Archive for the ‘Business To Business’ Category
This week Director Matthew Harrison draws the key marketing lessons from his (now dormant) seduction techniques.
Each and every year, the month of March is a joyous occasion for me. The brutal New York winter dissipates and makes way for 8 months of glorious sun. The English football season reaches its climax, as along with the rest of the Western world I fix my attention on Nottingham Forest’s promotion challenge. Most importantly and joyously of all, the month of March marks the anniversary of my wedding, which I should highlight (just in case she’s reading) was a day of unparalleled perfection.
And so this week my mind took a surreptitious walk down memory lane to a warm September day in 1997, a lucky 13 years ago. This was the day when I targeted my now-wife and (eventually) convinced her that I would fulfil her every need. Now, as a marketer first and lady-magnet second, thoughts of this distant time got me thinking. What, if anything, could my seductive exploits of the late 90s teach me and the wider marketing community about appealing to their target audiences? If I can successfully target that most notoriously demanding of audiences, the attractive female, surely there is no limit to my marketing prowess?
That sunny day in 1997 had been an inauspicious one, at least from a professional point of view. My finest achievement had been to break the photocopier and spend 90 minutes failing to fix it. As I returned home at 5.30, I frankly needed a beer. I delicately broached the subject with my housemate Dave, who pondered my request before suggesting we go to the pub immediately.
Two hours and 5 pints of Kronenbourg later Dave and I were deep in discussion, our agile minds flitting between the meaning of life and whose turn it was to buy the next drink. I was just about to walk towards the bar when I noticed the door open and two girls in their early twenties walked in. I salivated, ordered another round and began plotting my next move. My mission: to make the blurred, dark-haired girl on the right fall in love with a drunken photocopier-wrecker. Mercifully, Dave told me a joke about Camilla Parker-Bowles, distracting me for the rest of the evening.
Several evenings later, a group of friends and I decided to meet up in the same bar. Word was that a selection of females would be present, some of whom would be more than happy to meet the man of their dreams this evening. Even better, one or two discrete enquiries amongst the local cognoscenti revealed that the blurred girl was called Caroline and would be making an appearance along with her friends.
I sensed my chance, and quickly set about polishing my shoes, getting Dave to iron my shirt, and splashing myself in enough Fahrenheit to make a cactus wilt. I donned my leather jacket and, fusing debonair cool with rugged Anglo-Saxon masculinity, unbuttoned the top 2 buttons of my shirt. It would be no exaggeration to say that I looked irresistible.
Scanning the bar as I arrived mid-way through the evening, I immediately saw Caroline, chatting with her friends in the far corner. She was tall and slender with long, dark brown hair. Her dark knee-length skirt and tailored jacket clung enticingly to her figure and her top revealed a hint of décolletage. Her outfit reminded me of the perfect hors d’oeuvre: just enough to keep the interest; not quite enough to make me feel queasy and rush for the exit. I wonder if anyone’s ever delivered a finer compliment than that to her? I do hope so.
Rather than striding confidently towards her and delivering a killer chat-up line in front of her friends, I bravely decided to wait until she was on her own and then pounce. This must have been my lucky day because a few minutes later I found myself standing next to her at the bar.
We started talking. Now when I talk to attractive ladies, I have something of a magic touch – I start talking and they immediately disappear. Strangely, however, for an apparently sane woman with all of her faculties intact, Caroline responded – and not with a restraining order. She laughed at my jokes. She nodded as I told her all about my big-shot job in the photocopying room. She gasped with relief as I finally asked her a question. She seemed to believe me when I said that it must be the man behind me that stank of vinegar.
We met up a few more times over the following week or two, each encounter becoming slightly more relaxed than the last. I took her to a restaurant and tried to show off by buying some expensive wine that I’d never heard of. We went to a football match with a group of friends. Gentlemen, I hope you are learning as you read this. After 4 or 5 ‘meetings’ we were officially an item and I was congratulating myself on my marketing expertise.
So, when I look back at the seductive marketing techniques I employed in my early 20s and reflect upon how they changed the course of my life, I am struck by how similar the art of attracting a business-to-business customer is to the seduction of a beautiful woman. I therefore leave you with my key tips on how to attract and keep the most demanding of b2b customers:
Make the first impression count – A sober, well prepared marketing approach is always likely to be more effective than an impulsive dash in the direction of the target customer. This applies to all aspects of the marketing mix, from promotional materials and interpersonal contact through to pricing and proposal preparation. By the time you get to undoing an early bad impression, the object of your desire will already be looking elsewhere.
Expect the sales process to take 4 or 5 contacts – Business-to-business buyers, like women, are complex creatures. The quick ‘hard sell’ is far less suited to their multifaceted needs and their focus on interpersonal contact than it is to the more impulsive and impersonal world of consumer marketing. It is critical to take the time over a number of conversations to understand customers’ rational and emotional needs, before providing a personalized solution built around these.
Ask lots of (intelligent) questions – Like the most boring of inebriated men, bad b2b marketers focus so much on their own offering that they forget to ask the target customer what makes them tick and what would make their lives better. This is a fatal mistake when each target customer has needs that are often technical, complex and unique.
