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Handling The 3 Simple Reasons Why NPS Is So Difficult In B2B

Posted on March 16, 2017 , by Steve Bernstein

Nearly every company executes customer surveys, and a growing number are calculating a Net Promoter Score.  But few are able reap the financial rewards associated with improving their NPS.  We know that business thrives with more Promoters and fewer Detractors, so why is an improvement in NPS so difficult in B2B?

1. We use the meaningless word, “Customer”

Most B2B firms don’t work with a single “customer” and instead work with a group of people in a company that evaluates and implements solutions.  We call this the Buying Committee.  Each member of the buying committee likely has different expectations and requirements, and therefore each member will likely have different perceptions of your firm’s performance. Yet when your firm sends “customer surveys” we often find that there is little understanding of the roles of the people receiving and responding to the survey.  Because of this, the NPS aggregates responses from end users, champions, executives, project managers, and others within the account that bothered to tell you how they feel.  Aggregating feedback across these roles becomes extremely difficult to action.
Further, most companies tend to have strong relationships with 1 person in the account – the “Champion” (or coach, primary, etc).  If you are getting feedback from only 1 or 2 people in an Account, you probably aren’t hearing how your company is truly being perceived across the buying committee.  Remember:

  • Employees come and go all the time: Do you know the average tenure of your buyer(s)?  What will you do if your Champion – or maybe even worse, the true Decision Maker – moves on to something new?  Now your firm has to justify its existence all over again to their replacement, who just might a different vendor in mind.  Leverage your champion to engage the others on the Buying Committee while you have the best chance.
  • And speaking of moving on, don’t you want your Promoters to take you with them when the move into a new role? The fastest sales cycles often come from Budget Holders that have previously obtained genuine success from your firms’ products and services.  But if you don’t build strong relationships with those people you’ll always miss this opportunity.
  • How confident are you that the Champion accurately reflects the perceptions of those working with your company and its products and services? Don’t you think you should triangulate to be sure you – and the Champion – have the full story?

4 take-aways:

  • Aggregate data responsibly.
  • Please stop using the word, “Customer.” It’s unclear at best.  Refer to the roles in question, or, at minimum refer to “Accounts” instead of “Customers.”
  • Leverage the feedback process to understand perceptions of everyone that influences buying decisions. In B2B, this is well beyond end-users of your products and services.
  • Make sure the Account-level feedback gets to the account teams. Everyone working with that account should be able to take action to improve the perceptions of the contacts with whom they work.

2. We lack clear objectives for the NPS “Customer Survey”

Why are you sending the survey?  Most would say, “We need to know if we’re doing a good job.”  Or, “We need to know what our customers think.”   But that’s not enough:

  • Leaders shouldn’t just want to know what customers think. They should want to drive the optimal improvements that will accelerate profitable growth. Unless your NPS comes back at +100 and truly represents all of your accounts and the various roles within them, you clearly have work to do to improve the perceptions of those pesky customers that pay your salary.
  • All firms have shareholders. I’ll be willing to wager that your shareholders would choose accelerated profitable growth far more than a high, yet flat or declining, NPS.
  • We all know that negative word-of-mouth is a powerful driver, eroding $ales opportunities that you never even new existed. Are you so focused on your Promoters that you dismiss the idea of remediating those issues that are creating detractors?

3 take-aways:

  • Remember reason 1: There is no “customer.”  If you want feedback because you aim to secure renewals and drive expansion, then you better get feedback from the Buying Committee.  If you want to make the lives of your end users better, then get their feedback on your products.  And if you want feedback on how well you are driving success and value, then you better think beyond the product and understand how well you are meeting the expectations of the leaders that are accountable to business results.
  • You can’t do it all at once.   Improvement is difficult when you try to take on too much at once.
  • Be prepared for change. Don’t waste your customers’ time by asking for feedback when you aren’t likely to do anything with it.  Your customers deserve better.  And besides, don’t you want to make more money by creating more Promoters and eliminating Detractors?

3. Results is the Product

In many ways, business is easier in the consumer world.  B2C firms know who their customer is, and B2C customers are buying a specific product or an experience.
But businesses don’t want to spend money.  Every dollar spent is one less dollar that could go into employee’s own pockets (directly or indirectly).  So, Return On Investment (ROI) is the B2B mantra.  Each dollar spent had better bring back even more money.
In other words, unless you are only focused on commodities then your B2B firm is selling “Results.”  And whether your firm provides physical goods, technology, or services, there is undoubtedly a level of “change” that your B2B accounts must embrace in order realize the business outcomes your firm is promising.  Business-as-usual doesn’t yield a higher ROI – that’s the definition of insanity.  There’s a direct line between how well you help your customers through change and how well they realize those business results.
What’s this got to do with NPS?  There are many reasons why someone will or will not recommend your firm.  The strength of that recommendation will always be in the context of their expected results.  And their expected results are always in the context of their role.
2 take-aways here:

  • How well do you know what results your buyers are expecting? Each member of the buying committee likely has a different definition of success, and the reason for recommending your firm will likely be in the context of those expectations.  So if you want to improve, you must understand those expectations and why they were or weren’t met.
  • How well do you know what is required in order to achieve the required results? Do you need employees to embrace new and different behaviors?  Are there dependencies on other parts of your firm’s ecosystem to deliver a “complete solution” that delivers the results?

So, here’s my answer as to why B2B NPS is so hard:  improvement means change, for you and for your “customers” who all have differing (and potentially competing) expectations due to their role.  Change is hard.  Human beings don’t like to change.  The more you help them through it, the better their results, and the better – and more rewarding – your NPS.
For a deeper look into these areas, consider taking a quick look at our “B2B Guide to Customer Success” known as Failure Sucks!  More For Your Customers Than For You (also on Amazon for free on Kindle Unlimited).  Or better yet, contact me directly for a complimentary copy or to discuss… I love to collaborate.