B2Bs: Think about your customer’s customer

Every entrepreneur thinks about their customers. But if you’re a B2B you also need to think about your customer’s customer.

Your customer seldom looks back at her supply chain (you). To her, you’re a cost, an expense, a commodity, even a necessary evil. Time spent thinking about you is time not spent thinking about her customers.

Your customer prefers to look forward at her customers. She thinks about adding value for them, improving her service to them, increasing their awareness of her offerings, enhancing their willingness to pay, expanding her market share. That’s what’s important to her.

And if it’s important to her, it better be important to you.

So put yourself in her shoes and vividly try to imagine her customers and how she works to satisfy them. Then figure out how your product or service can add value to her customers, will improve her service to them, will increase their awareness of her…You get the picture.

Do this and you’ll differentiate yourself from your competitors. You’ll make it easier for her to choose you. You’ll strengthen your relationship with her. You’ll raise your value in her eyes, which may raise her willingness to pay for your offerings. And you’ll adjust your marketing and sales messages, which will help you attract other customers like her.

Here’s an example.

Imagine that your customer sells widgets to consumers and that you’re one of her paint suppliers.

In the past you’ve simply responded to her purchase orders, which always include strict specifications. You value your customer and so you work hard to meet those specifications but, at the end of the day, the biggest part of her purchase decision comes down to price. There are, after all, other companies that can meet her specs. Your job, therefore, has been to meet her specifications at the lowest possible price.

Instead, what if you were to think about what’s important to the people who buy your customer’s widgets? What are they most interested in: durability? style? toxicity? eco-friendliness? After discovering this, what if you:

– changed your formula to create a harder, chip-resistant paint, or

– created a more vivid color, or

– engaged a third-party laboratory to help you improve and certify the safety of your paint, or

– adopted ecologically friendly production practices?

Imagine how it would change the next conversation with your customer if you could say, “We can help you grow your sales by making your widget more (durable | fashionable | safe | eco-friendly)”?

Strengthen your business: help your customer look after her customer.

This blog after was inspired by the excellent article Creating Impact in B2B Relationships by Ed O’Boyle and Craig Kamins in Gallup Business Journal

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Mary Kaplan

    Interesting post! I can understand how your idea works if you are selling your customer a hard product, but what if you are selling your customer a service? The service really doesn’t affect your customer’s customer, does it? I’d like to see an example of your idea as it relates to a company providing a service to a customer. Thanks for any feedback you may have.

    1. aglassey

      Hi Mary, great question. I’m really short on time and I think your question deserves a longer answer but I hope this quick early-morning-reply serves as a stop-gap measure. Also, if you want to let me know the type of service you offer, I’d be happy to walk through a specific example for you.

      At the end of the day, every company lives to serve its customers. A company is simply a link in a value chain: it buys something, transforms it in some way (adds value), and sells it. As their service provider, you’re either contributing to what this company buys, contributing to the transformation, or contributing to the sales process. All of which impacts their customer. So let me think of a difficult example…

      …got it! Your customer mines gold in remote locations and transports it to a refinery who is their customer. They use a variety of heavy equipment and your company’s job is to service the equipment: oil, lube, replace parts, etc. You provide regular scheduled maintenance and you’re called in when something malfunctions. Nice contract, good relationship, all’s well.

      But as you think about your customer’s customer, you realize that keeping a continuous flow is critical to them. Shutting down their plant is both difficult and expensive. They manage this in several ways including keeping high raw material inventory levels which is expensive.

      If continuous flow is critical to them, then machinery uptime is critical to your customer. Perhaps you can help. What about installing the latest self-monitoring equipment in their machinery that helps to predict failure before it happens? What about having a helicopter always available on short-notice so you can get to a broken machine faster? What about offering to train their staff on better use of the equipment or even doing some of their own preventive maintenance? What about putting one of your staff on-site?

      Yes, these all cost more money but your customer will happily pay for one or more of these alternatives if it helps their customer. Just having this kind of discussion with your customer is good for the relationship: it demonstrates that you care about their business and it demonstrates your willingness to be a supportive business partner.

      Does this help?

      The point is that it’s always a good exercise to imagine yourself in the shoes of your customer. Spend a few minutes worrying about what they worry about and then imagine what you could do to help them.

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