Showing posts with label B2B. Show all posts
Showing posts with label B2B. Show all posts

Should You Provide Pricing Information on a B2B Website?

Providing specific pricing details is de rigueur for B2C eCommerce websites. Most B2B websites don’t provide details because pricing is usually complex based on many variables, combinations, configurations, and other factors specific to each buyer’s circumstances. Competitive exposure is another claimed reason for not publishing prices, but B2B companies already know competitors’ prices from other sources. Pricing is something that prospective buyers always want to know.

The problem is that website visitors and prospective buyers want to know whether a product/service/solution is within their budget range before they consider further exploration. Many B2B companies provide some guidance by indicating applicability by type of business, industry or company size – e.g. solutions for small business, mid-size companies or large enterprises. That’s a good approach, but website visitors still have no real understanding of the price range. There is anecdotal evidence that website visitors will leave to explore alternatives if they can’t get at least some basic understanding of prices.

The question of whether to provide pricing on B2B websites depends on the specific circumstances of a company/product/service/solution and common practices in the market(s) served. It’s also not a binary question. The question is really whether there are ways that B2B websites could provide some pricing information to satisfy the immediate needs for website visitors so that they continue to consider that company/product/service/solution and possibly initiate some follow-up response.

Many B2B websites want their website visitors to initiate contact to get additional information such as pricing, but the majority of website visitors are reticent to do that because they’re not ready to deal with a salesperson yet, nor do they want their contact information in another marketing database. In most cases, B2B website visitors are not looking for precise prices, just a general indication of price ranges relative to their needs.

What should you do?

  • Although providing pricing information on a B2B website may not be an absolute necessity, there are good reasons to investigate whether you should do it and in what manner.
  • If you can provide pricing in a relatively straightforward manner, consider doing it. This is obviously a decision that goes beyond marketing into the entire organization.
  • Don’t publish a complex pricing formula, matrix or calculator. Providing a complicated pricing algorithm might be worse than not providing any pricing.
  • If appropriate, provide a simple calculator for estimating general price ranges.
  • Providing sample prices for typical situations or configurations may be adequate. The key is to provide sufficient samples for website visitors to find one that resembles their requirements and business.
  • Provide an easy mechanism for users to submit basic parameters to request a price estimate which you can turn-around in 24 hours. But don’t ask for a long list of intrusive contact information details to discourage use of the request service.
  • Have a sales support hotline link on the website for providing real-time information based on getting the necessary qualification data.
If you do make any changes for providing pricing information on your B2B website, track response rates before and after to determine the impact of pricing availability.

How to do you handle providing pricing on your B2B website? Have you made any changes and seen any beneficial results? Your comments are always welcome.
Copyright © 2009 The Marketing Mélange and Ingistics LLC.

Is your company a Branded House or House of Brands?

If you don’t know the answer off the top of your head, that’s a problem. If you’re in a B2B or Information Technology company and gave either one as your answer, that could be a problem too.

Most branding practice and academic study originated in the B2C world and most examples and case studies of brand portfolio strategies are about B2C companies. The academic classifications of the most common branding architectures are:

  • Branded House – uses one master brand name across all products which are usually assigned descriptive or identity sub-brand names. In this model the products or sub-brands have a tight connection to the provider.
  • House of Brands – each product line is a stand-alone brand that is specifically positioned in a particular market segment independent of other brands in the company. The brands have no intentional connection to the provider.
Looking at these models from a B2B and Information Technology industry perspective, it’s tough to find examples of companies that exclusively use one or the other. Microsoft is an example of a Branded House with Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Word, etc. But they also have stand-alone brands such as Xbox, Zune and Bing, although there is a known provider connection. Oracle seems to be a House of Brands example where they have retained independent brand identities such as PeopleSoft, Siebel, JD Edwards, Hyperion, Oracle, etc. But these brands all have a known connection to Oracle as the provider.

B2B companies are fundamentally different from B2C companies in just about every aspect of their operations, customers and markets. Many technology companies operate in both B2B and B2C worlds. While B2C buyers couldn’t care less that P&G is the company behind Crest, Pringles or Tide, B2B and information technology buyers care a great deal about who is the provider company for a product they buy. This gives rise to a 3rd branding architecture as the prevalent model for B2B and IT companies:
  • Hybrid or Asymmetrical – uses elements of both the Branded House and House of Brands models in a defined architecture for a company’s specific circumstances.
What B2B and IT companies typically use, and what their customers expect, is a known and trusted umbrella brand. Adobe is a good example of a Hybrid model with stand-alone brands such as Acrobat, Photoshop, Flash, etc. all prefixed with the overarching Adobe brand. The hybrid or asymmetrical architecture doesn’t mean that you haphazardly do whatever you like for branding. It means that you use elements of both in a properly structured, well-defined and internally published brand architecture specific to your company and market situation.

