Turn on and tune in – why B2B marketers need to listen harder than ever

Having a finger on the pulse of what your customers think, feel, believe and expect has never been more important for B2B marketers in the wake of coronavirus. So how are B2B marketers doing it? And what problems are they facing along the way? These were the key discussion points in our latest B2B Marketing Leaders roundtable

Marketers have always needed to understand what their customers are thinking and feeling, and how this is impacting on their behaviour. But Covid19 has taken this to another level, creating waves of uncertainty, shifting priorities and fluid expectations for buyers – in other words, sentiment has never been so changeable. So how are B2B marketers doing this? What tactics and techniques are they utilising? Are these different to what they used before coronavirus? And are they working? These were some of the key questions I was seeking to ask the attendees to our latest B2B Marketing Leaders virtual roundtable.

The marketers present came from a wide variety of industries, and had a diverse range of experiences and perspectives. Here are my main takeaways:

1.     Sentiment assessment is an analogue game, not digital

Despite the tsunami of martech tools and applications, and associated data points, most customer sentiment analysis at B2B organisations is analogue… or at least face-to-face (via Zoom etc.). Roundtables and focus groups remain the primary means by which B2B marketers understand customer sentiment. Only one of the marketers attending had the confidence in his array of digital tools to provide rely on this to inform sentiment analysis, first and foremost.

2.     Customer-centricity isn’t just about customers

… it’s about the entire brand ecosystem and your overall reputation as a brand. It encompasses all your stakeholders, channel partners, advocates and influencers – and it demands an overall ethos to deliver it effectively. That means that the biggest and most important contributors are employees, across the whole organisation. That in turn requires a strong, resonant and well-communicated brand purpose. Any attempt to shift customer perceptions, improve customer experience or improve relationships needs to include employees right from the start – certainly not as an afterthought (as happens all too often).

3.     CX and customer centricity demands board-level buy-in and ownership

If the board aren’t committed to being focused on customers, understanding their needs and acting on what they tell you, then you’re unlikely to become truly customer centric, or achieve great CX. More importantly, rather than just playing along, the board needs to own these metrics and demonstrate that they are responsive to them.

4.     Product development has moved centre-stage

Effective customer-centricity programmes need to have a hotline to product development as never before, with effective sentiment analysis profound shifts in customer needs, new customer audiences or completely new ways to do business. Some attendees said that they were now communicating with completely new customer segments than those they were engaged with previously. The marketers' challenge is to turn this insight into actionable PD strategies in the soonest possible timeframes – it is todays’ commercial imperative. 

5.     Sales now has the time, and motivation to support

The temporary suspension, or at least slowing down, of many sales conversations, as a result of coronavirus, has left many members of the sales team with time on their hands. Not only that, but they are more eager than ever for insights from and about their customers that will help them get these conversations started again. Consequently, marketers may be able to leverage significant help from the sales team in their efforts to map customer sentiment – either directly, with practical help, or indirectly. There will certainly be limited resistance, and marketers may enjoy sales being in a support function role, for once.

6.     A licence to innovate

It’s likely that proposals trials, test or experiments for new customer-centricity related solutions or insights will be welcomed (and funded!) as never before. Marketers should be brave, and embrace this newfound (and possibly temporary) approach to innovation and see what they can learn during this period.

7.     HR is marketing’s partner in customer centricity

If employees are the key to better customer communications, insight and engagement, then HR must be marketing’s partner to enabling this. It’s perhaps ironic that marketing and HR were two of the corporate functions that were historically least respected at board level may be key to those company’s salvation in 2020. The brand is in their hands.

8.     Set the right tone – consistently

I’ve blogged before about the importance of tone, messaging and nuance in customer messaging in the wake of coronavirus, but this needs to extend to every customer or prospect engagement or interaction. Because that relies on people, it can be much more difficult to achieve.

9.     A sea change, not an interlude

As with many changes to have been driven and enabled by coronavirus, the biggest challenge and opportunity is to make this a permanent change, and to ensure that things don’t revert back to the way they were before – either immediately or gradually. Those that embrace this change culturally, and make permanent shifts in behaviour and attitude, will reap long term benefits.

About the B2B Marketing Leaders programme

B2B Marketing is running regular roundtables to help CMOs, marketing directors, VPs and other B2B Marketing Leaders to navigate the coronavirus crisis and prepare for what comes next. For more information on the programme go to our website.

If you’d like to join one of these sessions, email sarah.casswell@b2bmarketing.net