Learning to Drive B2B Profitable Growth at Ariba Live

Business strategy books fill bookstore shelves, but none draw attention to the unique ways in which B2B organizations need to strategize and run differently than B2C companies in order to achieve true sustainable, predictable, and profitable growth.

Please join me at Ariba Live In my feature break out session, where I will identify those unique differences and demonstrating how B2B companies need to apply B2B strategies with proven approaches. Everyone attending this session will receive a signed copy of The B2B Executive Playbook.

Don't miss this amazing event where you’ll learn to optimize the connectivity and analytics made possible by business networks and the Cloud, gaining essential insights that empower you to transform business commerce. This event includes informative breakout sessions, dynamic keynotes, and engaging networking opportunities, where you'll learn how to buy better, sell more, and manage cash more efficiently.

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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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A Sustainable and Effective B2B Social Media Strategy

 

There are so many Social Media Channels today. So which ones are the most effective and sustainable for B2B organizations and deserve the most effort and manpower?  

For B2B organizations the 2 most effective social media platforms are discussion groups and blogs. According to a Forrester Research report, 75% of B2B Decision Makers interact with discussion groups by posting ratings or by leaving comments on blogs.

 

Discussion Groups

Discussion groups often pose questions, relevant concerns, and testimonials for certain products or services.  Engaging in these conversations can showcase your expertise or product solution and build confidence in potential clients.

Blogs

Blogs have the potential to reach clients globally.  These concise short articles, usually packed with relevant information provide an organization with credibility and reach that showcase their expertise, while also opening a channel of communication between author and readers.

Finding the best discussion group and building a following for your blog takes time and dedication, but is the most effective and sustainable Social Media Strategy for B2B Organizations.

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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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Should Your B2B Organization Consumerize Marketing Efforts?

I recently read an article over on the Software Advice website that discussed whether or not B2B Organizations should Consumerize their Marketing Efforts.  While there are many practices that are transportable between B2B and B2C, (and some of these marketing tactics should be applied to the B2B world aggressively), the suggestions cited in this article are limited to simple and low price point offerings. For typical complex B2B offerings that require many stages of conversations and levels of signoff, these simply won’t work.

In addition, points and “gamification” may in fact represent a conflict of interest and forbidden by the purchasing organization. This is a strong case for why these two worlds must be approached so differently. All marketing isn’t the same. Some B2B marketing is similar to B2C especially when the user is the decision maker, but it can also be very different.

Business-to-business (B2B) companies are fundamentally different from business-to-consumer (B2C) companies. But far too often B2B leaders try to apply B2C strategies and tactics in their companies with disappointing, even disastrous results. B2B success requires a completely different playbook.

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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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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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