"Brand is the 'f' word of marketing. People swear by it, no one quite understands its significance and everybody would like to think they do it more often than they do" - Mark di Soma, Audacity Group

A major concern with the Branded House and Hybrid umbrella brand architectures is that when something goes wrong in one product line or sub-brand, it could impact other products, sub-brands, markets and customers whether related or not, in the house or umbrella brand. In the Hybrid architecture, introducing a new umbrella brand across previously independent brands originating from organic development or acquisitions, is a huge and long-term undertaking, but it’s what B2B and IT customers and the marketplace want and expect.

Back to the title of this post – it’s a good question, but the underlying more important fundamental questions to take away are:
  • Do you have a Brand Portfolio Strategy? Or in different terminology, do you have a Brand Architecture?
  • If so, what is it and does everyone in your company understand and follow it?
  • If not, when are you going to develop it?
Your comments are always welcome.
Copyright © 2009 The Marketing Mélange and Ingistics LLC.

How customer loyalty depends on employee satisfaction

We’ve all experienced it – you go to a store to buy something and the service is lousy, you walk out annoyed and make a mental note to never shop there again. Or you go to another store selling the same stuff and the service is excellent, you walk out feeling good and make a mental reminder to come back to this store when you next need whatever they sell. The difference behind these experiences is primarily employee training and attitude. Employees who are poorly trained and/or dissatisfied with how they perceive being treated by their employer and manager will reflect that in how they deal with customers.

How does this apply to B2B marketing and sales? Many B2B companies are focusing on customer retention and loyalty as a means to market and sell additional products/services/solutions to existing customers. A key element of this strategy is to increase customer retention and loyalty. Firstly, we need to recognize these are different attributes:

  • Customer retention means that a customer continues to actively use your product/service/solution and there is some continuing relationship such as subscribing to support or maintenance services.
  • Customer loyalty means that a customer desires to continue doing business with you based on their positive experience and satisfaction. They want to buy more from you.
While you obviously want to retain customers, developing customer loyalty is the key to generating significant revenues from existing customers.

However, before you set off on any marketing and sales program based on customer retention or loyalty, be aware that there is a direct correlation between employee satisfaction and customer loyalty. There is a lot of research to support this – just search for ‘customer loyalty and employee satisfaction’ in your favorite Internet search engine. If your employees, in every area of your business and particularly those who interact with customers, are dissatisfied with their situation and/or the conditions at your company overall, your customer loyalty rating will probably be impacted negatively.

To adapt an old adage – “customer loyalty starts at home” – there is no point in launching a customer loyalty program for generating more sales unless employee satisfaction and attitude at your company is generally positive. Unfortunately, during this challenging economic period, companies are doing many things to undermine employee satisfaction and are mistakenly expecting to improve sales via customer loyalty at the same time.

“Bring a good attitude to work and customers will feel it all day long.” – Anonymous

Customers can sense when something is wrong at a company based on the demeanor of the employees. An employee satisfaction program should be an integral precursor to using customer loyalty for marketing and sales programs for best results.

If you have a customer loyalty focus in your organization, check out this blog post by my good friend and former colleague Melissa Paulik about the role: The Trials of the Customer Loyalty Specialist.
Copyright © 2009 The Marketing Mélange and Ingistics LLC.

The Buying Cycle Disconnect

Talk to salespeople about their process to engage with prospective buyers and you’ll hear all about the sales methodology and sales life cycle they use. Marketing also has a life cycle for designing, developing, launching and executing campaigns plus another life cycle for managing, nurturing and distributing leads. These life cycles are all necessary and important.

However, these are all inside-out processes on how you want to engage with prospective buyers or how they should engage with you. That’s an unrealistic perspective.

Prospective buyers have their own buying life cycle that they will follow. Whether or not it’s a defined methodology, all B2B buyers will follow a similar process for acquiring whatever product/service/solution they need. Customers want to go through their buying life cycle processes and will buy when they are ready. You can achieve much better results by understanding and connecting with your prospective customer’s buying life cycle. I’m not suggesting you put the customer in the driver’s seat – sales still needs to manage and control the process, but to better align your marketing and sales processes with the buying cycle and the outside-in perspective.

