Hello again, Everyone,
As we are approaching the last quarter of the calendar year, if you have not already begun so, it is imperative to start thinking about the goals you have for the 2013 calendar year and how your organisation is going to achieve them. For most organisations, driving organic growth and improving on business performance will still be key objectives.
However, the harsh reality is that traditional ways of B2B marketing simply are not going to enable your organisation to achieve your aggressive targets for growth and improved performance. As I have stated in my previous posts, volatility, uncertainty and tough economic conditions are all here to stay. Furthermore, the playing field of B2B is tougher than ever before. Your business customers themselves have aggressive targets in terms of growth, key customers they want to acquire (and likely having a tough time doing so), big contracts and deals they want to win. The business owners and senior executives at these organisations will also have their own personal agendas such as key people they want to meet, companies they want to do business with in hopes of achieving their full bonuses, getting that big promotion or positioning themselves for the ‘next big move’.
What does this mean?
As it is the decision makers (ie. the executives and business owners) within your business customers that are driving their companies’ strategies and performance targets, must become the focal point of your B2B marketing efforts.
Therefore, the role of B2B marketing needs to take a fundamental shift. It is no longer sufficient for B2B companies to get their marketing departments to periodically gain customer feedback, modify their products and services and then generate marketing programs to build awareness, educate and support for your company’s offerings.
Success in today’s B2B markets requires a new B2B marketing paradigm. Senior executives must step up and take both a leading and active role in driving executive level customer engagement. They must ensure that they have a strong understanding of the executive’s needs, objectives and priorities – both professionally and personally and that their organizations are helping their executive customers to meet those needs.
However, it does not stop there. B2B executives must go even further and provide opportunities for their executive customers to:
- Provide strategic input/guidance,
- obtain thought leadership to address executive level key issues,
- collaborate and co-create to develop new products and services,
- meet executive peers to network, exchange ideas and develop best practices, and
- provide introductions to speaking and media opportunities.
These objectives can be achieved through a planned program of executive customer initiatives including:
- Customer advisory boards,
- customer forums,
- strategic customer discussions, and
- customer co-creation processes.
Effective executive customer engagement produces significant benefits including:
- Increased share of wallet,
- improved customer retention,
- references, testimonials and referrals – all of which are a key part of the B2B buying process and hence integral to increased sales/revenues,
- improved strategy, and
- improved products and service delivery.
Studies conducted by the Geehan Group show that firms that target decision makers in customer engagement programs achieve customer retention rates of 90% and account growth which is three times that of those companies who did not target decision makers specifically.
Companies that have effectively undertaken executive level customer engagement initiatives to drive their performance include Oracle, HCL Technologies, Microsoft, Springer Science+Business Media and Wells Fargo.
That does not mean that executive level customer programs are solely for large corporations. Given the challenges that today’s B2B executives are facing, they are now more than ever open to new approaches as well as working with smaller and niche providers if it will help them achieve their objectives. Therefore, this poses significant opportunities for small and medium size organisations. They are often more nimble and customer centric to undertake such executive customer programs to develop relationships and win business and develop relationships that are typically won by their larger competitors.
Prerequisites for executive level customer engagement
It is important to realise that in order for your executive level customer engagement programs to be a success, your company must have the following:
- Executive level championing and involvement: this is EXECUTIVE customer engagement so it is not something to be left to middle/junior level staff,
- analytical and strategic capabilities: your company must be able to ascertain which issues and priorities to focus on, for which customers and the impacts to both your company and theirs, and
- processes for initiative execution and management: there is simply no point putting in all of this time and effort to engage with your executive customers if you are not able to act on it.
Without a doubt, executive customer programs will take hard work and commitment from your executive team and many other members of your organisation. But remember, we are B2B and even significant improvements with even just a couple of key customers can have a massive impact on your company’s financial performance.