Building Customer Engagement with your B2B Customers

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Presentation to an IIR conference - May 2005

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  • This is a version of the famous encoding/decoding communications model, and surrounding the message is NOISE! It shows the message emanating from the ‘Source’, being encoded by language or image, before being decoded by the ‘Receiver’ who will then provide some form of feedback. The noise, however, is the factor that can confuse or destroy the message. Online noise takes the form of spam, messages from competitors, too many messages, inappropriate targeting, etc. As marketers we try to eliminate noise, but in the online world we are now coming up against ear-shattering and very distractive noise. It is time marketers fought back against this noise. Legislation can go someway to helping this – well targeted, meaningful dialogue with customers is were we can make most impact.
  • As an alternative though – “ I don't trust him. We're friends.” - Brecht, Bertolt (1898 - 1956) from Bloomsbury Thematic Dictionary of Quotations, © Bloomsbury 1997
  • When I was a salesman, my boss told me that people bought products or services from their ‘friends’. I have yet to meet a salesman that I could call a friend – not whilst they were trying to get my money, anyway! Trust is the basis for building loyalty which in turn will increase interaction – it is up to you to turn this interaction into profit. As a personal example – I am an Apple McIntosh user at home, but have to suffer PC’s at work. Think about the customer loyalty Apple has – most Apple users can be identified by two main attributes – they are fiercely loyal to the brand, and they are poor, because the loyalty costs so much! I have used Michael Porter’s value chain model to demonstrate the trust-focused value chain, culminating in ‘trust’ in a brand, product or service. It is no fluke that trust occupies the same space that ‘profit’ does in Porter’s model, indeed I could have extended it with another field to the right called profit. Being trustworthy is profitable.
  • The asymmetric information flow is a newly published model for the financial markets, but demonstrates the principle of the previous slide, in that the initial contact builds your profile in the marketplace. The second step builds your brand image within that marketplace to allow contact to advise customers (remember this is a model for the financial markets). Finally, the after-sales and retention will build your reputation. Reputation is something that is enhanced by trust, and customers who have reached this step will help build this reputation by recommending the brand/company to friends and acquaintances. This slide and the previous one are applicable to both the B2B and B2C marketplaces
  • There is no ‘answer’ to gaining trust, but every company should see it as their goal, because as I pointed out, being trustworthy is profitable. In terms of data gathering and interacting with customers, Senia’s statement about feeling comfortable handing over personal information is key. The same is true in the B2B environment – many organisations are unwilling to discuss their corporate goals, objectives or needs to unknown and untrusted suppliers. As account managers your role is critical in establishing and upholding your organisation’s brand values. Being seen as trustworthy by your accounts might be as simple as keeping your promises – delivering on time, meeting service level agreements, providing accurate data and knowledge, being open and honest, and so on.
  • Trust is under attack in society, and given the wide choice customer now enjoy, it is a competitive advantage to have the goodwill of your customers. customers have so much choice these days, which makes it difficult for brands to rise above the incredible number of messages clamouring for the attention of the customer Niall Fitzgerald’s quote says it all – “if you don’t command trust, you won’t get anywhere”
  • Nakra identifies a useful approach to developing trust, that can be adapted to the corporate environment. We must maintain an ongoing dialogue – in other words, regular two-way conversations. I can quote my old sales manager here again – you have 2 ears, 1 mouth, use them in that proportion! Listen to what customers are telling you and action their concerns – you will gain credibility and trust from them. Educate your customers – give them something for free, teach them what they should expect (making sure, of course that you can deliver). Create or support industry standards – whatever is relevant to your industry. For example, I’m involved on behalf of O2 in setting the Mobile Marketers standards. Customers will see you leading the way, and respect your efforts and achievements. Lobby for and against regulation - but always from the customer’s position, not just for your own advantage. these four issues can all increase apparent ‘trustworthiness’
  • PAUSE! Here’s a list of consumer brands from the Readers Digest Trusted Brand survey in the UK. What do you think of the list and the companies against each category – any surprises? What do you have to do to get onto this list, and stay on it? This is all about customer perception and for that you need to have the customer’s hearts and minds. British Airways is still on the list, despite their public internal and external problems. What do you think they have done right?
