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How B2B marketers can engage customers – and drive results

B2B marketers agree that being customer-centric is important to success, but a recent Gallup report reveals that business marketers have room to improve on engaging their customers.

So although Accenture's B2B Customer Experience Report from December found 86% of surveyed executives reported sales and customer service experiences as important to their strategic priorities, business marketers will need to make adjustments to fulfill these goals.

Gallup’s "Guide to Customer Centricity" for B2B leaders found 29% of B2B customers are fully engaged. The downside is 71% are what the report described as "ready and willing to take their business elsewhere." The report also shows that B2B customers with higher engagement levels see 50% higher revenue and sales, and 34% higher profitability.

In addition to recognizing the need to make adjustments, business marketers need to keep in mind that becoming customer-centric goes beyond specific marketing tactics, according to Ed O'Boyle, global practice leader at Gallup.

"Customer-centricity should run through all marketing activities – it is not a tactic, but an operating model that companies can use to build better relationships. Customer centricity should be part of the overall marketing strategy and the company’s messaging," O'Boyle told Marketing Dive.

O'Boyle also pointed out other challenges to becoming more customer-centric include the siloed nature of many B2B companies and firms that pay lip service to the idea of customer centricity but lack a culture to support the claim. The divided environment is problematic because prevents marketers from gaining a holistic view of what's happening with the company.

"This mindset prevents marketers from truly being able to create messaging and strategies that reflect customer centricity," he said.

What it takes to become more customer-centric

The Gallup report offered five big-picture steps to improve customer engagement. O'Boyle explained that for a specific tactic to work, marketers need to understand the nuances of their customer relationships.

1. Measure objectively

"This means assessing customer engagement via an objective survey even though account mangers or sales reps are likely closest to the customer," he said, adding that account team members need to be actively involved in educating customers on the process.

2. Measure holistically

Business marketers need to "measure customer relationships both quantitatively and qualitatively where the quantitative analysis offers a high-level overview of the account and the quantitative analysis sheds light on the why about that relationship," he explained.

3. Focus on the most urgent accounts

It's crucial to concentrated on accounts that will provide the greatest ROI of time and resources. "Low engagement scores will uncover at-risk accounts that should be prioritize for immediate action," he said.

4. Activate the account team

"After conducting surveys and customer engagement analysis, take what is learned and act on it with strategies that support engagement and customer impact," O'Boyle said. "Failing to act on customer surveys leaves the company looking insincere in its customer-centric approach."

5. Put customers first

In order for this to happen, customers must become the core of the business strategy, he explained. Customers can "not have goals and incentives in place that put account team members in competition with each other to the detriment of the company’s customers."

Putting these steps to work

To actually apply and achieve these steps O'Boyle said companies should conduct account reviews. He described those reviews as critical for helping companies better understand customer relationships as well as learn where there is room for opportunity.

"A key account review is composed of a series of interviews with stakeholders in the company's most important accounts," he said. "Through a key account review, the company learns more about how customers feel about it and its approach with them in ways that numbers alone cannot express."

To conduct an account review, O’Boyle said marketers should first select accounts to review and identify stakeholders for each one. From there, you move onto conducting interviews with the stakeholders and then compiling and sharing findings from the interviews. The final stage is developing an action plan based on the findings from the review.

The biggest challenge for a company adopting this approach might be corporate culture, he pointed out, rather than simply implementing consumer-first tactics.

"Customer centricity initiatives often fail because leaders fail to understand the cultural changes required to pivot their organization," he explained. "Everything from the way they communicate to how you measure success and how you hold people accountable has to be reconsidered for a sustainable change to take place."

The road to adoption isn't easy and requires work, but taking a customer-centric view can drive B2B success, and as the Gallup report shows, can help improve a company engage and keep clients.


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