B2B Success: Going Beyond What You Already Know

You’re constantly thinking about your potential customers. How old are they? Where do they live? What do they do? How much money do they make? What causes do they support? What are their pains, and what kinds of budgets do they have to address those pains?

Here’s a quick exercise. Look at the following examples and try to come up with the target audience for each:

  1. SolarRetailer sells end-to-end photovoltaic systems to retailers who operate their own buildings.
  2. EarthWindFire sells lobby kiosks to schools and universities, where the kiosk and its screen provide insight into a building’s renewable energy systems and performance.
  3. BizWind sells small wind turbines and associated equipment to building owners and managers who want to add renewable energy to their buildings.

Obviously, the target audiences are:

  1. Retailers with their own buildings/locations
  2. Schools and universities
  3. Building owners and managers

Are these audiences important? Yes. Should their needs and desires determine all the marketing efforts? Probably not, but many companies focus only on a limited view of a target audience. That’s normal.

We’re fairly myopic creatures in many ways, as Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman shows in his book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” As he puts it, “familiarity is more important than truth,” and usually your target audience is very familiar to you. In the book, Kahneman coins the term WYSIATI, or “what you see is all there is,” to describe the human tendency to jump to conclusions and be overconfident about those conclusions.

We see this all the time in marketing, and many marketers use the following arguments (excuses) to support their minimally researched conclusions:

  • We already understand our target audience. We’ve been working with these folks for years, and we know exactly how they think.
  • We don’t have time or money to do research that will simply confirm what we already know.

We’ve learned that even when there’s no time or money to do research, we can still devote mental energy to question our assumptions. To do this, ask questions and use simple mechanisms to guide our thinking. One of those mechanisms requires us to frame the notion of “audience” differently in the B2B landscape. Instead of analyzing the target audience, we focus on the audience’s audience(s). In other words, when we work with a client, we spend part of our time thinking how that client’s customers need to impress their own customers. In the B2B world, all our clients’ customers have their own customers.

In the above examples, this means we need to target as follows:

  • For SolarRetailer, we must target people who might favor shopping at a store location that uses renewable energy, not just the retail store who is our client’s customer.
  • For EarthWindFire, we need to focus on students, parents, administrators and municipal stakeholders who might pass through a school or university’s lobby, not just the school or university who will purchase the EarthWindFire kiosk.
  • For BizWind, we need to look at businesses and individuals who favor renting space in buildings that offer clean energy or other “green” features, not just the building managers and owners who will purchase the wind-energy installations.

For example, when considering the customer’s customer, the SolarRetailer marketing team will move away from a strict focus on system cost and ROI for retailers. More importance will be given to the compelling look of SolarRetailer installations as seen from the ground. The marketing team might even develop posters and literature that come with the system, informing consumers about the store’s system and its benefits, such as cutting its carbon footprint. Perhaps EarthWindFire will be brought in to place a kiosk in the retailer’s lobby, showing consumers what the PV system is yielding in real-time with cool graphs and carbon-footprint calculations.

Such marketing and messaging will send a clear signal to the retail store’s decision-maker when it comes to purchasing a PV system: SolarRetailer is thinking on my behalf and giving me something that my own customers will love.

We must avoid limiting ourselves to thinking of audiences as “business-to-business.” Instead, we segment in the following manner:

  • B2B – Our client targets businesses that use its products and services to help run their own business more intelligently and efficiently.
  • B2B2B – Our client targets businesses that sell to other businesses. Our client’s attributes and messages can impact how their customers sell to those businesses.
  • B2B2C – Our
    client targets businesses that sell to consumers. Our client’s attributes and messages can impact how their customers sell to those consumers. (The fictional SolarRetailer fits into this category.)
  • B2Gov – Our client targets local, regional, state or federal governments to influence those bodies with messages that will eventually reach or help end users.
  • B2B2Gov – Our client targets businesses that sell into local, regional, state or federal governments. Our client’s attributes and messages can impact how its customers sell to those bodies.

