ThinkingIt  can be a good idea to periodically spend some time re-thinking how we measure relationships between Companies and the Business Customers they serve. We often hear references to B2C vs. B2B,  yet I question whether there is enough thought  given to the nature of the differences in the way business products and services are sold and provided vs. consumer product sales and delivery.

A lack of such critical thinking is often shockingly apparent in B2B measurement design and methodology. Too many B2B companies still go about getting feedback from business customers with a non-productive, mid-century consumer market research survey mentality without even realizing it. IMHO, too many B2B researchers are still on “autopilot”…following the disciplines of consumer advertising,  brand management, and market research established by Proctor and Gamble, Pepsi and Coke in the 1950’s.

Even NPS (“Net Promoter”),the poster child for relationship survey research, was developed and tested in the consumer marketplace (check it out). To be fair, this consumer mentality should come as no surprise: Few (if any) major university business schools can be found whose business curriculums address business to business marketing as distinct from consumer marketing….try Googling this and see what you can find….very little. Yet we should know that there is a big, big difference between B2C and B2B measurement requirements…which, when unrecognized, leads to seriously flawed, unproductive, and  misleading business customer measurement.

Here’s the big difference:

  • In a business relationship, the person who uses the product is not the person who decides whether or not to buy it.
  • Usually one person is “responsible” for making the decision to buy, renew, or buy more.
  • That one person is usually pretty far up the food chain, and very often is never interviewed.
  • Although others can influence a purchase decision, they usually are not the users of the product or service.
  • Over time, the persons in the decision making process and environment can change

You’ve got to know who matters in the decision process and know who you’re talking to:

If you want to know how I like your toothpaste, I’m the guy who bought it and uses it…so bring on the questions…..but if you want to know how your professional services or SaaS offering is delivering value, making your customer more successful, and likely to be continued or renewed, the user can’t help you much.

We can survey business users and gain useful information on how a product or service is performing, or to measure transactional effectiveness…..however, If we’re measuring a business relationship in regard to overall value, retention, loyalty, likelihood to recommend, share of wallet, and renewals, then talking to users is rather silly, if you really think about it.

You need to be talking to the principals on the customer side that own the relationship with you….the decision makers.

And there’s more to it that just that: the fact that the person buying the product is not the person using it in B2B is just the tip of the iceberg…the whole purchase decision environment is a moving target…with politics, people coming and going, and a host of exogenous factors that make consumer research seem like child’s play…but more on this in upcoming posts.

it might be a good idea to take a look at your “Relationship” surveys and see how many users vs. decision makers are in the “sample” among those who responded. You could be in for a surprise.

Unresolved problems are relationship killers: If you don’t ask about them, you have a very shallow understanding of your relationship strength distribution.

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Software is always seductive. It can suck you in like quicksand. All of a sudden it’s 5:30 PM and you realize you’ve spent all day trying to make a questionnaire look pretty or get an Excel pivot table into PowerPoint. Not a good ROI on your day’s effort.

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Let’s do a reality check on the major differences between “B2C” and “B2B” which tend to be ignored, forgotten or abused in measuring business relationships….. particularly in the midst of everything else going on.

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Net Promoter became popular because CEO’s believed it and could understand it, due to it’s simplicity.

With NPS, like any other measurement scheme, you’ve got to decide if it actually works in your business environment and be sensitive to the potential for something that does a better job of representing your overall business relationships.

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When business customer surveys are done in your organization, are they done to settle claims? Could you say they are focused (empirical) to the point of serving one of a number of predefined actions based on the findings?

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