and relish the personal relationships they develop.  Council meetings feel like “reunions” and customer members become advocates. 

Having said this, once these types of relationships and trust are built in a face to face meeting, online meetings can be effective supplement for small working groups between the face-to-face engagements. 

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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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Why is Customer Advocacy Necessary for B2B Businesses?

The need for customer advocacy and its tremendous potential in business success is only recently being realized by businesses across the globe. In a nut shell, by integrating Customer Advocacy into their long-term strategic goals, businesses can enjoy higher levels of customer satisfaction, customer retention, and profitability.

What is Customer Advocacy?

Customer advocacy is a process that has essentially originated from customer services. The aim of customer advocacy is to focus on the various things that customers are most interested in, or that the business thinks are of immense appeal to them. Customer advocacy essentially redirects the strategic focus of the underlying culture of the business so that it becomes more customer-oriented or customer friendly when devising its marketing techniques and customer service agenda.

The Role of Customer Advocates

A customer advocate essentially serves as a liaison between the business and the customer where they focus their efforts on facilitating both the sides. A successful and effective customer advocacy business model is usually one that covers all facets related to customer contact. This can include products, sales, services and complaints. As a result, customer advobookcates are trained in a myriad of cross-functional roles so that they are well-equipped to assist valuable customers in all areas of the business.

Evolving Satisfied Customers to Advocates

The B2B Executive Playbook is a tremendous resource that discusses case studies of several B2B organizations that have successfully evolved satisfied customers to advocates through customer programs such as: Customer Advisory Boards, Executive Sponsor Programs, and Executive Summits to achieve sustainable, predictable and profitable growth.

 

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Want to Improve Customer Engagement? Get Personal!

Have you ever read something that rubbed you the wrong way, but you couldn’t quite figure out why? That happened to me earlier this week when I came across a blog post on the Forbes CIO Network,  Written by John Dillon, CEO of Engine Yard, the premise is that “it’s time for business leaders to take a closer look at new opportunities for improving customer engagement…” and that “information technology is a great place to start.”

I read it four days ago and it has been gnawing at me ever since! I agree and I disagree. Something about it just didn’t sit right with me! My initial reaction was “what a bunch of bologna. You can’t improve customer “engagement” via the cloud!” Or could you?

So I did a little research. I explored the idea of customer engagement. I looked up the definition. I re-discovered a couple of articles I had previously read on the subject. I came to the conclusion that my struggle with this article was not so much the content, but the terminology Dillon uses. He uses the term “customer engagement” the way I use “customer experience.” In my mind, “customer engagement” implies a personal relationship, as in “engaged” to be married.  In my mind, “personal” and “cloud” simply do not go together, which is why I struggled so much with his article. So I read the article again and replaced the word “engagement” with “experience” and “connection.” It made much more sense to me that way, and I now understand what Dillon was saying.

In my mind, the only way to improve customer engagement is to get personal! Why is that so hard to understand!? In a 2010  survey of how marketers view their customer engagement strategies,  Forbes found the following:

  • 97% of survey respondents said their companies viewed the issue of engagement as very (67%) or somewhat (30%) important.
  • 86% said engagement is part of the ongoing conversation between marketing and top corporate leadership.
  • Marketers know that engagement is intrinsically linked to customer loyalty and retention.
  • 72% want repeat purchase behavior
  • 69% want customer advocates
  • 95% want to optimize their engagement with customers

But… they are unclear about how to accomplish it. Many have no specific strategy. 33% rated their current efforts as just fair or poor. Surprising, when asked to assess their various marketing tactics in terms of how deeply they engage customers, 48% of the marketers surveyed indicated that in-person and permission-based methods had the highest engagement. But they still don’t know how to foster deeper engagement? I don’t get it. It seems like a no-brainer to me!

The issue of engagement is important! So, if you want to improve customer engagement, get personal! The cloud and social media are great ways to communicate with your customers and to improve the customer experience, but they are impersonal. To really “engage” with your customers, you need to develop a personal relationship. Reach out to them on a personal level. Get to know them. Get personal!  

