There is a certain wisdom being propagated in social media that there is no B2B or B2C but only B2H (business-to-human). It’s a nice sentiment and certainly has an element of truth but in spite of how communications technology has narrowed the differences, there are still stark contrasts between the two channels. With respect to capturing customer insights, it is worthwhile to repeat at least two of them.
- There is a finite and usually relatively small universe of total customers
- Customers are often experts in the subject matter which may be complicated or technical
Constant connectivity, interactive media, marketing automation and big data have allowed B2C marketers to achieve a level of intimacy with their customer never before imaginable. Ironically, B2B markets have always had this advantage, chiefly because of the two points noted above: our customer base is small enough that we can actually know them with some degree of intimacy and they are often experts in the very products and services we sell. So, we all only need to do two simple things to gain great insights on how to go to market:
- define who they are
- engage them in a conversation
Sadly, too many B2B companies fail on accomplishing these two modest goals, even though little technology is required to meet them. Granted, manufacturers who go to market through distributors are somewhat removed from the end user, but the ability to define who they are and engage them in a conversation has always been there and internet-enabled technology has made it infinitely more possible to do so. Unfortunately, we constantly encounter B2B companies who have invested millions in CRM systems but still populate them with anemic or inaccurate customer data. And in spite of the definable universe of experts (customers) available to guide them, they still make major strategic decisions without tapping into their customer’ insights. One theory is that B2B marketers ASSUME they know their customers and markets and skip the all important step of listening to them and analyzing them before making major investments or changing strategic direction.
We encourage B2B marketers to embrace what makes B2B different and determine who are your best customers, engage them in a conversation, and act on the insights. Identify and segment your best customers and find out what they want. Today’s technology allows you to gain an even greater degree of intimacy with an even wider group of customers. You don’t have to take them to a 3 martini lunch to find out what motivates them, just follow them on Twitter, interact with them in business forums, connect on LinkedIn, or provide them an easy and automated path to do business with you and share their knowledge. But whatever you do, don’t ignore them.
Mark Towery is Managing Director of Geo Strategy Partners, a B2B/Industrial focused market research and Strategy consulting firm.