For most B2B marketers, B2B means “Business to Business”. Nothing insightful there, you may say. But, and maybe I speak for myself only here, it generally means “my business to your business”. How do I get my brand, my value proposition, my offering in front of your users, your purchasing execs and your decision makers, so that I can persuade you to part with some money? Similarly with B2C which essentially means the same but in a consumer context.
Recently I have been seeing a lot of “Consumer to Business” or “C2B” positioning online, in social media and in conference brochures. The message here is one of emphasis. That is, it is the consumer that is driving the interaction with the vendor and it tips its hat to the role that social media is playing in driving the brand of the vendor. Crowd sourcing, discussion threads, recommendation engines, social media sites like Facebook and Google+, are all powerful vehicles for consumers to express their feelings and experiences about a brand, a brand’s products or indeed a brand’s future. Vendors of Social CRM, of Customer Experience Management software and Social Media based platforms are fond of this type of positioning. Of course it is symbiotic. No marketer is going to just let consumers drive their brand unconditionally. So if we want to truly reflect the “outside-in thinking” that C2B suggests, we possibly should describe it in an infinite loop of B2C2B2C2B°, or for B2B marketer’s maybe express it as B2B2B2B°, recurring infinitely.
The important point is that marketing has moved on in the last ten years. Even at the turn of the millennium when CRM became the hottest software sector on the planet, the focus was on how a business “manages” its customers more effectively. The goal was to increase yield based on more accurate information and drive deeper and more meaningful relationships. The growth of social media has changed all that. Now businesses cannot control the interactions the way they used to. The consumer or the purchasing business has multiple online channels to attempt to influence the relationship from their perspective. B2B marketing thinking needs to be continuously aware of that. Our marketing information systems need to monitor online channels for sentiment and for any warning signs that might affect our brand going forward. The channels may or may not be those that our consumer colleagues utilise but the principal of listening and acting upon sentiment, wherever it is expressed is vital.
An example of this in action at NetApp is our own partner programme. The channel is an important component to NetApp's business as most of our products are sold through third parties, distributors, systems integrators and resellers. We regularly meet with them to discuss how we can increase their ability to achieve their own objectives through our product. We have also created our online network specifically to act as a forum for sharing knowledge, getting feedback and developing our support to the channel. In addition various partners have blogs and are also members of groups on Linked In. Monitoring these can also provide us with a valuable source of insight into our partner's experience of working with NetApp.
The result of this insight has been the development of our award winning partner programme which accurately reflects the way our partners wish to work with us. By partnering with other leaders in technology, we can provide them with an integrated solution enabling customers to get value from their IT investments. Since its development, the programme has become an intrinsic part of NetApp’s ecosystem and is now responsible for over 70% of our UK revenue.
So as we blithely say “B2B”, we need to have it in the back of our minds about who is controlling whom. Is it the vendor-business or the vendee-business? Is the tail wagging the dog or the other way around? Actually it is both and the more we can manage that symbiosis within our marketing mixes, the better.