Sunday, June 13, 2021

How Business Professionals Actually Consume Content

Over the past fifteen years, content marketing has become one of the most widely-used techniques in B2B marketing. Today, virtually all B2B companies are using content marketing in some form.

Ironically, the popularity of content marketing has made successful content marketing more difficult to achieve. As companies produce more and more content, the total volume of content available to potential buyers increases exponentially. And so does competition for buyer attention.

In these circumstances, understanding how business buyers actually consume content is critical to success. The 2021 State of B2B Content Consumption & Demand Report by NetLine Corporation provides several valuable insights on this vital issue.

NetLine operates a content syndication platform, and this report is based on data about millions of content downloads that occurred on the NetLine platform in 2020. This research is particularly valuable for two reasons:

  1. It captures the real-world content consumption behaviors of business professionals. The data used for the NetLine report was not derived from a survey or interviews, but from actual engagements with B2B content.
  2. The report is based on first party data. The business professionals who use the NetLine platform voluntarily share information about themselves and the organizations they work for in exchange for access to the content resources available on the NetLine's platform.
The NetLine study produced a wealth of information about content consumption behaviors, and I encourage you to review the full report. Here are a few of the report's highlights.
The COVID Effect
As might be expected, the COVID-19 pandemic affected content consumption behaviors is several significant ways. NetLine's analysis found that overall B2B content consumption increased more than 22% in 2020. In fact, the volume of content consumed between February 1st and September 30th of last year equaled 83% of the volume of content consumed in all of 2019.
COVID-19 also affected the topics that business professionals were interested in. The NetLine report states:  "The events of the past year led to a surge in content consumption related to remote work, collaboration software, IT bandwidth, security, and the ripple effects on HR and the like."
Most Popular Content Formats
The ten most popular content formats in 2020 were:
  1. eBooks
  2. Guides
  3. White papers
  4. Cheat sheets
  5. Tips and tricks
  6. Research reports
  7. Kits
  8. Webinars
  9. Magazines
  10. Subscriptions
Collectively, these ten content formats accounted for 82% of all downloads from the NetLine platform last year. The three most popular formats - eBooks, guides and white papers - accounted for more than 63% of the total downloads in 2020.
Webinars were the eighth most frequently requested type of content on the NetLine platform in 2020, but this ranking doesn't accurately reflect how important webinars and other virtual events became last year. The pandemic forced the cancellation of essentially all trade shows, conferences and other in-person B2B marketing events, and this drove a tremendous increase in the use of webinars and other virtual events.
The number of webinars uploaded to the NetLine platform increased 103% in 2020, and the number of registrations for webinars increased 49%. Registrations for live virtual events grew by a staggering 2,660%.
Measuring the Consumption Gap
One of the most useful insights provided by the NetLine report relates to the consumption gap, which NetLine defines as the time between the moment content is requested and the moment it's opened for consumption. This data point is important because it should be used to guide the timing of follow-up contacts with potential buyers. After all, it makes little sense to contact a potential buyer about a content resource before he or she has actually reviewed the resource.
In 2020, the average consumption gap across all job categories was 29.7 hours, up from 28.5 hours in 2019. The authors of the report attribute this increase at least in part to the distractions and disruptions caused by the pandemic.
More Data Points
The NetLine report provides numerous other data points, including what job categories most actively requested content in 2020. It also breaks down some data by industry vertical. As I indicated earlier, this analysis provides a wealth of valuable insights, and I recommend that you review the full report.

Image Source:  NetLine Corporation

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Why Helping Buyers Feel Confident Is Vital for Effective Marketing

In a 2020 survey of senior marketing leaders by Gartner, participants were asked to identify their company's primary strategy for fueling growth into 2021. The two most frequently identified growth strategies were increasing sales of existing products to existing customers (39% of respondents) and introducing new products to existing customers (34% of respondents). 

These survey findings demonstrate the importance marketing leaders place on increasing revenues from existing customers. But the reality is, many companies struggle to achieve their goals for revenue growth from existing accounts.

Other research by Gartner explored what factors drive growth from existing accounts and how marketers can support this objective. In this study, Gartner surveyed 1,100 B2B customers who had recently considered continuing or expanding their relationship with an existing supplier. The research tested three potential drivers of account growth - customer satisfaction, willingness to change, and decision confidence.

The Importance of Decision Confidence

The Gartner research identified an important distinction between a repurchase decision and a decision that involved expanding the relationship with a supplier (a "growth" decision). The study found that customer satisfaction had a major impact on repurchase decisions, but no significant effect on "growth" purchases. In contrast, Gartner found that decision confidence increased the likelihood of a positive growth decision by 2.6 times.

Gartner defined decision confidence as:  "The belief and feeling of affirmation that the buying group is exercising sound judgment."

While the Gartner definition captures the essence of the idea, I would argue that decision confidence is a multifaceted phenomenon that has three major components.