Although buying cycles vary by industry, product, service, solution, etc. there are common processes that most buyers want to step through. The diagram to the right outlines the major steps in a generalized B2B customer buying process:B2B Buying Cycle

  1. Sidelines – the vast majority of your prospective buyers are sitting on the sidelines, not actively looking to buy anything related to what you’re selling.
  2. Awareness – prospective buyers are aware of the general category or type of product/service/solution you are selling, but have not identified a need for it yet.
  3. Interest – the prospective buyer has identified a problem or opportunity that needs to be addressed and explores the issue in greater depth.
  4. Research – the prospective buyer defines their requirements and actively researches a long list of possible solutions for the identified problem or opportunity.
  5. Consideration – the prospective buyer finds suitable solution sources, gets more detailed information and does comparisons to compile a short list of possible solutions.
  6. Decision – the short list solutions are evaluated in various ways including customer defined demonstrations, tests, in-depth analysis and other methods to find the most suitable solution. The buyer could also decide not to buy anything. Marketing is usually disengaged at this point.
  7. Purchase – the purchase is made and everyone is happy for a fleeting moment. Sales usually disengage at this point.
  8. Implementing – the implementation process to get the solution installed and working for the customer in the manner they expect. Vendor or third party professional services usually assist customers with this step.
  9. Implemented – the solution is actively working for the customer. Vendor engagement with customers is primarily through support services from this point forward.
  10. Achievement – the customer (hopefully) begins to realize the benefits they set out to achieve from the solution.
  11. Loyal Customer – cultivating a satisfied and loyal customer has many benefits including additional purchases and referrals.
Although some of these steps in the buying cycle may seem beyond the interests of a marketing and sales discussion, I’ve specifically included them because they are frequently overlooked opportunities for marketing and/or sales to be engaged.

In the next several blog posts, I’ll delve into each step in more detail to explore how marketing and sales can engage more effectively and productively in the customer buying cycle to produce better results.

Your comments are always welcome.
Copyright © 2009 The Marketing Mélange and Ingistics LLC.

Trying to get a handle on Company Psychographics?

I received several emails in response to my last post ‘Do Psychographics work in B2B Marketing & Sales?’ about developing psychographic profiles for market segments or companies to complement existing demographic data.

Given that psychographics classify prospective buyers by psychological attitudes such as aspirations, interests, attitudes, opinions, etc., how does this apply to companies when you’re in B2B marketing and sales? IMO, companies do project a psychographic image or behavior pattern that goes beyond normal demographics – take IBM as an example signaling moving to a services-oriented business earlier this decade, followed by on-demand computing services mid-decade and the current focus on sustainability. For suppliers selling to IBM, those are powerful signals of what and how to position their solutions to IBM relative to how the company views itself in the market.

One email came from an ex-colleague and business acquaintance Charlie Allieri who is co-founder of iLantern, a provider of Sales Knowledge Management services. iLantern provides a service that monitors events associated with targeted companies to produce information alerts that signal activities that can influence sales opportunities at those companies. These events include executive staff changes, executive quotes, mergers, acquisitions, product announcements, alliances, awards, sales deals, business expansion, and many others.

Charlie’s point, within the company psychographic discussion, is that if marketing and sales were to analyze this event information more strategically, they could build a very insightful psychographic profile of their major customer and prospect companies. iLantern services primarily provide salespeople with really valuable and actionable current information and insights in their accounts, Charlie makes a good point that this information can also provide more strategic insights for marketing. Applying the information from a number of companies in a particular vertical industry or market segment can glean additional industry insights that are not reflected in any demographic data.

“No great marketing decisions have ever been made on quantitative data” – John Scully

Another really interesting part of the iLantern service for marketing is that you can automatically associate specific marketing materials and messaging with designated events for sales to take action. So, if a particular event occurs at a company in a target market segment, the service can alert the salesperson to invite the relevant person to a webinar, or send them a white paper, or mention a specific solution, or any scenario you wish to define. The salesperson gets the alert with a predefined script and email with the designated material(s) to contact the person in question at that company.

Company psychographics can give you a competitive edge in today’s tough market by identifying company events that signal a potential opportunity or to stop wasting time and resources on companies sending the wrong type of signals.

What do you think about this type of approach for developing and using company psychographics? Your comments are always welcome.
Copyright © 2009 The Marketing Mélange and Ingistics LLC.