Being focused on B2B doesn't mean marketers should dismiss the Voice of Customer (VoC) market. New technologies and an increased desire to understand the customer experience have propelled the recent rise of VoC programs, and I have noticed a perception among some marketing leaders that these solutions are only useful in the B2C space.
While early adopters of VoC were largely B2C focused, a few notable B2B tech companies (EMC, SAP, IBM, Adobe) have developed successful VoC programs. Based on my work and research, I believe there are several reasons why other B2B tech firms could benefit from investing in VoC programs.
1. Corporations are people, too.
This line got Mitt Romney in trouble, but in reality, corporate decisions are influenced and made by people. As with consumers, tech buyers’ past experiences influence future purchase decisions, so capturing their feedback is important. Corporate buyers are usually more systematic in their decision-making process because purchases are made based on very specific needs, so it is even more important for vendors to truly understand those needs.
2. Feedback from all "customers" in the value chain must be captured.
Who are the customers of B2B tech firms? Distributors? Service providers? End users? Answer: All downstream parties are customers in some way. Additionally, each “customer” has many stakeholders with unique needs. This level of complexity sometimes causes vendors to lose touch with market demands. But companies with VoC programs can capture insights across all external parties and shape their customer experiences accordingly. EMC is a great example of a firm that has created tailored feedback mechanisms for a variety of stakeholders at both the partner and end-customer level.
3. Capturing B2B customer feedback requires a range of engagement methods.
B2C companies have traditionally relied on surveys to gather customer feedback, a model that has not worked as well for many B2B firms. Due to the complexity of the decision-making process, B2B customers are often best engaged through a combination of feedback channels beyond surveys: online communities, discussion forums and in-depth interviews. For example, SAP is able to gather feedback across multiple channels: from its own online community of customers, partners and employees to the mining of social media. This multichannel approach to capturing feedback provides more meaningful customer insights and other tech firms could benefit from embracing this approach.
4. "Closing the Loop" can have a much greater impact for B2B firms.
"Closing the Loop" (following up with customers to address their concerns) is one of the most critical aspects of a VoC program. Many B2C firms are able to close the loop with only a handful of customers and often little is done to address specific concerns raised. In some cases, the customer has already been lost by the time the closed-loop event occurs. As B2B customer relationships tend to be longer-term and more strategic in nature, closed-loop feedback can and should have significant influence on driving commercial decisions that will impact the customer.
5. VoC allows B2B firms to better understand their global customer base.
A common pain point I have heard from even the most customer-centric firms is how to understand the needs of customers in emerging markets. Customer relationships reside within regions, and often corporate decisions are made without regional customer feedback. Strong VoC programs allow firms to hear unfiltered customer feedback from across the world and drive global strategy accordingly.
These are just five reasons I have noticed that would make VoC programs attractive to B2B organizations, but I know there are many others. What facets of VoC programs have you observed that would benefit B2B firms?
About the Author
Raj Sivasubramanian is a Consultant in ZS Associates' San Mateo office. Raj, a core member of ZS's High Tech Practice, focuses primarily on working with clients to develop their customer insights capabilities. Raj holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Tech and an M.B.A. from the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley.