Back2Basics: How to create a real blockbuster B2B strategy
by Mark Eardley (@mdeardley) To create a marketing strategy that’s geared to generating sales, margins and loyalty, perhaps start by thinking about this: “All B2B customers are united by a common demand: reduce our costs and risks.” It strikes me that a lot of us B2B-ers have lost sight of addressing this universal need. You can easily test for yourself if you’re one of them.
Run a quick strategy audit
Look at your content — maybe use your website as a rapid test-case. Now ask yourself a couple of questions. Which content speaks directly to reducing costs and risks? What mention does it make of how these advantages are delivered and does it highlight who benefits?
And now for the killer-question: how much of it is dead content? That’s all the content which says nothing about why your firm is the one most capable of meeting the universal B2B demand: cut my costs, cut my risks.
Are you strategically centred on customers?
Customers’ cardinal needs aren’t hard to identify or understand. Costs and risks top the list across every business in your markets. So, it’s entirely logical that the strategic goal guiding all your marketing should be majorly concerned with demonstrating your firm’s ability to reduce costs and risks.
Above all others, it’s an ability that generates sales, protects margins and reinforces loyalty. Those are the direct results that such a sharply-focused strategy produces. Why? Because you are evidencing that your firm will deliver the benefits most sought-after by the most-powerful buying decision-makers in your markets.
By doing so, you will elevate your proposition’s appeal to people who really matter.
I was reminded recently of this elevation’s crucial significance. A man who’s always worth a listen, Bob Hoffmann, aka The Ad Contrarian, recently commented on Accenture’s we’ll-close-more-deals acquisition of the respected ad-shop, Droga5:
Agencies are connected to clients at the imitation decision-maker level (CMO.) Consultancies are connected at the real decision-maker level (CEO.)
Let’s not forget that all ad agencies are entirely B2B firms; they don’t sell their services to consumers. Same goes for business consultancies such as Accenture. Hfofmann’s making an observation about who’s closing B2B deals because they have the ear of the top buying decision-maker.
As marketers, we should always be aware of who’s going to be signing off the purchase orders it’s our job to secure. It’s the oldest story in the book: we need to be certain we’re getting the right message to the right people for the right reasons. The most-senior people in the decision-making hierarchy — the right people — will always pay serious attention to a credible message about managing costs and risks. And the higher up the ladder you go, the higher its appeal becomes.
Discover the evidence, then present it
Questions, questions, questions. How do your products and services cut costs and risks? Can you list all the ways they do this for customers? Can you qualify and quantify how that reduction protects and advances your customers’ success? If you can’t answer these pretty basic queries, then two really important ones go begging. First, what on earth are you saying to customers? Second, what’s your marketing’s strategic direction, ie what is it trying to achieve?
Cost and risk reduction are the most potent challenges facing your customers. Always have been. But when times are hard, er, like now, they become mega-matters that marketers have a golden opportunity to address with relevance and credibility.
It’s an opportunity to present evidence that proves to all the buying-decision influencers that your firm understands the precise nature of their cost/risk challenges and has the wherewithal to collaborate in creating solutions. It’s a chance to highlight the most-convincing reasons why your firm deserves the order more than any other.
The strategic mechanism that strengthens sales, margins and loyalty
Creating this sort of strategy, one with a customer-winning cost/risk focus, starts by defining what differentiates you from competitors, and why this matters to customers. You need to know which costs most concern your customers and the reasons why. Plus, who benefits by a reduction and how do they benefit? Same goes for risks — what are they and what will you do as a mitigator?
The next step is to identify who needs to be aware of your differentiated position. This is an exercise in classic needs-based segmentation. It’s about pin-pointing — and documenting — the diversity of people influencing the buying decision and why they’re motivated to support it.
These insights inform how you prove to customers that you’re not talking out of your backside. That’s because you’ll have accurate guidelines for creating evidence-based content that’s cost/risk-focused and unquestionably credible. It’ll help here to keep top-of-mind Harrison King McCann’s old slogan, “Truth, well told.”
Moving on to targeting, you need decision influencers to encounter and appreciate your now-compelling content. Ask yourself what they each specifically need to hear, when they need to hear it in the decision-making cycle, and through which channels.
In summary, your strategy should constantly enable the truth you’re telling to raise you above competitors because customers believe you will keep the promises you make.
Stress-testing the strategy
Oops — you’re a whistle-blower
Fast-forward: the strat’s in place and is being adhered to across all your initiatives. Is it working? Is it obviously building sales, margins and loyalty? If not, why not?
Getting answers to that last question boils down to uncovering where your firm is falling short in the cost/risk game. And the only people who can give you the right answers to that question are your customers — so ask them.
Once you’ve got those fast answers, the tough strategic stuff starts. You’ll be the customers’ messenger and chances are that what you’re carrying will be rich with complaint. Hopefully, you’ll have some protection from the internal conviction that it’s necessary to end you for bearing such outrageous tidings.
Barring that terminal outcome, you’ll still face some hard-core resistance to customers’ answers. Typically, the resistance will come at you in three waves.
- First wave: Nobody’s likely to instantly admit that it’s their responsibility to remedy the shortfalls. So now the internal politicking of shift-the-blame will begin.
- Second wave: Who will define the operational remedies and set the timelines for their delivery? Don’t be surprised if you can’t find a shining-armoured champion to back customers on this one.
- Third wave: Who’s gonna make sure that the fixes get implemented? If there’s any ducking and diving here, just remember that, in some quarters of your firm, customers are viewed as being a perpetually problematic, underminingnbsp;threat.
So, good luck to the newly strategic you. Good luck with overcoming the internal push-back against your highly-focused pursuit of sales, margins and loyalty. For a B2B marketer, it’s best to be aware upfront that executing a truly customer centric strategy is not for the fainthearted.
Mark Eardley (@mdeardley) advises B2B companies on how to govern their marketing to attract and retain profitable customers; several of his clients have grown to become market leaders. He and Charlie Stewart have written Business-to-Business Marketing: A Step-by-Step Guide (Penguin Random House), which offers practical, actionable advice on how to make marketing make money. His monthly “Back2Basics” column covers how B2B companies and their agencies should manage their marketing.
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