There is something changing in the B2B marketplace. In our world of accelerated transformation, not only have end consumers become more sophisticated and unfair, but B2B customers are also going through a process of specialization and demand.
This has been forcing the companies they work with to necessarily modify their strategies. In this report, we will present business opinions concerning B2B challenges, as based on responses gathered from senior marketing and customer communication executives from leading companies in Spain, Portugal and Latin America. Creating the best experiences, the role talent plays in building trust, the slow progress of digital transformation regarding customer acquisition and relationship-building are just some of the key points explained below.
1. Differentiation through Bonds and Experiences
Standing out from the crowd is the key to edging out the competition. One way to achieve this goal is through developing a Unique Selling Proposition (USP), meaning the unique benefit a company, service, product or brand provides, also helping it stand out from the competition. What makes the service or product offered unique and special? What makes them different? The B2B companies consulted agree that offering the best experiences and developing emotional bonds is a key element that helps their brands to build brand awareness and communicate their value proposition as best as possible.
Regarding the differences between B2B and B2C in terms of brand management, Maria Antonia Saldanha, Brand and Communications director at SIBS in Portugal, claims end consumers have researched extremely technical knowledge and are well aware of the products they want.
Roberto Rodriguez, Communications manager at Marsh Mexico, believes the B2B and B2C markets are totally different. “The public or general consumer population may see B2B brands as low-profile,” he stated. “However, they are an important factor for the main decisionmakers in companies.”
It is important to point out that differentiation also becomes an internal driver as well, often leading to good, tangible and specific results in terms of employee communications. First, the company must do the work within the brand itself. Then, the lessons learned can be applied to external communications.
“Global digital transformation is an issue that is here to stay”
2. Talent as the Key to Customer Engagement
3M in Peru believes “the role of talent is essential, since the collaborators are those who share the value proposition with customers across all points of contact.” Business success lies in the hands of those who run it every day. It is found in values such as transparency, professionalism and integrity, which a company can use to strengthen its customer relationships.
The importance given to talent as a sales tool means that some companies, such as Spanish company Cuatrecasas, individuals are taught about personal branding from the beginning in an effort to give them the tools they will need to make themselves known.
Jose Quiros, general manager at Compañía de Soterramiento de Cables (CSC) in Panama states that people no longer want to work in a company for 20 years, but for a maximum of 12 months. “To what extent can they be advocates of that?” he asks. As long as the company vision, mission and values are aligned with the individual’s mission and vision, engagement will exist.”
3. The Challenge of Customer Acquisition, Still Far from Digital Transformation
One of the most relevant recent phenomena in the commercial relations field has been the appearance of digital technology, which has been transforming this area. This change is felt more clearly in B2C companies. This transformation has also reached B2B companies.
Many of the communication challenges B2C companies have faced in recent years, such as branding and marketing, directly connect with B2B customers as well. In this respect, both share very similar challenges. This leads to the following question: How are companies that sell products or services to other companies (rather than to end consumers) facing this reality?
First, it is clear that all companies are aware of the changes the digital environment has caused. From health and industry to banking and finance, respondents from all sectors agree that digital technology directly affects customer acquisition. Countries such as Colombia and Mexico report more traditional dynamics, where face-to-face relationships still prevail.
On the other hand, most B2Bs consulted point to the importance of positioning themselves as thought leaders in the conversation areas most relevant to their businesses. Roberto Rodriguez, Communications manager at Marsh Mexico, claims that “Our consultants are responsible for not only offering our customers the best solutions, but also guiding the industry toward the future.”
In contrast, many B2B companies continue to rely primarily upon traditional methods as their main engagement strategy. With the exception, perhaps, of banking.
This may be a result of not only the nature of the business, but also the particular market conditions in each country. In any case, it is clear that, in the wake of the disruption caused by digital technology, B2B companies will eventually have to develop strategies to enter markets and, first and foremost, effectively anticipate this new market logic. As such, concrete action in the digital environment, active participation in thought leadership and the use of digital tools to attract new customers are perhaps the most important challenges B2B companies will face in the coming years.
“B2B companies will have to develop strategies to enter markets and anticipate this new market logic”
4. Building Customer Trust
Customer retention is a crucial challenge in marketing and B2B communications, and to do it, one of the key words is “trust.” This is an indispensable element to consolidating and maintaining relationships with long-term customer partners. Building this trusting relationship of allies and partners is based on three pillars: High-level service, personal relationships with customers and adding value beyond what is strictly agreed on.
Tiago Caravana, Marketing director at CVRA in Portugal, adds the variables of more qualitative and personal interaction, saying “Service excellence comes from the efficiency, diplomacy and kindness shown when contacting customers.” That diplomacy and kindness are inextricably linked to the personal relationship established, not only with another company, but with the people who hire us and whom we serve.
As for the third pillar (giving more than what you are hired for), a strategy that works for EY in Spain concerns thought leadership. “We provide our customers with exclusive, valuable information to keep them up-to-date with the latest developments relevant to their day-to-day activities,” explains Elena Merino Macho, Associate Brand and Marketing director at EY Spain. All this work leads to something that may sound unusual in a B2B relationship: Establishing an emotional bond with the customer. “We are emotional thinking beings,” adds Gustavo Orfano, Commercial manager at Iké Asistencia Argentina. Given the diversity of views, people and customer contact areas, as well as the need to create a positive experience and learn throughout prospecting, sales, delivery and post-sales processes, it becomes increasingly important to develop customer experience strategies. The majority of executives interviewed agree on this need.
While customer experience projects are being launched, what all respondents agree on is that feedback information should be collected to help decide how the relationship plan will be adjusted. There is at least one survey per year, but there is also room for face-to-face feedback. IBM Peru, for instance, relies on its sales force, which is on the front line with the customer. In addition, Juan Diego Diaz, Onshore Marketing director at Siemens Gamesa, explains that the company holds face-to-face interviews with key customers, held by the marketing area to ensure the objectivity.