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.

What B2B Can Learn from Burt’s Bees – Shifting the Why of Your Business or Service


Image from New York Times

Burt’s Bees’ new campaign, “Uncap Flavor,” offers insight into how strong messaging can shift the reason for purchase in a customer’s mind. The campaign is highlighted in this New York Times piece, which explains how the lip balm industry has changed its marketing strategy from a functional message (curing chapped lips) to a message about personality-expressing accessories.

“[The marketing of lip balm] traditionally has been very functionally driven, just talking about, ‘You have dry lips, here’s a solution to your problem,’ ” said Tad Kittredge, associate director of marketing at Burt’s Bees. “But recently you’re starting to see a lot more of what I would call personality-driven and lifestyle-focused advertising, and we’re focused on the flavors as a way to reinforce the fun aspect of the brand.”

Other products and services have performed similar transitions. Apple is the most-referenced example of a company turning utilitarian products such as computers, phones, and music-playback devices into statement-making products reflective of their owners’ personalities.

The B2B world is catching up. Powerhouse Dynamics names its HVAC management technology SiteSage. An attractive unit with user-friendly interfaces, SiteSage enables restaurant and convenience store chains to manage equipment, control HVAC and reduce utility spending. Naming the device SiteSage instead of a generic moniker like “HVAC Monitoring and Control System” gives it more personality, makes it more memorable and creates a personal connection with B2B customers and prospects. It also differentiates it from competitive systems with generic names. And what restaurant chain owner wouldn’t want SiteSage minding the store rather than a random hourly employee who might not notice the freezer, which contains $50,000 of food, has stopped running?

IBM markets its cognitive computing platform under the Watson name. The platform promises a new partnership “between humans and computers that scales and augments human expertise.” IBM understands that even in a B2B sale, we like to imagine ourselves or our businesses in Sherlock’s shoes, solving mysteries and providing great service to the world… with Watson at our side. Many competitors market Business Information (BI), analytics and big data technologies. Not many of them have taken IBM’s lead to personalize the products and services and make them more immediately accessible.

In fact, much of the B2B world has to learn about marketing to the human beings who make up their business customers. Senior leaders and marketing teams often believe that their prospects make purchasing decisions based on cold comparisons of features and benefits. Perhaps they sell to engineers, financial services experts or hospital IT teams, and they know that these buyers will create systematic and rigorous evaluations before buying. Yet if you’ve been in business for any length of time, you’ve had the experience of losing sales to lessor competitors. Why does this happen? Often because the decision-making team liked something intangible about the winning bidder. Those intangibles might include a better responsive website; a strong visual identity; the communication they regularly receive from a particular company or brand; the product’s name and surrounding messaging and story. Any of these create a stronger personal connection with the buyer.

Just as Burt’s Bees can be more about personality and individual taste, even more diffcult-to-grasp or specialty products or services can be positioned to win their customers’ hearts, not just their minds. AG Mednet made a business of providing  high-quality image transfer for the clinical trial industry. A couple of years ago the company changed its positioning to be all about zero-delay clinical trials. This positioning showed a deep understanding — and commitment to — solving a larger problem for the industry into which AG Mednet sells. Suddenly the company’s product was associated with a huge industry pain, and that association helped AG Mednet’s reputation and lead generation skyrocket.

Strong marketing and positioning speaks the customer’s language and addresses the customer as a whole, not just a single problem. The lip balm industry exploded because it went from addressing lips that needed protection and healing to human beings whose search for personality and individuality has no end.

B2B marketers must ask themselves who their customers are as human beings, understand their needs, and position their products and services to make a critical difference in addressing those needs, while creating a personal connection with the audience and the industry. This is where the right agency partner can make a huge difference, offering outside perspective and helping a business understand why and how its offerings can move beyond the realm of features and benefits and into the realm of personal relationship with target audiences.




Launch Your Website in a Day

I have a few upcoming events I want to call your attention to. The first is a day-long program aimed at people who need to get their web presence in line.

“Create a Killer Web Strategy for Your Business & Launch Your Website in a Day” is taking place on Saturday, May 14, 2011 from 8:30am to 3:30pm, and I will be one of four speakers / workshop facilitators helping out. If you need to build a new site, or are not happy with the messaging, performance or traffic on your existing site, this is the program for you.

The full-day program will help you bring your business strategy to your website. We’ll work with you to determine the most effective design, message, tools and channels to achieve your business goals online. I’m helping with the section on promoting your site and building your community. Hope to see you there!

In this very hands-on program, we’ll translate your strategy into technical features, visual design, copy and audience acquisition channels–then start implementing. Mini-seminars alternate with open work sessions and one-on-one consulting to help you reach your goals.

What You Need: Bring your positioning statement and your laptop. Each registrant receives a hosted website that is set up and ready to be customized. If you have a website already running on a content management system (CMS), you can opt to pick up from where you are and improve its effectiveness.

What You Get: You leave with your business website online and with the practical skills needed for ongoing development. Registration includes lunch and two months of hosting and phone/email support.

Cost: $420 | Drupal.org members (10% discount) $378 | Students with valid ID (20% discount) $336

One Marina Park Drive (near S. Station and Courthouse T stops)
GPS: 55 Northern Ave., Boston, MA 02210