Procuring success

Editor's note: Based in Hoboken, N.J., Alex Xiaoguang Zhu is senior manager decision journey mapping at research company SKIM. Based in Atlanta, Janet Ziffer is senior marketing research manager at Kimberly-Clark Professional. 

As manufacturers and retailers adapt to the new omnichannel ecosystem, B2B and B2C marketers are discovering they have more in common than ever before. The traditional sales funnel has been transformed into a web of multichannel interactions that influence and guide today’s path to purchase – whether the purchaser is a Baby Boomer procurement officer or a Millennial online shopper. While sales cycles can look very different, here’s how they’re more alike:

  • Like their B2C counterparts, B2B decision-makers are increasingly influenced by vast amounts of easily accessible digital content. According to research firm SKIM’s customer journey research, B2B decision-makers are more than 60 percent of the way into their decision journeys before engaging sales reps.
  • Strong claims present a powerful opportunity to deliver a message throughout the decision journey, including times other than the moment of purchase.
  • It is imperative to develop claims with customers’ input. Within the B2B ecosystem, the “customer” includes various stakeholders, influencers and end-users – understand them and craft claims to meet their unique expectations.

Despite having those factors in common, B2B marketers contend with some significant challenges that B2C marketers will never experience. But B2B marketers can take a page from B2C to adapt and succeed in a dynamic omnichannel marketplace using this four-step framework: ideation, reframe/prioritization, validation and activation.

B2B claims must address two distinct audiences: the buyer and the end user. Sometimes they are one and the same but often they are not. The task of marketers is to convince decision-makers and buyers that the product or service will benefit the end user, as well as fulfill their own needs and key performance indicators (KPIs). Sometimes those decision factors overlap; at times, they might even compete. The end user, of course, sees the product through the lens of practical features and benefits. Procurement agents see the big picture and are charged with more than meeting the functional needs of the user. They think about budgetary factors, sustainability goals, employee health and safety and the broader context of enterprise-wide procurement portfolios.

Procurement professionals have a unique relationship with the vendor organization that goes beyond the product itself such as logistics, service, support and the ease of interface with the company itself. Do they trust the supplier as well as the product? Are they a true partner or just a vendor? These are all considerations when crafting claims for every touchpoint along the decision journey, from Web site to brochures and catalogs to conversations with sales reps. Claims must blend and reinforce messages that resonate throughout the sales ecosystem. Health care cleaning product claims, for example, might address how the product benefits patients, staff and the institutional bottom line by meeting KPIs such as health outcomes, safety standards, sustainability, usability and price competitiveness. Yet, even in situations where the end user seems far removed from the purchase decision journey, it’s important to remember they are always a key influencer. Such diverse audiences are what make B2B claims so challenging.

To overcome these challenges, the following best practices were deployed when Kimberly-Clark Corporation, an organization with both consumer and professional product lines, adopted a new set of business-to-business claims for its Kimberly-Clark Professional portfolio.


From the beginning of the claims-development or -testing process, identify key internal stakeholders to help make decisions along the way. Cross-functional team involvement is key throughout; representatives from stakeholder groups such as the R&D, brand, marketing and innovation teams should be involved. Each team has a different perspective that is necessary for a well-rounded claims-development process. Gain their buy-in at the start and keep them in the loop to varying degrees as necessary and appropriate.

R&D can help frame claims in terms of capabilities, e.g., answering the often-asked question, “How difficult is it to substantiate that?” The brand team sets guidelines and protects brand equity as messaging evolves, weighing in on what language can and can’t be used to describe certain brands. Working within the guidelines of the brand, marketing/innovation team members can bridge the gap between R&D and sales professionals in the field to create an innovation loop. All this is to say that everyone must have buy-in so that everyone is invested in the eventual deployment of new claims throughout the purchase decision journey. If their perspective is incorporated, they are more likely to help you carry out the mission. When key decision-makers are aligned, there is a shared vision for what the team is hoping to accomplish. Widespread stakeholder buy-in also greatly increases the speed at which the claims are deployed. 


A robust portfolio of product claims should include both short-term and long-term messages. Claims are not just intended to support sales, they also reinforce overall brand promises related to innovation and competitive positioning. Long-term claims are often linked to the innovation pipeline and include big ideas such as sustainability and technological innovation. Short-term claims are more likely to be tactical and easily substantiated. Longer-term claims stake out potential new benefit territories that a product or brand can deliver on over the life of the product.

After core messages have been established, claims language should be refined so it’s simple and concise. Refinement should happen before testing so there are minimal revisions after testing. They need to be both compelling and believable. Claims-development teams should always be asking “Why do they care?” Claims are often too internally-focused. Reframe claims for end users and decision-makers to emphasize links between features and benefits.


Test a variety of claim types and topics to gain a good understanding of the most compelling claims to pursue and substantiate. Researchers can deploy max-diff and choice modeling (conjoint) for quantitative tasks and implicit testing that gets into rational and emotional motivators (whole-brain approach).

Use claims-testing insights to challenge internal hypotheses regarding which claims really matter to customers and give brand managers a path forward or an opportunity to adjust. In a lot of B2B organizations, claims-testing is an uncommon practice. There is a pervasive myth that direct feedback from the sales team is good enough to judge the validity of claims. Salespeople are expected to know best what matters to their customers. Sometimes new claims validations come as a surprise to internal stakeholders and field sales teams. It can be shocking to learn that a claim you’ve been using for a long time is not actually hitting the mark. This is one more reason to deploy “real” claims research that validates the work.


Internal stakeholders are key to fulfilling a successful claims relaunch. Each team must be aligned in its efforts to create a cohesive strategy for each function. Socialization of claims research is critical to a successful activation. Simply dumping data in the laps of internal stakeholders rarely inspires action and a sense of urgency. Effective socialization of research insights means having explicit action items for stakeholders and holding the team accountable. This can be achieved using tools such as cross-functional workshops, exploring bite-size, relevant insights gleaned from the claims research and by conveying granular data through brand-, category- and segment-specific stories.

Exciting new opportunities 

Category leadership today means rethinking old truisms about buyer journeys. For B2B claims that resonate in today’s omnichannel world, B2B marketers can take a page from the B2C playbook. The journey is complex and dynamic but also full of exciting new opportunities. 

Tips for effective claim development

Promise value: A claim is designed to drive customer choice by calling upon desires or aspirations through the value it promises.
Be specific: Describe exactly what tangible value your product will deliver.
Put the key benefit first: You only have a split second to grab the customer’s attention.
Set yourself apart: Differentiate yourself by offering a relevant and unique value promise.
Be positive: Offer something positive instead of avoiding something negative.
Be respectful: Do not be condescending, presumptuous or offending in any way.
Be clear: Be unambiguous and use simple language to ensure your message is understood.
Avoid jargon: Use words that are meaningful to customers instead of technical lingo.
Avoid humor: Be direct and focus on efficiently getting your message across.