Customer centricity is not a new concept, but focusing on the customer is difficult, especially in B2B companies. Here you can find out how customer centricity works in B2B marketing.
Have you ever come into contact with the term Customer Centricity? This phrase is also used more and more often by marketing actors and also in blogs, newsletters, and specialist articles. But what is customer centricity? Why is customer centricity such hype and how can you successfully implement customer centricity in B2B? We have explanations, tips, examples, and a checklist.
What is Customer Centricity?
What does customer centricity mean? This term can be translated as customer-centricity. And that’s exactly what it is: With the customer-centricity strategy, you put the customer at the center of your actions. This means that the customer’s point of view and their interests are the most important consideration and the starting point for all important decisions. With customer-centricity, the focus is not on the company’s product. This means that the value chain starts with the customer.
Basically, customer centricity is nothing completely new, because it is based on the well-known saying “The customer is king”. But the possibilities and the need for customer centricity have changed.
When it comes to customer-centricity, you always ask yourself the following question:
What benefit does my customer get from this and how does this change affect them?
Customer centricity means more than just a small change in the company. If a company wants to work in a customer-centric manner, this means it has to adjust its corporate culture accordingly. This change cannot usually be implemented quickly, it takes time to adapt the sales and marketing concept holistically. But even moderate changes can be very effective and already achieve the first results.
It is only important that the strategy of customer-centricity is reflected in all company processes over time. Because even if sales and marketing work in a customer-centric manner, it is of little use if the customer comes into contact with invoicing or support and nobody there works according to the motto “the customer is king”. Especially in B2B, the buying journey does not end with the conclusion of the contract.
Why is customer-centricity important?
An understood customer is a loyal customer
Nowadays fewer and fewer customers remain loyal to the company and its products, so it is important that you know your target group and define it using a buyer persona in order to respond precisely to their needs.
This takes some time, especially in large companies, because it is created using a lot of information from sales, interviews with existing customers, market research, and other sources of information.
Customers decide for themselves where to buy
Crowding out in the market is also omnipresent and an increasingly frequent topic. Media Markt and Saturn, for example, have had to experience this recently. The companies entered the online business too late.
They concentrated on offers in the branch, consumers resorted to providers with online shops such as Amazon or other mail-order companies. As a Focus Money article shows, this omission is actually driving stock prices down.
This example makes it clear how important it is to respond to the needs and wishes of customers and to establish a positive customer experience as a worthwhile corporate goal.
If you miss trends in the market and changes in buying behavior, it can quickly happen that your customers migrate to the competition in order to have the desired shopping experience ( customer experience ) there.
Customer Centricity: 3 points for success
Although the basic idea of customer centricity – placing the customer in the focus of corporate strategy – is quite simple, this strategy must be treated more abstractly from a corporate perspective.
Simply explained, Customer Centricity is the interface of 3 sub-areas:
- customer value
- Customer Life Circle
- Customer Experience (CX)
Customer value describes the benefit that the customer has from the services and products of a company. What problem can they solve and how easy is each solution to use?
Customer Lifecircle describes the customer phases that a potential buyer goes through. Different offers, approaches, and marketing measures also fit into the different phases such as “Awareness, Consideration, and Sales”. In our article about the marketing funnel, we explicitly address this topic.
Customer experience is the crux of customer centricity and defines the customer or purchasing experience that the customer goes through during their journey.
This tripartition makes it easier to identify and adapt all customer touchpoints and thus also the departments with which customers come into contact.
Only when all 3 sub-areas harmonize and are optimally tailored to customer benefits does the Customer Centricity strategy result.
Customer centricity in B2B Marketing
Customer-centric companies put the customer at the center of interest so that the product becomes secondary. In B2B marketing and sales, for example, this can be achieved through outstanding service and advice.
But also through useful content marketing or a website that focuses on the customer’s problems and their solution and not on their own products. The aim is to bind the customer strongly to the company. It is particularly important to satisfy them and see them as the focus of all decisions made.
If the customer feels comfortable and supported, they are more likely to remain loyal to the company as a buyer. Customer centricity means creating an impressive and positive customer experience across all touchpoints and offering customers clear benefits.
How do you do that in B2B marketing?
B2B marketing measures must be relevant and valuable for potential buyers. You can achieve this e.g. by:
- Personalized email marketing is designed not to target the masses, but only to contacts for whom the information has been shown to be useful
- Content marketing in the form of tips, checklists, templates, and knowledge transfer
- Advice that does not focus on selling the products, but on solving the buyer’s problem
- Communication through buyer’s preferred channels. For example, not every lead wants to be contacted immediately by phone
- A customer portal/website that is explicitly aimed at and answers typical buyer questions
- Availability and concrete, customer-centric processes in case of complaints, questions, or comments from customers
- Continuous high level of knowledge transfer, advice, and service
- Make your marketing and the individual measures measurable, because even if you want to be customer-centric, you can only find out from the behavior of potential buyers whether you are too.
- A simple, transparent buying process
Why is customer centricity important in B2B? ?
