Think Beyond Your Customers For B2B Success
If you’re in business, 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? Who are they this year? Why would they care about me?
Take a look at the following examples and try to come up with the target audience for each (hint: it’s obvious).
- SolarRetailer sells end-to-end photovoltaic systems to retailers who operate their own buildings.
- 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.
- 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:
- Retailers with their own buildings/locations
- Schools and universities
- 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 very 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 tick.
- We don’t have time or money to do research that will simply confirm what we already know.
At HB, we’ve learned that even when there’s no time or money to do research, we can still devote some mental energy to question our assumptions. To do this, we continually 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.
Take the SolarRetailer 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.
At HB, we 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 always have to 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.
Nicolas Boillot is CEO of HB, an integrated marketing agency focused on clean-tech, high-tech and medical technology markets. Nicolas developed his keen interest in clean technology in the early 1990s when he spent two years at the University of Minnesota’s Limnological Center working for a leading global climatologist. Author of the forthcoming book, "I Killed a Rabid Fox with a Croquet Mallet and Other Stories to Make Your Business Memorable," Nicolas regularly speaks on branding, marketing and PR topics. He is also a co-founder of Middlebury College’s intensive winter term program, MiddCORE – Creativity, Opportunity, Risk and Entrepreneurship.