Always leave them wanting to find out more – Successful business-to-business marketing is a long-term, dynamic process built around frequent conversation and mutual exploration. The effective b2b marketer answers every question concisely, whilst hinting at new, intriguing ideas that make the target customer want to find out more next time.
Tell a coherent, authentic story and stick to it – This is the most difficult and most critical trick of all. Just as the single man identifies an overall impression he wants to project to the fairer sex and attempts to dress, smell and speak in a way that authenticates that impression, so the successful b2b marketer must identify the story that target segment wants to hear and ensure that every customer touchpoint authenticates that story. This requires consistency, and – most fundamentally – a deep and accurate understanding of what the target market wants from you. Master these two basics and you are on your way to becoming a seductive b2b marketer.
Is business-to-business marketing really that different from business-to-consumer marketing? As business-to-business market research specialists, managing hundreds of b2b projects every year, we certainly think so.
Our latest white paper, ‘Why is business-to-business marketing special?’, recognises the many differences between the business and consumer disciplines, highlighting the implications of these differences when it comes to implementing a business-to-business marketing strategy.
B2b marketing is about meeting the needs of other businesses, though ultimately the demand for the products made by these businesses is likely to be driven by consumers. When acting as consumers, we are often less well-informed, less accountable to others and far more susceptible to whims, indulgences, recklessness and showing off than is the case when we are in the workplace. We therefore have a tendency to make purchasing decisions that a rational observer (a business-to-business buyer that has to make a profit each month) would regard as ludicrous. As consumers we are far less likely to ask whether the product we are buying has an ROI. We buy what we want, not what we need. Not so in b2b.
B2b marketing is actually more unique than most people realise; our white paper highlights ten key factors that make b2b markets special and different from consumer markets. To summarise:
The full white paper, which expands on each of the above points and highlights their implications for the business-to-business marketer, can be accessed here.
It won’t come as a big shock that the UK market research sector, like the majority of other industry sectors, isn’t recession proof and has been hit, at least to some extent, by the current recession.
The key takeaways from a recent ‘State of the industry survey’ by RSM are as follows:
This particular piece of research got us talking internally and we came up with the following trends that we have seen within our world at B2B International:
1. There are less market research specialists in corporates than ever before
Gone are the days when every corporate had a market research manager. Increasingly we are being commissioned by non-market research specialists — marketing managers, product managers, marketing directors and the like. This means that the briefs we receive are sometimes woolly and impossible to achieve (especially in timescales and costs). Timings are a real bugbear within B2B International as we never want to compromise quality although our clients often seem to be being leaned on by their management in terms of timing leaving unrealistic timescales to collect and analyse the findings. However, the recession has resulted in companies becoming keener to understand the pressures their customers are facing – a greater recognition of the interdependence of theirs and their customers’ success.
2. Every job is put out to a long tender list
Gone are the days when we used to visit a client to take a brief and proposals were submitted from just three companies. Nowadays clients bash their briefs out to (sometimes) dozens of agencies. The competition has never been fiercer and prices as a result have been driven down with clients sometimes placing too much emphasis on cost rather than quality
3. We need to be increasingly imaginative about research methods
Gone are the days when we used to do surveys based on a simple research method. Increasingly we are given complex problems that have to be answered with a range of different research tools. It is not unusual for us nowadays to mix online surveys with telephone surveys and qualitative with quantitative.
4. We are required to be strategic consultant’s as well as data collectors
Gone are the days when market researchers simply researched a market. Today, in business to business markets we are expected to be familiar with all the business and marketing frameworks that traditionally were the ground of McKinsey and Bain.
5. We are increasingly required to use multidisciplinary teams
Gone are the days when a sole researcher could carry out a market research project from beginning to end on their own. B2B International has brought together a diverse team with specialist skills ranging from pure research backgrounds through to statisticians, computer programmers and consultants that can act in an advisory capacity upon completion of a project
As usual, during any recession, research providers who supply quality and value throughout the difficult times will emerge stronger and fitter. However, with organizations continually looking to measure ROI on every pound spent, is the competitive landscape for business to business research changed forever?
Received wisdom has always suggested that strong brands will withstand a recession. The argument goes that in a recession there is a flight to safety and strong brands represent safety.
An interesting study carried out amongst consumers in the US suggests exactly the opposite. A half of all the people who had previously been loyal to a brand appear to have reduced their loyalty or defected during 2008. They are switching to the value brands offered by major supermarkets.
This raises the question, “will the same thing happen in business to business markets?”.
There is a possibility that it will not – at least not in quite the same way. Supermarket brands have now become some of the most trusted in their own right. For a number of years there has been a general migration to supermarket brands as people have recognised that the products in the supermarket packaging are quite probably made by the same companies that make premium brand products that cost 30% more.
Things are slightly different in industrial markets. The closest you get to the “supermarket brand” in industrial markets is usually referred to as a generic brand, a Chinese brand, an Eastern European brand etc. In fact, the word “reputation” is used just as often as brand.
However, it would be foolish and naive to think that business to business buyers and specifiers are slavishly buying products from their favoured suppliers at any price, without looking around. In the heady days before the recession it was not untypical to research a market and find that only 20% of companies were “price buyers”. Today it would be unusual to find less than 30% price buyers in any business to business market. The shift to value is occurring everywhere.