Knowing that we often create our opinions and make decisions in a WYSIATI way, the above nomenclature provides an easy way to get us out of the “what we see” mindset.

In B2B marketing, your customers must always impress their own customers. Thinking about the latter set will help you message most effectively to your own customers and give them tools beyond your products and services to succeed in their businesses.

Boston Does More with Less


Love or hate Boston, we have bragging rights for a reason and a new win to celebrate — we’re the most energy-efficient big city in the nation thanks to a new report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

The report covers various aspects from local government to transportation and community initiatives. You can view Boston’s scorecard here to see the total ranking breakdown.

What’s contributed to this major energy win for Boston?

  • Last year, Mayor Walsh released the Greenovate Boston 2014 Climate Action Plan Update, celebrating the city’s progress towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2020 and 80% by 2050, and to prepare for the impacts of climate change.

  • The nation’s oldest ballpark and home of our beloved Red Sox gained another title this year: the largest organic rooftop garden in the majors. Not only does it provide fresh, organic vegetables, the garden also reduces energy costs by insulating the building below it and will be a ‘teaching tool’ for area children about healthy eating and the local environment.

  • Greater Boston is doing its part too. Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone launched a GreenTech program to meet the city’s ambitious goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. As part of this program, Somerville is engaging members of its community to help mold the city’s energy future. Last month Understory, a startup based out of Greentown Labs, joined the GreenTech program, providing the city of Somerville with its solar-powered weather stations as part of a pilot program.

Other major cities are now looking at Boston as a model for energy efficiency. Places like New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Denver aren’t that far behind us.

How does your city rank? If you’re Oklahoma City, you’re using way too much energy. Here’s an idea to help the environment: you could start cutting back on all the styrofoam cups, Sonic.

image via RealityTVGIFs

image via RealityTVGIFs

Why We Chose to Go Solar, and Why You May Not Want To

For the first six years we lived in our house, our electric bills averaged $1,500/year. While we wanted to go solar for a variety of reasons, we didn’t think it was likely to be worthwhile financially. So we tried to economize by limiting our use of electricity. That generally didn’t work, as our house came with a pool which runs a filter 24/7 in summer months, a greenhouse with electric heat for winter (it’s freezing in there), and an exhaust fan for summer (it’s boiling in there), and a couple of rooms in the back — the part of the house that used to be a barn — which also have electric heat.

The back of the house — the former barn — had a large south-facing roof with asphalt tiles (the front of the house has a slate roof). There’s a huge unfinished area under that roof that turns into a furnace all summer, so we figured it must be getting some good solar exposure.

The front and middle sections have slate, but the back — the old barn — had a large, featureless, south-facing asphalt-shingled roof.

As it turned out, solar companies told us that this south-facing roof could hold enough solar panels to cover our electricity usage and more. They also believed that it could work out financially, by which they meant that if we invested in a solar system, we could most likely get our investment back in 5–8 years.

To read more of this story, including how we calculated ROI, on Medium or LinkedIn.

Somerville Means Business…Green Business

lightbulbMassachusetts is leading the clean and green tech revolution in the United States. From Governor Patrick’s leadership to our top-tier universities and every startup in between, we have all of the necessary elements in place to help drive our progress.

It’s important to note, however, that all of this innovation isn’t happening in downtown Boston. Many are quick to assume that the Bay State’s cleantech advancements are developed in the Innovation District or the Leather District but believe it or not, many of the latest and greatest technologies are born just across the river in Cambridge and Somerville.

The latter of the two is stepping up its green tech game by launching an initiative to engage members of its community to help mold Somerville’s energy future. At Greentown Labs earlier the week — the pioneer of green and cleantech in Somerville — Mayor Joe Curtatone announced the City’s official Request for Information (RFI) in an effort to gain information that will help develop a program for the City to collaborate with emerging green tech companies that can be applied throughout Somerville.

According to the City’s announcement:

“The purpose of this RFI is to gain a greater understanding of the projects and services that green tech companies can offer to pilot, demonstrate, launch or apply as part of the greater effort to experiment and develop new ideas that will support sustainability in the City of Somerville including our 2050 net zero emissions target.”

