I’m not saying sales and marketing leaders in the business-to-consumer (B2C) space have it easy. They don’t. But they often do have relatively easy access to meaningful data. Collecting information from customer transactions and investigating trends has been aided by scanner data and mountains of empirical results. Do you want to know about the latest trends in consumer preferences for salty snacks? No problem, there’s a study that will tell you.
For business-to-business (B2B) customers, the game is different. The complex relationships between firms result in multiple layers of influencers and decision makers. Mining the gold nuggets from these interactions can be difficult, but finding out what truly creates value has tremendous rewards.
Customer-focused organizations are discovering that different ways of gathering B2B customer feedback can unlock value, stimulate innovation, and drive loyalty. Savvy leaders are learning that bending – or breaking – the research rules can be their fastest, easiest, and most cost-effective route to success.
Rule to Break #1: You need a random sample to conduct valid research
If you’re doing a broad study of consumer preferences or trends, that’s true. If you want to get a deeper insight into what the key decision makers from your most important customer accounts are thinking, you don’t need a random sample. In fact, you need to gather data from a group that is anything but randomly selected.
Gathering feedback from strategically selected allies and adversaries at high levels will give you input that will help guide your business into the future. When listening to B2B customers, what’s more important than hearing from those people who are actually making the buying decisions?
Rule to Break #2: Keep your distance to avoid biasing results
As we’ve seen before, the method of gathering customer feedback is part of the message you’re sending to your customers. For B2B customers, trust is critical. And time and time again, trust is best built in a face-to-face setting. So, why not build trust while collecting feedback by sitting down with your customer and having a structured conversation about their needs?
Set the stage beforehand, ask the right questions, and probe when appropriate. Chances are you’ll get more valuable input than a more traditional survey approach.
Rule to Break #3: All customers and data points are created equal
B2C researchers will be the first to go down the path of segmenting results by critical demographics. Segmentation is key in the B2B space, too. But collecting detailed feedback from high-level B2B contacts can yield “aha” moments in other ways as well.
For example, if a high-level executive from an automaker tells me what it’s going to take to keep her account happy, I’m going to listen. A future product innovation, cross-sell opportunity, or details about an at-risk relationship could be in her next comment. It’s just one verbatim comment from one individual, but the implications could be huge.
Many traditional customer feedback methods can be applied to all types of customers, but keep in mind that bending – and yes, sometimes breaking – the research rules for B2B customers can often lead to more actionable and dynamic results.
Nick Wassenberg, Research Analyst