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B2B customers are different

I have just come back from running one of our full-day post-survey workshops with an international IT firm. It was an excellent session. The results weren’t good, but the team came up with a bunch of ideas, which were prioritised so that the low-cost quick-wins came first. But the best part of the session (for me, anyway) was the change in attitude of the CEO as the day progressed. Early on he was asking about statistics and benchmarking (and so were some of the directors). Don’t get me wrong; I’ve got nothing against statistics and benchmarking in their right place. But here we had a company that has just over one hundred clients with, at most, two or three key contacts at each – that to me is a 250 person Christmas card list.

We had carried out an international customer satisfaction survey on three continents in five languages for this firm and had got responses back from more than 72% - 143 responses from 200 surveys that had gone out.

I asked the CEO directly, how many of the customers he knew. He started going through the list (we have a chart of who responded; and another which lists out the serious issues, by customer; and in yet another section of the report we produce a page for each and every respondent, in alphabetical order). The first one he’d spoken to a couple of times. On the second one, he asked if e-mails counted (yes, of course). He denied knowing the third customer on the list at which point both of the people on either side of him said in unison “you do” (which was very funny to watch and got the debate going).

My point was that we were talking about people, not segments or statistics. And benchmarks can be a HUGE distraction. Forget about how you compare with ABC or XYZ – the best companies that are at the top of their game focus on long-term continuous improvement. Or, as I call it, the Toyota mountain of a thousand little ideas.

By the end of the workshop my new best friend the CEO was setting a target for the overall satisfaction question – “On an overall basis, how satisfied are you with our company?” (this question has been included in every single survey that InfoQuest has conducted since 1989 and it is always posed last – it’s the last card in the deck, so it gets a very considered response, as the responder has already been through up to 59 other questions and statements about the business relationship of the two entities). The directors and senior managers (15 of them) were balking at the target being proposed by the CEO. The CEO was talking about a 20 percentage point increase by the time they repeated the survey next year. His team said that was too tough and it should be reduced. Then he came out with a marvellous statement.

The CEO said that to get the 20 percentage point increase they simply had to move 30 individuals who were currently “somewhat satisfied” into being “totally satisfied”, adding the magic “That’s just two contacts for each person sitting round this table. Who’s telling me that we can’t do that?”

I’ve had clients that have segmented their customers between desktop and mainframe applications; those that have received consultancy in the past year and those that haven’t; new customers versus legacy customers; Gold, Silver and Bronze customers (whatever the hell they are); and those where there is between 12 and 24 months of a service contract left to run. These segments are all useful to an extent (well, nearly all) in that they provide labels that my client is comfortable with. But in business to business, where there aren’t that many customers and they all need and want slightly different things, please just treat them as individuals!

John Coldwell
www.infoquestcrm.co.uk