How B2B Companies Can Stand Out Without Getting Into an Arms Race

Nearly 60% of a typical B2B purchase decision is made before a customer ever talks to a supplier, (Executive Board 2012). They’ve visited your website, reviewed your solutions, glanced at your LinkedIn company page, searched reviews; and they’ve done the same thing for your competitors. That shouldn’t be too surprising. Today’s B2B customer has a better grasp of her own problems and is better informed about potential solutions. So are your competitors. Your brand is easy to replicate because everyone in your category can deliver the same promise. In a me-too world, it’s tempting to always think of a new differentiating promise, as a new product.
You Don’t Always Have to Go Big
Let’s assume that your business exists in a mature industry with somewhat undifferentiated competitors and high barriers to entry. Developing new products requires engineering resources, supply chain investments, assembly, integration, management investment and and strategic guidance. The financial, human and time required to differentiate your business through new product development is risky. You better get it right.
Maybe the prevailing differentiating strategy in your industry used to be something called “quality”, but the gaps between top and bottom performers have narrowed, leaving everyone to thrash about in a shark-filled sea of sameness. Pick two: you can be good, fast or cheap, but you can’t be all three.
Which Direction to Move?
So what can you do to stand out or get there first? Getting into an arms race with the competition might not be the best strategy. If your organization lacks strategic product management, you might be missing valuable opportunities to gain market share through another strategy entirely. A move towards becoming more relevant to your customer can be the lowest initial cost – highest long term return opton.
What Does Relevance Look Like to the Customer?
You are the Specialist
Compared to others in your category, your solutions address my specific needs. When I need a specialist, I’m going to seek you out. Think heart surgeon. Imagine that you need a good cardiac surgical specialist. Are you investigating the doctors that you are familiar with or are you inviting recommendations, seeking qualified solution providers?
You Speak My Language
When you communicate with me, you integrate my language, and address my problems. You validate my experiences in both my own work and working with others in your category. My suggestions and ideas have been incorporated into your products or your services. Compared to others in your category, you get me.
We Hang Out in the Same Places
It was great seeing you at our most important industry event. I remember that you referred a new employee to us, after I posted the job opening on LinkedIn. Your team visited our facility and provided education information about changes in our industry that had nothing to do with selling us your product. We obviously know the same people and share similar values. We should do business together.

5 Steps to Improving Relevance to Your Customer

Segment Your Market
To begin your B2B marketing segmentation, start with a group of customers who can be grouped into categories which are: a) meaningful: they include specific attributes that will help you determine how to approach them. b) Distinct: they go in their own box and don’t overlap with other categories. c) Size: they are significan’t enough to focus on them and invest your resources on targeting them. d) Identify: You can find them.
Conduct Customer-Insights Research 
Now that you’ve narrowed down the playing fields, you need to focus on the most important players. Your investigation should strive to understand the tangible, functional, and intangible functions of their work AND personal life. You should understand their attitudes, frustrations, perceptions, preferences, challenges, and behavior. You can leverage this process and these insights to incorporate the voice of yoru customer into your marketing content. Personas, the output of this process, will help you develop specific actions that will guide your content development and your inbound marketing strategies, to attract your highly targeted audience.
Align Content with Personas
Incorporate language and problem-solution information in highly-targeted content including your offline branded collateral materials such as product brochures, and advertiseemnts. Develop case studies for the client’s specific industry. In every relevant touchpoint, leverage opportunities to distinguish your alignment, and understanding of the client’s industry.
Context Gives Your Content Additional Meaning
Your customer insights research provides clues about your customer’s behavior. By understanding the situational context of their needs and objectives, you can target the right strategies and content, at to address the right need.
Invite your customer to the table to listen to their feedback and aspirations, and continually incorporate their insights into your training, customer service, and communications. Together, you can create content that demonstrates your successful collaboration. Together you can better identify product enhancements, so that you can make the right product decisions for the right customers, when you’re ready.

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