Voice of the customer in B2B

I was recently asked about whether VoC was an appropriate tool in B2B businesses and, if so, how you would tune approaches.  As the question just came up again, I thought it a topic worth sharing aloud.

1. Observation and ethnography.

It is still a valuable tool in B2B environments, but you often cannot apply it in the same way as you would in a B2C situation. I’ve used a modified model to good effect in the past. In this approach, you set up a series of “walk-along” interviews with different stakeholders (buyers, distributors, resellers, users, etc.) often based around some other context (e.g. “improving sales support services”). Conduct the interviews at an appropriate location where stuff happens (job-site, warehouse, installation, etc.) with at least two interviewers – one stays on track with the interview while the other(s) observes what’s going on around, and interrupts with “stupid” questions.

2. A good understanding and model of a value chain / web is essential.

B2B sales require every link in the chain to be activated.

Often the product innovation addresses the unmet need of someone other than the apparent direct customer and increases value or volume for this, for each player in the value chain (customer, customer’s customer, influencers, etc.) figure out:

  • What functions do they buy (jobs to be done)?
  • What are their buying factors (assessment criteria)?
  • What are the differentiators between different solutions that they buy and those that they offer? To put it another way, create a chain of Porter’s 5 forces model at each node in the web / link in the chain.

The value chain: maybe it’s obvious, but the reason you do this analysis is to find the functions that are most valuable in the chain and where they ‘live’. Once you’ve done this you then can create “Open Innovation” style communities for your value web and encourage exchange of questions, ideas, etc. and have your innovation team monitor these and use them for needs ideation. You can identify the right people in the right points in the chain to interview / observe / understand and find unmet needs. Also, you can quantify this analysis by asking questions like:

  • What does this function allow you to do?
  • What would happen if you did not have this function, or if it disappeared or stopped working?
  • Who feels the pain? Then other parts of your business that touch customers and others in the value web (e.g. support, service, sales) in innovation, observation, active listening and facilitate and motivate them to contribute their learning’s and ideas (lots of ways of doing this)

 3. Don’t be afraid of technology push.

Scan and use emerging technologies to allow you ask the question “what would happen to our product / customer / experience if xyz changed”.  Use the technical possibilities to build hypotheses to test in VoC interactions such as those above.

These points are, by no means, intended to be a complete how-to on VoC for B2B business, just a few reflections that I hope will help someone!




1 Comment for this entry

Abbey Boddy
March 10th, 2012 on 7:30 am

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