With the holidays now over, business is picking up momentum. As owners and managers of start-ups and SMEs, you will no doubt be looking at the year ahead, revisiting, contemplating and perhaps even stressing as to how you will derive more growth for your business. You may read reports and articles to understand industry and market trends, review last year’s numbers, speak to colleagues all in the aim to seek direction, clarity or validation as to the market opportunities that may exist to enable you to achieve those aggressive targets you seek.
Rick Spence, one of Canada’s leading experts on entrepreneurship and innovation and Entrepreneurial Editor for the National Post, wrote an article last year entitled, Seven ‘Patterns of Opportunity‘ As Seen in the Crystal Ball of Change. (1) While this article was focused on business-to-consumer (B2C) markets, there were three patterns mentioned that apply to B2B markets and should be given strong consideration as you develop strategies to drive the growth of your start-up or SME.
Three “Patterns of Opportunity” to look for in B2B
The following three patterns are applicable across many industries and markets. These patterns reflect the fundamental needs that business buyers seek.
By understanding and effectively responding to these patterns, your company can differentiate itself and drive growth by acquiring more customers and expanding into markets—even potentially those larger ones which you think are out of reach.
People want hyper-targeted services “to simplify their lives with better things.” (2)
Applicability to B2B
A key characteristic of B2B markets is that buyers and users of an offering are often not the same people. Each, however, has their own distinct priorities and needs.
Particularly those at more senior levels are heavily focused on achieving broader strategic objectives such as:
- Being positioned as a market leader
- Driving business growth
- Developing innovative solutions
- Engaging with industry peers and experts
As a result, business buyers will seek tailored advice, insights and solutions that specifically address their priorities.
Will also seek highly targeted products and services but more from an operational perspective. They will often require many elements of an offering such as ordering and fulfilment processes, training, customer service and support to be highly customised to meet their specific operational requirements and the end customers they serve.
Start-ups and SMEs that can understand these distinctions and meet the needs of both the buyers and users will be well positioned to successfully compete in the markets they choose to pursue.
As the word itself implies, it is all about providing simple, easy to use products and services.
Applicability to B2B
Within B2B, simplicity is about providing an easy, seamless end to end B2B customer experience such that your business customers can easily research, purchase and use your company’s products and services.
Achieving this requires you to deeply understand your business customers and meet their needs across the following three key interactions:
o The types of information buyers seek to look at when contemplating purchase
o Where and how buyers prefer to research your offerings
o How buyers prefer to purchase (as well as re-buy) products and services
o How they want products and services delivered
After Purchase-Sales and Support
o What services and support (eg. training, advice, inquiries) do they seek
o How they would like them delivered
Ease of doing business can be a critical factor in B2B purchase decision making. A study conducted in the US and UK found that 42% of B2B buyers’ purchase decisions were driven by the customer experience provided. Also, 36% of buyers also stated that they were unlikely to purchase from a company if they have heard that the customer experience will be poor, even if the product quality or price is better than alternative suppliers. (3)
Therefore, if your company can provide a tailored but simple, easy customer experience across the three interaction areas then you will be well positioned to acquire, retain and grow the business customers you seek.
This can be defined as working with strategic customers, partners and employees to create a new product, service or business. The aim of co-creation should be to create value for both the suppliers involved and the customers.
Applicability to B2B
Co-creating solutions have been proven to be very successful in helping to drive the growth and performance of B2B companies.
The global logistics company, DHL brings its customers and service partners together in Germany and Singapore “to conduct intensive hands-on workshops to understand the technical, economic and socio-political trends to develop new ways to manage supply chains and logistics.” Innovations that DHL launched as a result of such co-creation initiatives include:
- “Smart Glasses” and augmented reality to improve inventory and merchandise picking efficiency
- “Maintenance on Demand” that uses sensors that automatically back vehicle and component performance to identify when and where maintenance is required (4)
However, the benefits of co-creation are not exclusive to large companies. Co-creation with B2B customers can also be beneficial to drive the Start-Up and SME growth. Phononic is an SME based in North Carolina which specialises in the development of heating and cooling management systems.
Most of Phononic’s products are the result of co-creation whereby engineers, supply chain specialists, sales and marketing staff partner with customers to define requirements and design new products. This strong focus on innovation and co-creation has enabled Phononic to effectively compete with traditional larger companies and displace compressors, heat sinks and fans with smart sustainable products that have a wide range of applications from refrigeration to fibre optics. Phononic’s innovative solutions have resulted in the company being named a CNBC Disruptor two years in a row in 2016 and 2017. (5)
What Should You Do Next?
As you get ready to tackle 2018, you and your teams should do the following:
Review the markets and customers your company is currently serving and ask yourselves the following:
o Which of these are deemed your strategic customers?
o What are their key requirements, objectives and pain points?
o To what extent are Curation, Simplicity and Co-creation applicable?
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1. “Seven ‘patterns of opportunity’ as seen in the crystal ball of change,” National Post article by Rick Spence, October 18, 2017 (business.financialpost.com/entrepreneur/1011-biz-rs-rickspence)
2. “Seven ‘patterns of opportunity’ as seen in the crystal ball of change,” National Post article by Rick Spence, October 18, 2017
3. CXcellence: How to Achieve CX Success in B2B, 2017 Benchmarking Study by B2B Marketing
4. Customer Co-Creation is the Secret Sauce to Success, Forbes.com, June 10, 2016