- B2Bs need to remove "blind spots" from customer relationships
- Account teams and customer teams must be on the same page
- B2Bs must define and follow service values
If business-to-business (B2B) companies want to achieve organic growth -- that is, win more business from existing customers -- they've got their work cut out for them.
According to a recent Gallup report, just 29% of B2B customers are engaged, with the remaining 60% indifferent and 11% actively disengaged.
Gallup has observed and worked with hundreds of account teams and has conducted tens of thousands of customer interviews. Through this discovery process, Gallup has identified the core characteristics of the most successful account teams.
In general, these teams are defined by their customer-centric worldview. They have a good sense of where the customer's business has been and where it's going, and they strategically align with the markets they serve. These teams' companies enable them in ways that allow them to build exceptional strategies for customers. Their companies give them freedom in how they operate to ensure they meet customers' needs.
Beyond these generalities, companies can take specific actions to build stronger account teams and, thus, stronger customer relationships. These actions include removing "blind spots" in their customer relationships, getting the account team and the customer team on the same page, and defining and following service values.
Removing Relationship Blind Spots
In a typical business-to-consumer company, it's easy to answer the question, "Who is my customer?" Customers are the people who purchase a company's products or services. They are the passengers whose names are on the airline tickets or the shoppers standing in line to check out at the local mass merchant. They're Internet shoppers, checking account holders, hotel guests and the like. And, in most cases, they're easy to identify.
But in B2B companies, the definition of a "customer" is more elusive. This is because several decision-makers from different functional areas of a B2B customer usually make a joint decision to purchase products or services. This decision-making body is called a buying center, and in general, the larger the company, the larger the buying center.
For too many B2B companies, the buying center is a blind spot. It's not enough to identify a single contact on the customer side; suppliers need to know who all of the players are, what roles they play in the purchase decision and how they evaluate the strength and quality of their relationship with the company.
Gallup has found that developing a relationship map can help B2B companies minimize or eliminate their blind spots. A relationship map ensures that the company matches the right people from the account team to the right people on the customer team. Using this tool, the account team can determine who "owns" maintaining and improving each buying center relationship. A relationship map helps break down complexity and creates meaningful interactions across the grid.
Getting the Account Team on the Same Page
Communication between the account team and the customer team is critical to the overall health of the B2B relationship. However, it's equally important for companies to ensure that their account teams are engaged in open and honest conversation about the customer and the account. Ongoing internal communication can often stop minor hiccups from turning into major disasters.
Many organizations use some form of measurement to help them understand the status of their accounts. But it's then up to the account team to review the findings of any quantitative or qualitative research and create a plan to act on those findings. Team members should be on the same page about what's working well with the customer and how they can fix what's not working well.
Communication about the customer shouldn't be relegated to one or two times a year when survey results become available. Account team members must regularly meet to ensure that everyone knows what is going on with the account. Transparency is of the utmost importance for account team members, and they should feel comfortable bringing issues to the table.
Defining and Following Service Values
Even the best account teams can't achieve excellence if their company hasn't clearly defined its brand strategy and ensured operational consistency when delivering on its brand promise. The best companies Gallup has worked with do this by implementing behaviorally based service values. Though B2B companies may shy away from defining their brand promise and creating clear service values to support it, these values can provide account teams with much-needed clarity about what they are supposed to do and why they should be doing it.
Service values can also:
- serve as "cultural anchors" and provide a solid foundation to deliver and sustain a company's brand promise
- ensure that account teams and other employees are internally aligned with the organization's guiding principles
- establish a cultural norm to capture, share and inspire exceptional customer service stories that reflect the brand promise
- create a way for account teams and other employees to communicate their commitment to consistently deliver service excellence
- provide specific, measurable behaviors to hold individuals accountable for delivering on the brand promise
Leaders are responsible for defining their company's brand promise and the supporting behaviors that will create a culture of service excellence. They must get managers on board and then ensure that those managers help each account team member understand the brand promise, how it relates to his or her individual role and how the company expects him or her to deliver on it.