In an interview given by marconomy, Patrick Pfalzgraf from RPC – The Retail Performance Company, put forward an interesting thesis that I would subscribe to:
“Marketing as we know it today will gradually disappear over the next few years. Why am I saying this? For me, marketing always has two relevant components: a sales-promoting component and an emphatic component. The sales-promoting component based on a non-customer-centric product will eventually no longer be needed. Because if I’m really customer-centric, then I know exactly what my customers want.”
In successful companies, empathy and the customer’s point of view will become the focus of marketing departments. The success is proven by a dealer we all know:
Amazon and Customer Centricity: The King of Customer Centricity
Did you know that Amazon founder (and former richest person in the world – currently only ranked 2) Jeff Bezos brings an empty chair to his meetings? Not for yourself, but for the most important people in the room – the customers.
The tech journey Despite negative headlines, Amazon remains the king of e-commerce because it does not rise to the throne itself, but lets the customer take precedence. Read for yourself:
Just last year, the Handelsblatt reported – informed by an Amazon insider – the following: “Every day, goods worth tens of thousands of euros are destroyed”. Not exactly positive, right? Or the Alexa scandal, in which it became public that employees eavesdropped on private conversations.
There are also many, sometimes very shocking, scandals about working conditions at Amazon.
Nevertheless, the company was able to significantly expand its sales and market share, especially during the Corona crisis.
Amazon proves: customer centricity is more important than your own brand!
But no matter how negative the headlines, the e-commerce giant has survived all these scandals almost unscathed, while its electronics competition struggles with having to reinvent itself.
That seems crazy to me because aren’t we always taught that a positively perceived and strong corporate brand is the important foundation?
Amazon proves that this is not universal. Because would you say that Amazon exudes a positive brand?
Most people would probably say no, but we still order there. Because Amazon Customer Centricity lives!
Please don’t throw your corporate brand overboard now. Amazon is really an extreme example. But align your corporate brand with customer-centricity.
Why does Amazon work despite negative headlines: Amazon has revolutionized e-commerce (online trade). The shipping giant has absolutely hit the mark with its core strategy of “Customer Centricity and Customer Experience”.
The company even built customer-centricity into its mission statement from the start: This is how Amazon wants to be “Earth’s most customer-centric company”.
Founder Jeff Bezos still says today that he puts the customer at the center of every important decision.
The Amazon Buying Experience
They go to the site, look for a product, and they almost always find what they are looking for. Then comes the order, which is so easy that even a parrot can do it.
You can choose direct debit as the payment system. So you don’t even have to worry about paying the bill. The items you want are usually at your home the next day. There are also no problems in terms of goodwill: after two weeks you no longer like the item? Then into the box and back with it.
Although Amazon is not the most likeable brand and has to endure a lot of criticism, the company is swimming in success. The customer experience is excellent and this is exactly why customers not only order there again and again but also more and more.
Examples: Customer Centricity Best Practices
Especially in the B2C sector, there are some examples of companies that have already made their company customer-centric.
Starbucks is known worldwide for personalizing the drinks they sell. In the sales experience, the employee addresses the buyer by their first name – this should make the customer feel comfortable and not just like any other buyer. The drinks are personalized and can be drunk in the café with free WiFi.
The customer experience is so positive that numerous coffee lovers take pictures of the drink they have bought and post it on social networks. This ensures free advertising and reach.
Netflix: Are you familiar with that situation, sitting comfortably on the couch and scrolling through the almost endless depths of the Netflix streaming service in search of the right film or series? And when you have found them, have many minutes or even hours passed? The mass of offers just makes it harder for us to make a decision.
Netflix also realized this very quickly and the streaming platform focused on customer orientation and developed/optimized an algorithm that uses the collected data such as length of stay, genre preferences, and actor preferences to make a pre-selection for the user, which like the fist eye seems to match.
This algorithm is extremely sophisticated: Based on more than 30,000 subgenres, with the help of a cluster analysis and the data of around 150 million Netflix users, recommendations are made to the users.
Netflix knows a lot about its users and sometimes makes fun of it:
And not only the recommendations are customer-centric, but the decisions about the production of series and films are also made on the basis of usage behavior and user preferences.
Netflix is a prime example of how customer centricity is nothing new but can be taken to the next level with new technologies.
Hubspot is worth mentioning in the B2B area. The company offers extremely popular marketing automation software. In addition, however, they offer a lot of free content and focus on knowledge transfer.
The focus on customer centricity is also reflected in the tool itself: Intuitive operation and a simple and clear design ensure a good user experience (UX).
As a user, you notice that the software was not only developed with a focus on “sales” but also with the benefit for the user in mind.
This makes many applications possible that were inspired by user behavior and developed for users. In addition, users are supported in their daily work by numerous knowledge articles, free content, and even a buyer persona generator.
How can you apply customer-centricity to your company?
How does a company become customer-centric?
As already mentioned, it is very complex to implement this holistic approach, but with a few tips and strategies, it is possible for everyone.
