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Must-read Research: B2B Marketers Must Heed the Voice of the Customer

Posted on November 1, 2013 , by Steve Bernstein

Given Waypoint Group’s focus on B2B businesses, I’m extremely excited by new research on B2B enterprises published by McKinsey & Co.  We’ve always known 3 things:

  1. Running an effective “Voice of Customer” program – one that generates results from acting on “representative” insights – is a powerful differentiator for the companies that make the effort.
  2. Those companies that engage their customers by effectively communicating what they are doing in response to the feedback they’ve received (i.e. “Demonstrated Listening”) will improve loyalty as measured through scores (Net Promoter or otherwise) AND financials such as customer lifetime value.
  3. Front-line account teams in B2B companies have tremendous influence and power to drive loyalty.  That is, the one-to-one interactions from the account teams make the difference.

Now we not only know more about how real these findings are across companies and industries, but we also clearly see how connected those 3 realities are.  The clear finding?  You can’t fake it.  According to the study,

“Honest and open dialogue, which customers considered most important, was one of the three themes not emphasized at all by the 90 companies in our sample.”

While these B2B enterprises emphasized innovation, global reach, market leadership, social responsibility, and a broad product portfolio in their brand messages, this study confirms what we see with our client results:  customers are more swayed by messages of honest and open dialog with customers, a responsible supply chain, and specialist expertise.  Customers want to buy from companies that actually hear customers’ needs and help solve their problems.  In other words, companies need to help their customers be successful.
And, customer success can’t be blasted in “1-to-many” marketing messages.  It must be demonstrated. The authors write,

“…our surveys show that personal interactions with sales reps remain the most influential factor—across touch points—for B2B customers.”

I’ve written about the 5 steps marketers must be taking to accelerate their value-add (and the real-world results that clients have achieved with this approach).  I remain perplexed by the lack of participation from most marketing organizations in their companies’ voice-of-customer efforts.  Perhaps it’s because marketers believe that customer feedback is only a lagging indicator of transactional (service and support) performance, or that feedback is only used for self-promotion (see here and here).  The partnership that must exist between Sales and Marketing organizations can be established through an effective voice-of-customer program (here’s a real-world example of some possibilities, and guidance).
Marketing organizations must get more involved (lead?) and listen to customers, according to the facts that this McKinsey study uncovered.  What will it take to change their priorities?