Taming tangled supply chains and explaining the arcane are the daily handiwork of B2B communicators. But as their companies face uneven prospects for growth across global markets, B2B marketing and PR pros are paying closer attention to their customers, whose buying process can be especially onerous as it involves layers of decision makers.
How can business communicators deepen relationships with customers in 2016? By creating brand experiences that keep customers moving forward on their purchase journey and proving the business is a worthy partner. Here are some top priorities for B2B communicators:
1. Customer Insights: Nearly three-quarters of business buyers go online to learn about products before making purchases, according to Forrester Research. But B2B digital campaigns often can fall short of sales expectations because meaningful customer intelligence hasn’t been used to inform brand messaging and media selection. For example, while the Net Promoter Score (SM) serves as a popular benchmark for consumer loyalty and a predictor of sales, it may be less accessible for B2B pros who fail to understand how to align it with their complex supply streams.
To produce data that’s more meaningful for B2B online strategies, communicators must address the customer experiences of a broader set of stakeholders. In the B2B world, that vast group may span raw material providers, original equipment manufacturers, distributors and resellers, along with the end user. Such a robust data set could yield more accurate customer profiles and useful insights for marketers—about not only specific customers’ willingness to endorse a brand to others, but also their preferences on product features and brand engagement.
2. Workplace Culture: Consider Volkswagen’s recent hire of the company’s first integrity czar in response to revelations of widespread emissions-test rigging. Unlike other auto industry crises related to faulty engineering or poor fiscal management, the collapse of VW’s worldwide sales generally is blamed on its broken corporate culture.
In working with B2B companies, where exposure to risk increases exponentially based on the size of the supplier base, customers want to see proof that their safety and trust are part of the brand promise. A good example is ABB, a provider of power and automation technologies that touts its integrity portal right on its website. The company even showcases its integrity app, which counsels employees about ethical situations.
3. Sustainability: For B2B companies operating within consumer supply chains, compliance with environmental, social and governance (ESG) requirements is a serious matter due to safety and legal concerns. But ESG issues also touch customer loyalty.
Yet not enough B2B businesses that supply consumer product manufacturers or retailers are aware that they can be a better partner to customers by extending their ESG narratives beyond professional audiences to include the general public. For example, despite increased advances in green industrial technologies and processes, the G&S Sense & Sustainability® Study found that Americans did not rate highly the sustainability reputation of the manufacturing industry, which came in last in rankings as compared to top marks for agriculture and food and beverage industries. Broadening B2B audiences is especially important for companies that have worked primarly with trade media that focus on product profiles, instead of business or consumer media that can explain the company’s role in its community and the world.
In an uncertain environment, some B2B companies will falter by adopting a business strategy of deep entrenchment with scaled-back communications or a business-as-usual approach with an absence of confident risk taking. Smarter B2B companies will continue to innovate, especially in the way they do business with known customers. By removing barriers in customer journeys, business communicators can clear a path for sales success in 2016 and beyond.
This article originally appeared in the December 14, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.