Anne Schüller’s orbit model is a well-known circular company organization, with utility at the center and the customer coming second.
However, this model is very difficult to implement in existing companies and is best suited for smaller companies with a simple structure or newly founded startups and agencies.
How to use Customer Centricity in B2B
In the first step, the company needs to become more customer-centric and the customer needs to notice that. The strategy must reach every employee and intensive communication with them is a basic requirement.
To do this, collect data and knowledge about your (potential) customers. What problems and challenges do they have? What do you wish? How do you like to communicate? Do you like direct confrontation? Do you need encouragement or do you need a wake-up call?
You need to collect a lot of information about your target audience, which can vary by industry, product, and company. All of this information provides the framework for customer centricity.
In order to be successful, customer centricity in B2B must be lived by all employees and be an important aspect of every process chain.
You must have these problems on your screen during the changeover
Three of the most common problems encountered when transitioning to a customer-centric organization are lack of clarity and communication of strategy to everyone in the company, inconsistent change, and loss of interest.
The change from a classic corporate structure to a customer-centric and customer-oriented one is not easy, but if the problems are made clear and kept in mind beforehand, it will succeed.
The organization is very time-consuming and the implementation does not work within a few weeks or months. If all employees are aware of this and the change is made into a process, it is possible.
Because the way of thinking throughout the company must also be adapted to the new structure. Intensive communication with the employees is essential in order to achieve the desired result.
A staff unit that can instruct and communicate across different silos and departments often helps with this. In many companies, for example, this is a customer manager.
To avoid these mistakes and to facilitate the transition to a new corporate strategy, here are a few tips:
Tips for introducing customer-centricity
- Customers must be able to notice and remember that your company is one of the customer-oriented ones.
- You have to make sure that every single employee in your company stands behind the decision and represents and lives this strategy.
- Customer feedback is particularly important; in the B2C area, this takes place via reviews in the online shop; in the B2B area, this usually has to be done differently. The customer must be made to understand that the company and the seller place the buying experience and their satisfaction first. This can be found out by the respective seller, for example during post-processing or in a feedback discussion with the customer.
- Every customer – no matter how big the company is – must be seen as an individual. This puts the individual needs of each customer in the foreground and makes it easier to respond to them. Customers can no longer be viewed as a single entity.
Conclusion: Customer-centricity in B2B – better start today than tomorrow
About 71% of all purchasing decisions in B2B start with research on the internet. The customer must already feel that he has been picked up and understood on the website.
Recommendations play an increasingly important role. In the long term, customer centricity in B2B is no longer optional, but mandatory, because your customer decides whether to buy or not.
The B2B customer can, for example, exercise power by invoking old conditions and putting pressure on the seller with sentences like “I’ll pay the price from 2 years ago, otherwise I won’t sign the contract!”.
The customer, therefore, has a say in the terms of sale, which is very rarely the case in the B2C sector.
However, in marketing, you always have the opportunity to be the mouthpiece of the customer. And that’s exactly how you have to act in order to really be successful with customer centricity. Because customer centricity is not a yes or no question, but a question of when and how do we start.
Companies that continue to operate in the market with a focus on themselves and sales will find it difficult sooner or later. Because the customer has almost endless possibilities and options to replace your offers with others. And it is child’s play to find these “other offers” on the Internet.
Checklist: How to start marketing with customer-centricity
Define your buyer persona.
A buyer persona helps you to address the individual members of the buying center in a targeted manner. Creating a buyer persona takes time. But once this has happened, you will benefit from it in the long term. Important: Do not define your customer stereotype based on assumptions – use valid data from your existing customers.
Think from the user’s point of view.
With customer-centricity, the focus should not be on the benefit of the company, but on the customer. Think about the customer and their challenges as best you can. This will help you find the right answers and the right content for your users’ questions. He doesn’t want to hear praise for your product or company. Instead, offer them content that will help them through their challenges.
Data should always be the basis of your actions.
At the beginning of a customer-centricity strategy, you will probably have to change or realign one or the other marketing measure. Do not rely on personal preferences or opinions, but use the data you have collected: what worked and what didn’t? Do A/B tests and evaluate the behavior of your customers (e.g. on the company website).
Don’t be pushy – neither should your sales force
Gone are the days of cold calling and bought leads. Rather use high-quality information and entertainment to inspire and convince your customers. Don’t hide all the information behind registration barriers, but first convince your potential buyers with freely available content. This gives them the chance to decide for themselves when they are ready to give your company their contact details – if they do, you’ve done a good job.
Listen to your customers.
It is important to listen to the customer and, above all, to accept feedback in order to be able to act in a more customer-centric manner. This allows you to adapt individually to the customer profile. In addition, you should actively approach your buyers and give them the opportunity for praise and criticism.
It is better to take small steps at first instead of wanting to set up a completely new corporate strategy right away. Gradually, your potential customers will notice this and success will follow. Then you can present your results to the management and adapt the corporate strategy in the long term.