Archive for January 2010
Many years ago when I did my CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing) course, one of the books on the reading list was “The Concept of the Marketing Mix” by Neil Borden. This is the classic text that introduced the 4P’s of Price, Place, Promotion and Product of the marketing mix to the world. Written in the early 1960’s this book was, I thought at the time, a tad biased toward the B2C (business to consumer or FMCG as it was called at the time) market.
In fact I think that the majority of marketing books lean towards the consumer markets. Perhaps part of the reason for this is that in B2B (business to business) there is usually direct contact with the customer. That is, actual people from one (selling) organisation meet and talk directly to people from the other (buying) organisation. There are no wholesalers, retailers, catalogues etc. to get in the way. This is such an advantage for B2B over the B2C market. B2C has to rely on focus groups, surveys, product trails and the like, to better understand the mind of the consumer. B2B just picks up the phone, or arranges a meeting.
Over time others have suggested adding to the 4P’s. We’ve had Planet (environmental issues), Politics (socio-economics) and even Purple Cow (being remarkable) with the result that I think the original 4P’s are increasingly becoming redundant for the B2B environment.
So, I suggest another approach. I’d like to propose the 4V’s for today’s B2B market place:
This V is concerned with what you do to help the customer: to add VALUE. At a very simplistic level it could be seen as the ratio of the Product to Price (thus combining two of the old P’s). In order to increase your VALUE to the customer you need to either offer more for the same price, or the same for a lower price. Either can work. People do not buy on price alone. They are intelligent enough to realise that spending more will often achieve more. But understanding your VALUE to a particular customer / segment / market is crucial to success.
This V covers what might be called marketing communications, or Promotions using Borden’s nomenclature. There was a time when more advertising = more income. Those days are long gone. Everyone is bombarded by information, offers and the next big thing. The problem is people are not listening any more. Shouting about how good you are is “old school”.
We are now in an age where businesses mainly find out about the next thing in one of three ways: on-line, from the sales representatives or from advocates. Advocates are people who are so happy with something (a product, service, relationship) that they tell others about it. On-line and off-line businesses need to ensure they have a quality dialogue with their customers, sales people and advocates. That’s why your style, your approach, your VOICE is so important. Your VOICE controls the style, and content of the dialogue. (Hence the rise in social media, where these conversations are increasingly taking place) Your VOICE needs to permeate your freely available and valuable content in all your communications to all your connections.
This V is concerned with what your business stands for and where it is going. It’s also, in part, to do with how you are perceived by the customer. For example, the VISION of Apple (let’s create and have fun, we’re all cool) is very different from a PC (actually, it’s all work – so let’s get the job done). Your VISION also covers differentiation, being remarkable and unique. This applies even if you are offering a commodity. Your service, systems and the people you hire, are all part of your VISION. Your VISION is realised in your brand, your people and the experience the customer has of buying from you. No clear VISION, no long term business.
To be honest, I was struggling with the last V. I wanted a “V” that covered the area where we need systems to track, measure and record. To remove the assumptions so we know what is actually going on. We can only improve something that is being measured. So VERIFY covers all the CRM systems, customer surveys, sales reports, financial systems, client meetings etc where we measure the effects of our relationship in both qualitative and quantitative terms. If we do not VERIFY, we are steering the business with the instrument dash-board covered.
OK, so there we have it. My proposal for the 4V’s of the B2B market place for 2010…
Value, Vision, Voice and Verify.
When at a potential new client meeting, what’s the best approach to take?
You go through your questions and dig around to understand their situation and problems. You build up an idea of what’s going on and what needs to be done to improve the situation. You understand the problem, you mentally diagnose the cause and you can see the symptoms manifest themselves.You know you can help them and you know you can add value.
You also know that it’s what the client thinks, not what you think, that counts in getting a positive decision.
However, the client brought you in to sort out the symptoms. Or usually just one of them: the symptom that causes the most pain to the business or more likely the most pain to them personally.
You know that focusing just on this symptom will help a little, but what they really need is far more than that, if you look at the business in total.
So you face a choice: Do what the customer is asking you to do, or tell them what really needs to be done. If the customer says that they have a pain in their head and they want you to take it away – do you sell them a hard hat – or work on the reasons why other departments keep hitting them over the head with a mallet?
My experience is that in difficult economic times you sell them the hard hat. It may not be the best solution for the long term, but in difficult times people focus mainly on “now”. When the economy improves you will have some trust and a relationship in place to go back to them and look at the bigger picture.
So, for the moment focus on the symptoms and focus on their cause later in the relationship.