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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DCR Workforce: Texbook Orchestration of B2B Growth Strategy

Holy Beethoven!  I read dozens of articles about innovation and strategy each week, but none of them reflect the simple foundational melody of B2B growth: engage your customer decision makers and provide a mechanism for them to collaborate meaningfully with your team. 

So imagine the music to my ears as I read "DCR's Customer Advisory Board: Orchestrating Innovation," a publication DCR Workforce (DCR) released along with its recent announcement outlining the collaboration between DCR customers and the company's product managers, solutions group, and internal implementation team.

In its press release, DCR, a provider of Vendor Management System (VMS) solutions, describes "the successful collaboration of its Global Implementation Summit in conjunction with its Customer Advisory Board Innovation Summit to produce the next generation of industry innovations."  Sequenced throughout the year, DCR meets with decision makers and ties their input directly to nearly all aspects of the company's product development and management processes. "DCR Workforce works closely with VIP clients in identifying industry trends and assisting in developing the overall strategic vision for our product."  The company describes getting feedback on both the current and new, including product roadmaps on recent releases, procedures for new customer onboarding, roll-outs of new features, specifications for more established, advanced users, and new innovative ideas the DCR team is "composing."  According to Rich Piva, Director of Implementation and Client Services, "We're orchestrating innovation together with our valued customers.  And this synergy continues to grow and make Smart Track the best VMS in the industry." 

Most importantly, DCR leadership understands its role in the B2B executive engagement process. "Our most important job during these Summits is to ask the big questions, then sit back and listen," says Naveen Dua, CEO and Vice President of Solutions. "We want our customers to know that we are true partners with them and take their needs very seriously."  It may sound elementary, but unlike Mr. Dua, a surprising number of very smart and successful executives continue to struggle with surrendering the PowerPoint.  I don't suspect this reluctance is necessarily a habit inherent to a generation, but rather a habit inherent to a career path which has been paved with having all of the answers.  Wisdom tells us, however, that oftentimes the roadmap which leads to one point of your journey won't necessarily be the same guide to your next. Let go of the clicker, and see your growth soar.

Bravo, DCR!  I look forward to reading your results over the next eight quarters and hearing the sweet music of B2B Sustainable, Predictable, Profitable, Growth.

 

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Drive Success and Profitability with your B2B Marketing Strategy

Ariba Live is the premier forum for sharing ideas, forging partnerships, and shaping the future of business commerce. Ariba LIVE brought together peers, partners, and prospects to explore ways to truly enable the business of tomorrow today—by driving innovation, reaching new markets, generating competitive products, and creating new channels for growth. Sean Geehan, National Best Selling Author, CEO and Founder of the Geehan Group was a featured B2B Speaker at this great event and was captured in this candid interview sharing some of his personal insights regarding the biggest challenges the B2B world faces as well as marketing strategies to drive sustainable, predictable, profitable growth in your organization.

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B2B Marketing's Huge Opportunity to Drive Profitable Growth

Marketers often times find it easier to apply the trusted tenets of B2C marketing to B2B selling. Unfortunatley, they then end up with disastrous results because of B2B marketing’s more complex and lengthier buying cycle. While some basic rules apply, B2B marketing is quite different and needs different tactics. It demands marketing involvement for a longer time, and with more specificity.

What else makes B2B marketing different? What should marketers change to get more results from B2B campaigns? How can a B2B marketer connect with customers and leverage innovation to drive business growth?

Join this free webinar sponsored by Regalix for a chance to engage directly with Geehan, as well as other marketing professionals. Don’t miss this insightful discussion on:

  • Unraveling the differences between B2B and B2C
  • Increasing marketing’s credibility with the Leadership team
  • Aligning strategies to market needs
  • Engaging & leveraging your most valuable customers
  • Achieving sustainable, predictable and profitable growth

All registrants will receive an abstract from Sean's National Best Seller, The B2B Executive Playbook.

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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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Just Listen: You Might Just Learn Something!

I spent some time earlier this week cleaning out some old files and came across an article by Matthew Swyers that was published nearly a year ago on Inc.com. It shares the story of when and how he learned to keep quiet, and advises that if you really want to learn something, listen more than you speak. In this week before our presidential election, it really resonated with me. I find myself wanting to say this to so many people throughout the day…. to the news anchors on television who constantly interrupt their guest commentators, to my friends and acquaintances (and perhaps even a few family members) who have a need to sway my opinions and debate everything that is said. And yes, I even find myself wanting to say it to our politicians…shut up and listen to what others have to say. You might just learn something!

