In an age of big data and a seemingly endless capacity to produce and absorb information, one could be forgiven for believing that the end of the TLA, the three-letter acronym, is nigh. It should be, particularly for the subject of this piece, but for different reasons.
Popping up everywhere in emails and presentations, these TLAs quench our thirst to save time and effort by cutting short the unnecessary detail. And while they have a place, the complacency of their continued existence with no challenge as to what they are shorthand for, hides humbling messages for those leading customer agendas.
In following the well-trodden path of segmentation protocol, the terms B2C and B2B have been adopted to help define target audiences and brand positioning. Fair enough. You might want Mrs Angrave to renew her mobile phone contract with you or you might be providing the software to the mobile phone company to facilitate said renewal.
By definition though, segmentation is built on a specific set of needs and therefore must change too if the needs of that segment change.
Yet despite everyone saying the world is changing in front of our eyes, our beloved segmentation model of B2B and B2C is cast in reinforced concrete – and therefore, worryingly, so too can be our thinking.
The biggest of these changes is, ironically, simply the re-emergence of something we’ve known for years; that people buy from people. And while that has been the guiding light in the B2C world, the same should apply in the B2B sector.
Take but one classic B2B example. A law firm pitching their services to an industrial giant might focus on having been in business for 100 years, having 200 highly qualified lawyers to call on and having the flexibility (depending on how you look at it) to bill by the hour.
The general counsel on the receiving end of that spiel though is a real person, having their own real-life experiences and interactions. Their favourite restaurant makes them feel welcome, nothing is too much trouble. Last week on the anniversary of moving house, they had a pleasant surprise when their estate agent sent a new battery for the smoke alarm. And, using a tablet on the train into work today, they sorted out a problem with their online banking, wrote several emails and booked a table at that restaurant, again.
The point is, although they work for a huge business, they are nonetheless consumers themselves who live in the real world. That is where their benchmarking will stem from. So going back to that law firm pitch, the number of years in business and the number of partners is largely irrelevant. Would that turn a consumer’s head if it were the USP (there we go again) plastered on the window of a high street store? I think not.
It’s about relevancy. Imagine that when the GC got home last night, a local locksmith had to be called out to fix a jammed lock. So today, why wouldn’t they expect a law firm to be at least as responsive. The pitch is to a person, not the robotic facade of an organisation.
They are putting their personal reputation on the line by hiring us so they will want confidence that the right people are there to do the job, that whoever does the pitch remains the main contact and that the law firm will spend time (and not charge for it) to really understand them and their issues. And the less we say about billable hours the better.
It’s important because they are the ones who need convincing we are going to do a great job for them. If they are not fully on board, they are hardly going to be in a position to win-over the procurement team, let alone the CEO.
Sticking with a B2B mindset then, carries a potentially critical flaw. I therefore suggest we all ditch the acronym B2B and replace it with P2P – people to people.
In fact, I’d strongly advocate we go one stage further. It shouldn’t matter who the customer is, simply drop the acronyms and instead focus on building the right buyer experiences around what’s important to them and what’s important to your business.
Until next time, TTFN.