B2B marketing: why the nature of the relationship really matters!

We are all aware that consumer expectations are increasing but a less widely talked about area is that of customers in a B2B setting. It is becoming clear to me that this area is following a similar path and that customers now expect more from the companies they engage with. The main foundation for this is context. Customers want to be engaged based on the nature of the relationship that they have with the vendor.

This has major repercussions for B2B marketing, as historically B2B marketers would run campaigns based on a specific market segment and would seek to treat customers in the same way as prospects. The overall goal being to create interest amongst an audience who are likely to have a similar set of challenges that could be addressed by your product or solution offering. But this approach doesn’t reflect any current relationship and engagement that the vendor might already have.

The answer is that B2B marketers need to consider a customer lifecycle approach where marketing campaigns and communications are adapted to the specific needs of the customer at the point of time in the relationship. This reflects a market-in approach where you start with the question “what is it that the customer needs right now and how can we help them?”

So here would be my recommendations for those wishing to test / pilot a customer lifecycle approach in a B2B environment:

For the customer, it is about who can help them address the critical business issues that they face. This is the area that many B2B companies do very well so I’m not going to cover it here.

The next stage is on-boarding. The most obvious priority for the customer is time to value. They want to embed the new offering into their business as quickly as possible and to start to reap the benefits.
Opportunity: Marketing collates data and feedback on the roll-out, organizing this in a way that helps identification of potential improvements, shares knowledge / tips & tricks on usage and also helps bring users into existing customer communities.

Once the system is up and running customers are always looking for ways to further improve performance. The market keeps changing, upgrades bring new features and other organizations using the same product find new ways to innovate and accrue more value.
Opportunity: Marketing is proactive in establishing interactions and communications that continue to build value for the client by sharing relevant knowledge and experiences around the product or products they have bought. Some companies have client success managers for this. The key though is to be proactive and to anticipate where additional value can be created rather than wait until an opportunity arises.

Organizations are always seeking to improve and generally there is always some form of maturity curve in place where you have industry leaders, followers and laggards. It is really important to know where your customer is at any point and also to have an appreciation of where they think they are, so you can guide them on what to consider next.
Opportunity: Marketing provides information to conduct an account review. This could be achieved through an ongoing survey or interview program. This information could be compared to the consolidated view of other companies within a specific industry, thereby determining the maturity of the customer in a specific area. This benchmarking helps to identify new opportunities. Discovery workshops and executive briefing programs can also support this.

Advocacy / Cross-sell
If an organization has successfully delivered on all of the above then you should have a potential customer advocate in play. However any advocacy or customer program has to be 2-way and ensure there is mutual value for the individual and / or company as well.
Opportunity: Marketing develops a customer program that is based on mutual value exchange and it is clear that the best way to open up cross-sell opportunities is through your current customer advocates. There has never been a harder time to gain the attention of new potential customers and internal customer referrals are like gold dust.

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So where are you now? I am very interested in knowing how companies in the B2B space are approaching this opportunity. “Times are as changing” as Bob Dylan would say and marketing needs to continue to evolve as customer expectations continue to increase.