When is a person not a person? When they become a business customer.

Or so you would think if you listened to a lot of researchers and product teams at business to business (B2B) companies. In the consumer world the entire person is considered in product development, research, and marketing. Are you part of a segment that golfs, likes to play the banjo, and eats popcorn? Or one that watches tennis, lives in a warm climate, and likes to ski? The people creating products for you know that (or they try to know that). 

Are you part of a segment that does volunteer work, drives a BMW, and procures telecom services for your global corporation? It will be hard to find a company that is creating and selling those telecom services to you that knows that about you, or cares to know it. They know your relevant work related demographics (tenure, title, age, gender), your technical ability, your buying history (maybe), and which buying decisions you make. They may know your needs for telecom services as well. But linking the business-you to the consumer-you rarely happens.

And it should. 

This is not a data or a research shortcoming; it just hasn’t seemed that important yet. But it is. It is important if you have competition and even when you don’t. Sales teams figured this out hundreds of years ago – in order to build a relationship you need to get to know the person behind the businessperson to whom you are selling. Understanding your customers as whole people – as an integrated person – improves their satisfaction with products and services, improves your marketing and targeting, and gives you a competitive advantage. When you have a better understanding of who your customers are you design more empathetic and accurate products, services, and everything that wraps around it. Also, when your customers know that you understand them they are willing to overlook small lapses in satisfaction and experience that would otherwise upset them because you showed them that they are important to you.

Employers have generally come to accept that employees can’t leave their personal lives at the door. Not only does life need to be tended to during working hours, building employee engagement and a great culture requires that employees bring their personality, experience, and values to the office. This is even more important in innovation-led companies where passion drives many of the successes.

It is time for the companies creating offerings for the business world to make this a regular part of their product and service development process. Here is an example of a situation we worked on in which simply considering and understanding all the dimensions of the the B2B customer segment prevented a large wave of customer attrition:

A massive global communication company that made communication technologies for large business fleets of cars and trucks decided to discontinue a very expensive technology over a 24 month period, which had been in the market for close to 20 years, to make way for their next product.  There were great business reasons for discontinuing it from the manufacturers perspective but the buyers were irate. It had taken most of them years to get budget approval to buy the technology and then to actually implement it took even longer. Any change to this system would wreak havoc on operations and budgets. The customers, already associated in an international users group, banded together, discussed other technology options, and threatened to move their business somewhere else.  After all, if they had to get more budget and disrupt their companies why not take it to another vendor?

 The manufacturer, worried about losing these critical longterm customers, asked a research and consulting team to go out and understand why the customers were so resistant to moving to a new technology. Their hypothesis was that the customers just didn’t know much about the next new technology and as soon as they understood they would be willing to move to it.

 The research findings surprised the manufacturer: 90% of the US based buyers we spoke with were 57 year old men that were planning for their retirement in the next 2-4 years. They were each quite proud of this expensive communication system they had lobbied for and implemented. Since many were working with local or state governments to get the money for the system, they often had to lobby for 2-3 years to get the budget they needed. If they had to go back and ask for the same enormous sum while the current system was in working order they would feel a great deal of shame and embarrassment and end their career on a very low note. Additionally, most of these men described themselves as very loyal in all parts of their life and each felt personally insulted that the manufacturer had shown such disregard for their loyalty to the system and the brand.

 The manufacturer, in partnership with a consulting team, designed an interim 4 year offering that supported these buyers and kept the product alive in exchange for the buyers’ help in laying the foundation for the next technology. The leaders of the international users group got behind this solution and championed it at the next global conference – and even thanked  the manufacturer for listening to them and understanding their needs.