December is a popular month to spend planning for the next year or reviewing current progress. I find it is also a good month to reconnect with your corporate strategy and ask “what can marketing do to help create more predictable, profitable, and sustainable growth for my company?” Recently, I read The B2B Executive Playbook, written by my friend Sean Geehan of the Geehan Group. I think it offers a succinct summary of the factors that most affect the B2B business’s ability to thrive, with a unique perspective on one — why it’s important to focus on your current clients as a way to grow revenue.
I first met Sean in 2009 at the Customer Reference Forum. We stayed in touch through my transition to Xerox and he invited me to speak at his Executive Summit on Business Transformation in February. He asked me to review an early draft of his book and sent me a final copy. (This is all the open disclosure stuff, folks.) I have heard him speak several times on the topic of this book.
The B2B Executive Playbook consolidates principles that apply specifically to companies that sell highly-considered products or services through a direct salesforce to other businesses. Some of the ideas here resemble others we have seen, but are good reminders. The “B2B relationship continuum” in chapter 2, for example, reminds me of research that my former director, Laurie Orlov, wrote on The Three Archetypes of IT. The “Market-Aligned Three-Circle Venn” in chapter 5 calls to mind Jim Collin’s “hedgehog concept” popularized in Good to Great.
What Sean does really well, however, is put these concepts in the context of a vitally important B2B best practice — that of engaging with your customers to collaborate on your company’s strategy directions, refer you to other decision makers, advocate for you as a trusted supplier, and do more business with you. A lot more.
Case in point: HCL, a professional services firm located in Noida, India. Paraphrasing the book, HCL lacked a systematic way to interact with key decision makers from their customers prior to 2008. HCL’s Americas President Shami Khorana decided to target their “top 80″ clients in a formal program to exchange ideas and gain their collective feedback. And to demonstrate a sincere interest in keeping their business. Khorana credits this program, in part, with HCL’s rise from $1.4B in 2007 to over $3B in 2010, with an annual growth rate of more than 20% — even through the economic downturn of 2008/09.
Through other case studies like HCL, the B2B Executive Playbook gives practical advice on how to build and retain key decision maker relationships at the right level of your organization, and how to maintain a select group of the key executive customers in your market who will advise you willingly and buy from you consistently.
Recognizing that B2B companies win or lose based on the strength of relationships with a relatively few, very key customers is the essential insight that B2B executives and marketers can overlook. Consider your 2012 marketing plans, for example, and ask how much you intend to spend on customer acquisition versus retention, loyalty, and advocacy. Reflect on how much time your sales representatives spend with real decision makers versus influencers or users (who can’t sign a purchase order.)
If you are like most B2B, large enterprises, then you will find a quick read through this book will help to reorient your thinking around those customers who matter most and hold the keys to your future success.
Take a look: I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.