B2B success lies in solving customers’ problems

Given ongoing global market uncertainty, a lot of talk in the B2B space over the last six months has centred around positioning. With many of the CMOs I’ve spoken to across industries, verticals and categories – all looking for ways to stand out from their competitors. 

But re-thinking positioning shouldn’t be specific to times like the ones we’re currently experiencing – it’s something that should always be at the forefront of a B2B marketer’s mind, no matter what the global situation.

B2B products and services are all, by nature, very similar in terms of their offering, effectiveness, and pricing. Many of them are commoditised and can be bought from a variety of companies and providers, which sees us being approached by a large number of CMO’s with the similar struggle of trying to remain relevant and access the right audience. Here our starting point is always the same – we ask them to identify the problem they’re really looking to solve for their clients.

In marketing circles we often like to refer to the work of Harvard Business School marketing professor Theodore Levitt, a key influence on what we practice and whose famous quote about drill companies not selling quarter-inch drills, but quarter-inch holes is one on which we base much of our thinking. In this much used analogy the customer has to get a drill, but what they really want is the hole.

And while that example may apply to the consumer market, it is just as relevant within the B2B space. For instance, a bank that is trying to make one of their products more noticeable and appealing, needs to think about their customers’ problems and how they can solve them first. Instead of focusing on creating hype around the features and benefits which in many cases are largely similar to that of a lot of their competitor. 
Another great example is business internet solutions. In reality all the major players offer similar products, with similar speeds and features and at largely similar price points. But by opting to canvass its potential customer base, a telco could for instance discover that one of the major pain points for clients is finding a centralised way to manage invoicing and inventory.

The decision then becomes whether they’re in the business internet business or in the ‘making it easier to do business’ business. Simply offering customers an easier way to facilitate those processes, means they automatically stand out from their competitors while still selling business internet products at the same time. 
I personally struggle with ATL B2B ads that focus on price. For me the immediate assumption these companies are making is that the customer knows what product or solution they need when this is rarely the case at all. How do I know this? I speak to audiences and target markets across our clients about the problems they have in their businesses almost daily. And when I ask them what product or solution out there will solve it, they almost never know. The key takeout from this then is that it’s really up to the business to understand the issues and challenges within their client market and communicate that their products can in fact solve those problems.

With far more people now working from home, these channels have far less impact. Digital then becomes the obvious solution  – reach people on their devices, where they spend most of their time! 
And while digital media usage may be way up, it’s also important to consider the sheer volume of electronic communication people are now subjected to. From getting say one hundred emails a day working at the office, working from home, that number has more than likely rocketed to 250. Let’s face it, there’s a lot more competition for their attention – and screen fatigue is real. An obvious solution is to produce digital content. Don’t bombard them with advertising, instead provide them with content that’s valuable. Content they can consume because it’s entertaining and engaging, and at the same time is underpinned by a subtle brand message.

Some incredible examples of this type of work have recently come to light  in the B2C space. One still to come is the much anticipated documentary based on the amazing life story Springbok winger Makazole Mapimpi.

By associating a brand with a compelling story that many South Africans – and beyond – can relate to or will want to watch, they’ve automatically created an affinity between the content and the brand which in turn, will create an affinity with consumers. Personally, I believe B2B marketers can and will continue to learn a lot from examples like this.

This article, written by Warren Moss, was original published here.

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