Cue the cleantech entrepreneur happy dance! Amiright?! Not only is Somerville hugely supportive of green tech innovations, it’s asking its brilliant community members for their ideas about how different technologies can be rolled out throughout the City. Hats off to Mayor Curtatone and his whole sustainability team. It’s not everyday you see city leadership asking its people for disruptive concepts to ignite positive change.


It’s Not Easy Being a Green Apple: 3 Cleantech Lessons from the iPhone 6 Announcement

Apple logo with a green leaf.

Apple logo with a green leaf. by Scott Beale, on Flickr

Buried deep in Apple’s big announcement yesterday was a small checklist that ticked off their environmental credentials. I cannot overstate how unimportant this was to the full announcement, the fact that it was even on stage is surprising.

You won’t find the checklist in any of the coverage, which focuses entirely on the features and benefits of the new Apple products. There is plenty written about the new Pay feature as well as the design of the Apple Watch, but want to know how green the product is? I found only one story on that and it’s mostly a critique of people critiquing Apple’s environmental credentials on Twitter.

The checklist itself can be found on the iPhone 6 specs page. What, you’ve never read the specs on the iPhone 6? Oh, well go do that, then scroll all the way to the bottom and you’ll find a small checklist. Here’s a screenshot:

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 6.36.41 AM

It’s a decent list, but look at how it’s presented. The important elements are in darker text so your eye finds them fast, the rest are really secondary. You know it’s environmental because it has that cool Apple logo that they roll out once a year.

But I don’t put this here to bash Apple, they’re just reading the market and maybe satisfying that segment that wants to check the “green” box. They know that consumers have a passing interest the environment and the list is enough for them to say “OK, Apple’s got this” and then move on to the cool stuff like how big it is, how fast it is and when can you take my money!


For companies in the cleantech and clean energy space, this means something much more.

When branding a sustainability, clean energy or cleantech company, it’s important to keep the true buyer in mind. If you are marketing to a checkbox item, then you’re not core to the business thereby making your sales position weak. Worse, your value proposition won’t enable you to charge a fair price, or even a premium, for your products, since “nice to haves” are cheaper than those products that speak to core business needs.

Here are 3 lessons from Apple’s announcement:

1. Separate the Mission from the Message

Tesla makes cars. Tesla makes technologically advanced cars. Sure, the team wants to disrupt the auto industry and even have an environmental bent by taking on the internal combustion engine. But at its heart it makes cars that are as good or better than anything that Mercedes puts out. That’s what sells, it’s what people want, it’s what Tesla makes. No one buys a Tesla just because it’s electric.

Yes, you may have a mission of saving the environment, you may even have done the math and realized that if a large portion of your the market uses your product, it can reduce water usage, power usage or CO2 by massive amounts. But, before any of that happens, the buyers must make a business decision to buy and that decision is based on factors that simply don’t include “being green.”

2. Focus on the Real Competition

You may feel like the competition is in the environmental industry, but it isn’t. Apple may be committed to putting a glass on its iPhone (and Apple Watch) that uses no arsenic, but first and foremost the glass must work for the phone. If it’s weak, cracks and scratches easily, or doesn’t have the right feel, then it wouldn’t be on the iPhone. The company may be running an entire factories and data centers by solar power, but if that power drives up the cost of doing business or can’t support the manufacturing infrastructure, then Apple will just put itself back on the grid. First and foremost, the plant needs power. How it gets that power is secondary.

As a company, your real competition is the alternative method of doing business. Your solution needs to not only be sustainable and provide a positive environmental impact, but also do the job as well, if not better, than what it’s replacing.

3. Listen to your Sales People

Sales folks are on the front line and constantly getting feedback from customers, they know what works, the competition and the true concerns of their prospects. Listen to them, go on calls with them, get their feedback on the messaging. They will know what motivates customers and therefore what should be built into your marketing messages.

 Just like in other industries, any advances are only as good as the benefit they bring. And for cleantech and sustainability companies, that benefit must go beyond the environmental impact.