The FINANCIAL -- If B2B sales leaders want to generate organic growth, they must strive to know their customers' businesses as well as or better than their customers do. They need to bring outcome-driven ideas and analytics-based solutions to meet customers' challenges.
This takes more than a periodic customer survey. It requires a sales approach that is steeped in advanced analytics.
Prescriptive analytics -- the kind of analytics that describe, diagnose and predict evolving market conditions -- are the surest path to understanding customers' businesses - and, in turn, helping customers' businesses thrive.
With forward-looking data, B2B sales leaders can serve as strategic partners who tackle customers' biggest problems and help customers craft future-oriented plans. Engaging customers in this manner garners loyalty and generates organic growth.
To enable salespeople to be future-oriented advisers, B2B companies need to gain an in-depth, nuanced understanding of customer relationships and the specific challenges customers are trying to solve.
Talk to the Right People
Only through real-life customer conversations can B2B leaders discover what customers actually think and need.
Quantitative metrics can help identify customers' business challenges, but that isn't enough. Having conversations with customer stakeholders is paramount for a comprehensive understanding of customers' pressing needs. Qualitative interviews provide specific details for a more comprehensive solution than numbers alone could provide.
Human-to-human conversations conducted by an objective third party can deliver candid, comprehensive feedback that simple measurement tools like NPS cannot. This unbiased perspective allows account managers to understand pain points in relationships and the unique challenges that customers face.
Talking to the right customer stakeholders is a necessary, important step to accurately understand customer relationships. Treating all stakeholder opinions as equal is a major pitfall of many traditional voice-of-the-customer programs.
While decision-makers, influencers, buyers and end-users all have a seat at the table, their perspectives do not hold equal weight.
When choosing a firm to interview customers, B2B companies should consider those with access to high-ranking decision-makers. Leading-edge firms aim to identify similarities and differences in stakeholders' motivations and concerns, strengths and opportunities in customer relationships, and themes and patterns that inform sales and service.
Ask the Right Questions
Customer analytics are only powerful when they inform the right actions. B2B companies need insights that are predictive of key customer outcomes, such as revenue growth and customer retention.
Asking about rational drivers of customer relationships -- such as price, scale, array of services and technology -- provides only a limited perspective of where B2B companies stand with customers. For an in-depth understanding of customer accounts, B2B sales leaders should acquire qualitative insights with questions in four key areas:
Questions in this category help establish a baseline of the customer relationship.
For example, "Do you feel your company is getting sufficient value for the price?"
These items evaluate the strength of customer relationships -- whether there are thriving connections between the company and the customer.
For example, "Do [Company Name] team members have strong and meaningful relationships with your company?"
Items in this category take a deeper dive to identify new strategies and interventions for helping the customer's business.
For example, "What additional innovation/ideas/support can [Company Name] bring to the table?"
Positioning and Approach
These questions allow B2B companies to determine how well they are capitalizing on opportunities to advance customers' businesses.
Don't Just Ask, Take Action
Neglecting to follow through after collecting qualitative customer feedback is more detrimental to the relationship than never asking for feedback at all. B2B leaders should have a plan for embracing and acting on qualitative insights.
Alignment among senior leadership and individual account teams is critical for resolving problems that demand coordinated interventions. For example, concerns at the account level -- such as ongoing delivery issues -- might be related to systemic issues that require executive action.
B2B companies must also respond to the business opportunities they identify through stakeholder interviews. Even if these opportunities are beyond the B2B company's ability, discussing the opportunity further with customers can demonstrate the B2B company's dedication to advancing the customer's business -- ultimately enriching the relationship.
Done right, qualitative customer analytics yield invaluable perspective that can improve customer responsiveness, intimacy and loyalty. Better yet, these programs position sales leaders as thought leaders and trusted advisers in their customers' industries. That positioning -- as an invaluable, trusted partner -- is one of the single biggest contributors to B2B companies' growth.