KS&R Blogs

jkraus@ksrinc.com

Hi, and welcome to my inaugural blog!

As a Principal/Owner of KS&R, and member of its Board of Directors, my main focus is on business-to-business research, assisting our global clients improve performance through a more thorough understanding of their current and prospective customers and the markets they serve. As I plan to blog ever few weeks, I hope you check back often for updates. Feel free to respond with your comments and to let me know if there are specific topics you'd like me to discuss. You can reach me at jkraus@ksrinc.com.

(Editor's Note: To learn more about Jim, see "10 Questions With..." January 2011)

 

As market research practitioners focused on global business markets, one of the areas we're often asked to examine is the decision processes of our client's customers (often referred to as "buyer behavior" or "customer behavior"). The need to understand buyer behavior is particularly acute in larger organizations with more complex decision processes and multiple influencers. Our clients typically ask us to help them better understand four key areas:

  1. Who are the key influencers in an organization that are involved in the decision process for the products and services they offer (often there are several influencers, each playing a different role)?
  2. What is the level of involvement of each influencer, at what stage in the decision process, and what specific role does each play?

    Typical Steps in the B2B Purchase Process

  3. What factors matter most in their decision (brand, features, price, expertise, after sale support, etc.)?
  4. What sources of information are used and most trusted to inform their buying decisions?

For our clients, these research activities ultimately inform the development of high performing marketing strategies, sales tactics, and customer value propositions. With tight alignment of research insights to marketing actions, these studies have led to increased revenue, shorter sales cycles, and improved marketing efficiencies/cost.

Unquestionably, one of the most striking and consistent findings of these inquiries has to do with time, or the lack thereof, of corporate decision makers. See if you can answer the following questions about your prospective business customers:

  • Do they know everything they want from a particular product or service your company offers (i.e., can they initially define all the value that matters to them or are there latent needs under the surface)?
  • Do they have time to do thorough due diligence in terms of the uniqueness and value of what your company offers (versus all of the competitive options!) and to trust it will really deliver as promised?
  • Are they able to efficiently and effectively navigate through the various sources of information available to them through different mediums to inform their decisions e.g., social media, Internet, advertising, colleagues and peers, independent advisors, etc?
  • Do they have time to build a credible business case that can stand up to internal scrutiny?

If your answer is no to most or all of these questions, you do not stand alone. Given corporate downsizing, heightened employee productivity expectations, and increased scrutiny on all purchases, it is increasingly difficult to develop business accounts as key decision makers simply do not have the time to:

  • Talk or meet with you (at least for any length of time),
  • Understand what you uniquely offer and its value to their business,
  • Check all their bases that you and your product/service can really deliver as promised, and
  • Develop a business case to make the sale internally

These time constraint realities (if we can call them that based on our experience) point to several opportunities for business marketers who understand them and take advantage of what their competitors are likely not doing namely:

  1. Understand your prospective customer's business and needs intimately it may seem obvious of course, but your prospects don't have the time or motivation to explain every nuance of their business and articulate exactly what they need to fulfill key requirements. Based on our research, it's sometimes surprising how often these prospective customers tell us that "vendors" offer them a smorgasbord of products and services with no conscience linkage to their business and unique needs. Customers don't have time to listen to everything you offer and then figure out for themselves where the value might be. They are looking for providers who understand their needs and quickly get to solutions that address them.

    Marketers who embrace this reality and take responsibility to do their homework prior to "making their pitch" have a clear competitive advantage. Their value proposition is based on an understanding of the prospect's company and industry through their own research, identification of key triggers and events going on in their business (falling sales, new product introductions, market expansion, etc.), and how their product or service can help the customer in specific and targeted areas.

  2. Help them conduct due diligence particularly in new accounts, prospective customers need to be assured your product or service will deliver as promised.

    • Do assume these prospects will need to perform due diligence
    • Do not assume they have the time to identify and digest every meaningful reference associated with your offering

    Marketers that have an edge, anticipate this need and put together targeted materials of customer references, links to (or copies of) third party endorsements, and evidence of positive (but realistic) measurable business outcomes derived from their offering. Your customers will appreciate your recognition of their need to be 100% confident in what you have to offer them.

  3. Build the business case for them recognize a business case of some kind whether formal or informal is required for most business purchases of any magnitude. This takes significant time your prospective customers don't have, particularly for the effort it takes them to sell a new vendor internally. As one recent focus group respondent told us:

    "If a new vendor wants to get in the door, take the time to understand what I have in place now and write the business case for me with an ROI. All I have to do then is sign and we're off. This whole come in, stand there, present your slides, try to confuse me, it's not going to work."

Any of these steps, if done well, will increase your chances of opening new business accounts and further increasing share of wallet in existing ones. Importantly, each will indirectly have the effect of communicating to your customers (loud and clear!) that you understand "time is their enemy" and you have accepted it as an opportunity to earn their business.


Jim Kraus
Principal

Jim Kraus

Jim has Account Executive responsibilities for the firm's Technology and Financial Services practices. Jim has over 20 years of marketing experience, holding senior-level research positions at IBM, Prudential Financial, and Guardian Life Insurance prior to joining KS&R in 2006. Jim's focus over the past several years has been on global B2B markets where he has deep knowledge of qualitative and quantitative research methodologies. Known as a consultative, result-oriented researcher, Jim is very adept at applying proven methodologies in creative ways to improve his clients' business performance through development of market insights that lead to more informed decisions in the areas of brand strength and performance, value proposition/message development, product/service development and forecasting, price optimization, buyer behavior, and client satisfaction/loyalty.