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Accelerate Sales in a Decelerating Economy

In today’s economy factors like increasingly shrinking budgets, fading staff and an incredible rise in competition for even the most minor of sales have created the need to make use of opportunities and resources as thoroughly as possible. In a nutshell, most companies have to find a plausible way to produce an increased number of better qualified leads with half the amount of people and a lot lesser resources than the number actually required.

How will you Accelerate your Sales?

With the threat of downsizing looming around the heads of employees in any basic firm, the whole concept of ‘working smarter’ has become the lifeblood and sustenance of employees in a work place, given the demand of efficiency despite the sparse budget and abysmal headcount.

What are the best tips for Accelerating Sales

There are some ways in which you can efficiently cause accelerating sales which benefit your company and its employees. These include Customer Advisory Boards or Councils and Executive Summits

Customer Advisory Boards (CAB) or Counciils (CAC)

A Customer Advisory Board 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.

Executive Summits

Executive Summits are one-time centralized or regional events – that 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.

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Leveraging Customers Like A Pro

As a means to achieving optimum growth, a business organization can create a strategic alliance with its clientele, simply by transforming its customers into business advocates. Many recent studies have proved a fundamental link between satisfied customers and higher business success. This is because, while satisfied customers are naturally inclined to maintain healthy long-term relationships with businesses, they are also documented to develop a higher tendency to promote the business among their acquaintances through positive statements. 

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Bill Gates

The entire process of gauging customer satisfaction, and improving and leveraging it is a daunting one for businesses and may seem too tedious to accomplish. However, the benefits offered by leveraged customers are countless and businesses simply cannot afford to overlook them. Therefore, when setting out to leverage customer satisfaction, the first most-important step is to ask the customer certain well-directed questions:

  • “What is it about our business that appeals to you?” or
  • “Would you recommend us to others? Why?”

The answers to such questions, which should generally be either positive or negative, help businesses identify their own strengths and weaknesses. This way, the business ensures that its customers actively participate in its overall wellbeing, and contribute towards its success. Leveraging customer relationships usually involves the following important considerations:

Being open to complements as well as criticism – Regardless of the nature of a business or the industry it operates in, the feedback and opinion of customers is crucial to their long-term success. Customers can provide businesses with first-hand knowledge of the inherent defects in a product service, allowing timely revisions. Therefore, businesses need to actively engage themselves in listening to what the customer has to say to them.

Encourage conversations – Quite understandably, customers would barely be expected to take out time to visit the business with complaints and feedback. It is therefore the duty of the business to pursue customers and engage them in conversations so that their valuable input can be acquired. This also helps them build healthy long-term relationships for the future.

Reciprocate – When leveraging customer relationships, it is as important to reciprocate the goodwill of customers. Hence, businesses can reward their customers with incentives, gifts and monetary benefits as a sign of appreciation for how much they are valued by customers. Moreover, gifts can also work to retain the interest of unhappy clients in the business, even though for a short time.

Maintain contact – When a channel of healthy communication has been established with a customer, essential contact details may be requested of them to ensure that the business has the chance to get back to them with positive outcomes and makeovers. The one thing that a customer appreciates most about a business is that they listen to them and act!

See Opportunity – In this age of industrialization where business growth is restricted by competitive market pricing and widespread product distribution, customers can become the most valuable strategic advantage for businesses. Establishing positive customer relationships can become one of the hallmarks of a business in the market, which in turn helps the business attract more customers.

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Spring Cleaning for your Customer Advisory Council

Have you given your Advisory Council member roster a good, long look recently?  I am not talking about just looking at the number of members, but really analyzing the level of engagement from each member.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with realizing there are members on your Advisory Council who may have passed their prime or just no longer fit your Council's profile.  As such, iFeather Dustert is important to review membership engagement on an annual basis.  These are just a few areas I recommend you consider when reviewing the level of engagement from each Advisory Council member:
  1. Attendance and level of participation in Advisory Council functions, such as regular Council meetings and interim conference calls.
  2. Willingness to be an advocate for your company or provide a referral.
  3. The member continues to provide a perspective relevant to the strategic direction of your company.
In order to drive sustainable, predictable, and profitable growth, you must gain the level of insight only fully engaged customer decision makers can offer. Ensure your Advisory Council is providing that direction by evaluating each member's level of engagement.
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