  • A quote from 1984 – I think all marketers would be locked up in these circumstances – talk about an unorthodox profession! But when we deal directly with customers, we have to ensure that we don’t scare them! the quote to the fact that clients watch for signs of irregularity, inconsistency in suppliers – I.e. lack of trust – and that they have to make an effort to stay in the “players” box.
  • Branding has always been an important part of the B2C marketplace. In the B2B market, brands are also important, but it’s often less about the tangible aspects of visuals, packaging and product and more about reliability, innovation, creativity, trust. brands based on intangible, emotive characteristics such as trust, reassurance, reputation, image and responsiveness are seen as more durable and less likely to suffer from competitive erosion Remember – business customers are also consumers, and if, like O2, you have a dual audience, securing consistent branding to all your business segments becomes more challenging.
  • It is worth repeating the quote from my sales manager – it is important in generating trust and developing a good relationship. The relationship should also be open, honest and trusting – if you trust your customers, they are more likely to trust you. It could, however, be that the customer doesn’t want a relationship with you – that, unfortunately, is life, you have to encourage the customer to want to interact with you, to opt-in and build a relationship. It will start with trust! LISTEN! Use your two ears and one mouth in proportion. Let the customer tell you what they want instead of you telling them what they should have. Finally, customers should be encouraged to interact. At O 2 , we are looking at incentivising the opt-in process, giving the customers an immediate, tangible benefit from receiving information from us. More of this in a moment. Over time, the benefits will be seeing in terms of the customer receiving more relevant and exciting offers. If you demonstrate trust, the customer is more likely to follow.
  • Marketing is regarded as an art – so why not be creative about encouraging your customers to opt-in and to interact with you? Encouragement to opt-in does not mean the same a trusting the brand. The research carried out within O 2 indicates has shown that customer are quite savvy about data privacy issues and what brand attributes they should and shouldn’t trust. Our research has shown that if we ask for details about mobile phones, customers are happy to respond. If, however, we ask for a full postal address, but are not due to post them anything, they become sceptical. This relates back to the issue of ‘relevancy’! By keeping within the safety of the RFM boundaries, we can infer ‘trustworthiness’. Marketing is constantly challenging rules and trying to get the competitive edge over others in the marketplace. The creative approach we are used to taking can increase opt-in and increase the interaction of the customers – don’t be afraid of using new ideas (but check for the legality of your approach). Trust is a two-way process and we must feel confident that our customers are being trustworthy toward us, giving us correct information and interacting with us honestly. But, ethical marketing will ensure that the company does everything possible to encourage honesty and trustworthiness by exhibiting it, itself. This may take some time, so don’t get despondent.
  • Being trustworthy is profitable, and provides you with a competitive advantage
  • But everyone else is trying the same thing. Are you more trustworthy than your competitor? Do you employ better people? …
  • I did some sales training many years ago, and the one thing that sticks in my memory about it is that customers relate better to dialogues. When talking to customers though, you should address them foremost – you are not interested in me – you want to know ‘What’s in it for me’!! Am I right?
  • Customers see your brand as a single entity, with a single personality and character, and react to it in the same way they would to the character of a trusted sales person. * Every touch point with a customer is an opportunity to exchange information and build on the profile of that customer, * also building a trustworthy character within the segment or market as a whole! * Every touch point should deliver some information. Outbound marketing campaigns should be devised in such a way as to make them interactive, as much as is possible. Remember the final ‘A’ in the AIDA model – ACTION – get the customers to do some action that you can record. * Finally, make your interactions cumulative, building on one another. Do this to learn titbits of information about the customer each time, and build a consistent and strong image of the brand or product to the customer.
  • competitive advantage is therefore achievable
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