I was reminded of this advice again this afternoon during a planning call with the leader of an upcoming advisory council session. He is already anticipating how his advisors might respond to some of his questions, so he is planning a lengthy presentation to pre-empt their thinking. He’s planning his rebuttal too! He wants to be sure they understand what he has already done, what solutions have already been tried without success, and why their anticipated suggestions won’t work. After all, he knows his business and industry better than anyone else. He knows what he’s doing. Doesn’t he?  

Maybe…but maybe not as well as he would like, or he wouldn’t have formed a customer advisory council and invited his customers to help him! After all, that is the over-arching purpose of an advisory council… to develop a deeper understanding of the market from your top customers, while simultaneously strengthening your relationships with them. This market insight, when incorporated into your strategic planning, ultimately leads to sustainable, predictable, and profitable growth. And that cannot be done if you’re talking the whole time!

So shut up and listen! Ask questions. Let your customers answer. Ask for clarity if you don’t understand, but let them do most of the talking. You may or may not like what you hear and you may or may not take their advice. But listen to what they have to say.  You might just learn something new, something important, or something that changes the game. But you won’t learn it if you’re not listening… so shut up and listen!  

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Strategic Planning with Marketing and Sales

In my book, B2B Executive Playbook, I describe 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.  If implemented properly, it will also add sustainability and predictability to a B2B company’s top and bottom lines. 

As with any corporate initiative, however, success can be sidetracked if problematic modes of operating and behavior creep in.  Over my next four blogs, I’ll cover each of the top four common pitfalls that prevent B2B firms from succeeding; Inside-Only Thinking, Limiting Input to End-Users, Following a single Customer, Chasing the Competition.   Be aware of them, and act quickly if they surface in your company.

Pitfall #1: Inside-Only Thinking

The first pitfall is a mindset among the leadership team that goes something like this: “Hey, we’re smart and we’ve been in this industry for many years.  Let’s brainstorm among ourselves (internal off-site meetings) and come up with the next great solution that we can bring to market to change the game and win back our leadership position.”  The leadership teams of B2B companies do have deep stores of knowledge and creativity, but when they choose to go it alone, what they are really saying is, “We know better than our customers of what they want and need.”  And this is a prescription for failure or even disastrous results.

Far too often, the inside-only ideas and solutions that come out of these sessions are not created with current market conditions or even company resources, business models, and competencies in mind.  In fact, they are usually based on legacy customer needs, structures, business models, current competitor offerings, or misguided ideas about a problem that may not even exist in the customer’s mind.  This insular mindset and culture significantly contributes to the 60-70 percent product failure rate that continues to plague companies.

Case:  The leaders of a $1 billion company invested over $100 million in developing a single solution that they were convinced would revolutionize their market.  They did this without including of vetting the idea with a single customer.  The result was disasterous.  Virtually no customers wanted the solution because it couldn’t be integrated with their existing operations, and the few who did buy, demanded to return it for a full refund, plus damages.  The stock tumbled, the leadership team was fired, and the company was sold off at a major discount to a company one-fifth its size.

Successful B2B companies avoid inside-only thinking. At Henny Penny, for example, all innovation and planning initiatives begin with the needs of customers and the market.  “This is the backbone of our culture, strategic planning, and success,” explains Rob Connelly, CEO of $148 million Henny Penny Corporation, a family-owned manufacturer of food service equipment.  “It has enabled us to hold on to and grow our biggest customers for decades, because our plans help them serve their customers more effectively.  We work extremely closely with our top customers.  Our design and engineering teams share ideas, collaborating to provide new solutions, solve problems, or change the game.” 

One of the home runs at Henny Penny was the development of revolutionary low oil volume (LOV) fryer for McDonald’s Corporation.  “We’d been studying innovative ways of improving and shortening usage in the frying process for quite awhile,” recalls Connelly.  “Together with McDonald’s, we developed a breakthrough product, which not only yields significant cost savings, but is also easy to operate and minimizes environmental impact."

The LOV fryer earned Henny Penny the prestigious McDonald’s Global Innovation Award in 2008.  In 2009, MacDonald’s named it Worldwide Equipment Supplier of the Year and in 2010, Worldwide Equipment Partner of the Year.  That’s the kind of market clout and credibility that can’t be bought – and it led to even more sales.  In addition to sales opportunities at McDonald’s 30,000 restaurants worldwide, Henny Penny applied these innovations to stock models that were successfully rolled out to the small and mid-sized restaurant marketplace.  

Bottom Line:  With so many strategic and development alternatives to chose from, you must tap your top customers to prioritize, justify, and focus on the opportunities that will deliver the most impact.  Leveraging their industry knowledge through collaborative “outside-inside” thinking is the only way to secure true market alignment that drives Sustainable, Predictable and Profitable Growth.

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