Why your proposition is the key to being customer-centric

If you get your proposition development right, you’re well on your way to nailing the challenge of customer-centricity says Tom Upfold

Today, I hardly ever get a client brief without some reference to ‘customer-centricity’. There’s nothing wrong with that – but what does ‘customer-centric marketing’ really mean in B2B?

A lot of people will tell you that it involves a detailed content marketing strategy and/or a commitment to marketing automation (MA) and more sophisticated customer data profiling. At the heart of that: the creation of detailed customer personas that help us better visualise our audience.

These are all valuable tools, but in the general hubbub of the modern marketing discussion, the product and the proposition are in danger of being neglected.

I want to make the case here that the proposition is still the central challenge facing B2B marketers. I’d even add that if you’re doing your proposition development right, you’re probably well on your way to nailing the challenge of customer-centricity too. Because a good proposition understands a customer’s challenges and responds to them. A good proposition is a customer-centric one.

Don’t take my word for it – here’s what the audience thinks!

As things stand, B2B audiences aren’t very satisfied with the quality of the marketing and sales they receive. Here’s a quote from a fairly recent CEB and Google study:

“86% of B2B buyers saw ‘no real difference between suppliers’.”

And here are the thoughts of some B2B tech decision-makers from a recent study we conducted with Kindle Research:

“It’s all believable, but nothing grabs me. It’s just general marketing blurb.”

“For me to take 30 minutes out of my day I need to see some value in it, and quite often I’m unconvinced.”

So why’s it so hard to get this right?

Is this the toughest kind of marketing there is?

Many B2B marketers have to deal with complex, highly specialised solutions and services.

There are often long and complicated stories to digest about how and why these offerings were developed. Getting the most interesting details out of these – and consensus among the solutions architects, consultants and sales teams – takes time and effort.

You then need to map these against some equally complex customer worlds – multi-faceted business challenges, subtle industry variations, convoluted decision-making processes and groups, and sometimes long sales cycles. According to the CEB, 80% of sales leaders say the number of people in a decision-making unit continues to rise. And it’s already at 5.4.

It’s hard graft, but well worth it. In the process you start to uncover some nuggets of gold – the little things that will give you genuine differentiation, leading to more exciting creative, clever messaging and marketing that will stop people in their tracks.

However, the truth is that this hard graft doesn’t always happen and the foundations for everything else B2B marketers do is weakened by that.

Understanding the customer and understanding the product is the same thing

The product you’re marketing was developed to solve a genuine customer need. By doing the hard work to understand your offering and the story behind it – its ‘why’ – you will end up with a better informed view of your customer’s world and where you fit in it.

So, next time you hear someone complaining about being too product focused, just remind them not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.