Change is an element of life that terrifies many, similar to public speaking and spiders; it is by far one of the most feared things within a business environment. Established institutions that have enjoyed healthy profits can experience complacency through embracing the way how things were, rather than how good things could be.
Theodore Levitt’s Marketing Myopia, one of the most inspirational marketing academic pieces from the 1960’s, tells the story of people, companies and industries that through ‘misunderstanding’ which industry they were actually in, suffered catastrophic failure! These include industries such as an oil industry, one of the worlds longest and sustainable profit sources.
Traditionally, the oil industry had a primary role of servicing oil lanterns it kept our houses lit up after dark – and business was good. All of a sudden, Edison turned on the lights, and everything changed! Through not understanding what they were actually in the business of, and not embracing change to make that happen, the oil industry was left behind.
If it were not for the invention of the motorcar the oil industry & its vast power would have failed. Funnily enough, the industry today is in the same predicament. Change is happening, but it is being driven by outside forces and this time it comes from a South African-born innovator & his electric car company – Elon Musk & Tesla.
When it comes to start-ups and SMEs there can be a certain level of fear of change. When new and evolving businesses look to sell new, potentially complex and expensive solutions they must be able to convince decision makers to take action and make change. Having a great product/offering is not enough. You need to get companies to buy. This is tough as despite being B2B…you are selling to people and people are reluctant to change. Therefore, you need to find your internal weapon…an advocate. You need to find a change agent.
How does the change agent apply to B2B?
Change agents can have a great deal of influence in driving B2B purchase decisions involving big dollars, large risk and especially if it is a “new task” buying situation.
While they are highly respected by both the management teams & staff, they are often extremely difficult to find, as they don’t usually have a title and can sometimes be difficult to identify.
Internally many organisations use ‘HR business partners’ to facilitate change, and they are charged with amalgamating the functional areas or business units with the strategic vision. These change agents are in many instances not from an HR background but are respected by all within the organisation, and as such can facilitate, support and bring about effective change.
What does a change agent have the capability to do for the B2B space?
Although they may not be a senior management or executive, change agents are respected, listened to and understand how to speak up, down and anyway required to get the most out of just about anyone in your company. As a result, a change agent can be instrumental in getting buyers to purchase your company’s products or services.
Change agents usually have the following characteristics:
- Researched and understand the alternative
- Ask very advanced and knowledgeable questions
- Drive change across the organisation
- Understand the politics within the company and how things really get done—perhaps one of their biggest benefits!!!
How do you go about finding the right change agent?
Admittedly, finding change agents is not easy. It will require you to research your target customers and leverage your contacts to help you identify appropriate people within the organisation that may serve as a change agent.
Remembering that by definition, change agents implement change. Sometimes change agents work more for the sake of it, rather than based on sound facts, research and data that will make a positive difference to your business.
Tips that identify the right change agent for your business:
- They talk about the needs and challenges of the greater group, department or company not just their individual needs or that of senior management.
- They follow through and successfully complete requests made to them such as setting up a meeting with a specific person or researching something happening within their organisation.
How to get a change agent to provide you with the best potential outcomes:
- Teach the change agent something new and compelling about the business and its challenges
- Outline how a company’s current ways of operating could be costing them time, money and/or lost opportunities
Change can be driven both internally or externally from your organisation, however, as with the Levitt example of the oil industry, it was driven by forces and people outside of the industry – in this case – and the organisations that participate within it for real change to occur.
Putting this example into perspective to your specific B2B organisation, with the help of a change agent— you can have a profound – even world-changing – impact, such as that of Elon Musk on the way we see space travel, electric cars or solar power.
Change agents create new opportunities, new iterations, new business, but also new challenges for their organisation.
By identifying the appropriate change agent and delivering value to them by providing advice and insights which will help them address their needs and challenges, you can make inroads to establish a long-term and profitable relationship with customers or prospects.
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 Levitt, T. (1960). “Marketing Myopia”. Harvard Business Review.
 Burns. B, How and Why Large Companies Make Product Selections