  1. Confidence in the specific product or service selected
  2. Confidence in the company's ability to successfully implement any organizational changes required to reap the full benefits of the product or service purchased
  3. Confidence in the soundness of the process used to make the purchase decision
These components of decision confidence are obviously related, and it's unlikely that a growth purchase decision will be made until the buying team (and in some cases other senior business leaders) develop all three types of confidence.
Marketing's Role in Cultivating Decision Confidence
Marketers have an important role to play in cultivating all three types of buyer decision confidence given that B2B buyers are relying more and more on content to support their evaluation of potential purchases. It's important to recognize that decision confidence plays a vital role in growing revenue from both existing and new customers. It's also clear that marketers are doing a better job with some types of buyer decision confidence than others.
For example, many marketers are doing a good to very good job cultivating buyer confidence in their company's products or services. In fact, most of the content produced by marketers is designed (at least implicitly) to accomplish this objective.
Some marketers are also doing a good job supporting the development of buyer confidence in the ability of their company to make the organizational changes that will be necessary to reap the full potential benefits of a new product or service. A growing number of companies now have a dedicated customer success function that is tasked with helping customers maximize the value they obtain from the company's products or services.
Overall, marketers have been less effective at cultivating buyer confidence in the soundness of the process used to make purchase decisions. To be fair, some marketers - especially those in the technology space - have created "buying guides" or similar resources for at least some of their solutions. Over the past two-plus decades, I've reviewed dozens of these buying guides, and unfortunately, most of them focus almost entirely on the attributes, features, and capabilities that prospective buyers should look for when evaluating a particular type of solution.
While identifying critical product or service attributes, features, and capabilities is obviously important, more is needed for a sound, effective, and efficient buying process. Here's a partial list of the additional questions that a comprehensive "buying instruction manual" should address.
  • Buying Team - Who should be on the buying team? How large should it be? Who should lead the team? How will the team make decisions?
  • Needs/Requirements - How should the buying team identify and prioritize the company's needs and requirements pertaining to a new product or service? Hint:  A multi-page "checklist" of requirements isn't the best approach.
  • Potential Vendors - How should the buying team identify relevant potential vendors and then decide which potential vendors to engage with?
  • Solicitation Vehicle - What type of solicitation vehicle should the buying team use - an RFI, an RFP, or an RFQ? How should the team structure the solicitation document?
  • Demos - How should the buying team structure and conduct demos to make them more relevant and valuable?
The specific content of an effective buying guide will, of course, be dictated by the nature of the product or service and by the size of the required financial investment.
Marketers must also recognize that a buying guide will only instill decision confidence if buyers perceive it to be objective and unbiased. Therefore, when developing a buying guide, marketers must resist the urge to create a document that explicitly or implicitly favors their company's solution. The sole objective of the buying guide should be to help prospective buyers make the best possible decision for their organization.

Top illustration courtesy of Chris & Karen Highland via Flickr (CC).

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Companies Take a More Holistic Path to Managing Revenue Growth

Changes in the business environment have led many B2B companies to adopt new approaches for managing their revenue generating activities. While the specific approaches vary, they all arise from the recognition that consistent organic revenue growth results from a combination of related activities. Therefore, it's important to treat such activities as components of a larger revenue generation process that must be managed holistically.

The need for a better approach to managing revenue generation and growth has been driven by the convergence of several factors, including:

  • The growing power and independence of business buyers enabled by an abundance of easily-accessible information
  • The need to provide outstanding experiences at every touchpoint across the entire customer lifecycle
  • The growing use of "as-a service" and other types of subscription-based (or subscription-like) business models
Meanwhile, the leaders of most B2B companies are under persistent pressures to provide organic revenue growth that is consistent, predictable and sustainable. To meet this challenge, many B2B companies have changed how they manage the business activities and processes that impact revenue generation.
The Rise of the Chief Revenue Officer
Some companies have responded to the growth management challenge by creating a C-level position that is usually called the chief revenue officer. The specific duties of the chief revenue officer - and the scope of his or her authority - vary across companies, but the CRO is usually tasked with managing most or all of the company's revenue generating functions. This will often include marketing, inside sales/business development, direct outside sales, channel sales and customer success/customer service.
Most of the early adopters of the CRO role were startup or early-stage SaaS companies. I have not seen any reliable estimates of how many or what kinds of companies now have a CRO. However, a LinkedIn search yesterday using the term "chief revenue officer" identified over 250,000 LinkedIn members with that job title.
The Emerging Revenue Operations Function
Some companies have sought to address the growth and revenue management challenge by creating a revenue operations (a/k/a RevOps) function in their organization. The RevOps concept is relatively new, and it's still evolving. So, as we'll see, companies have implemented RevOps in a variety of ways.
In a 2019 study report, SiriusDecisions (now part of Forrester) defined revenue operations as, ". . . a combination of sales operations, marketing operations and customer success operations teams that work together according to a set of defined operating principles to maximize revenue and performance." (Source:  Align to Win:  The Rise of Revenue Operations)
Research has shown that the use of RevOps functions is growing. In a 2019 survey of 2,462 B2B sales and marketing professionals by LeanData and Sales Hacker, 31% of the respondents said their company had a revenue operations group, up from 20% in the 2018 edition of the survey. Moreover, 27% of the respondents in the 2019 survey said they were actively building a RevOps function. That was up from 15% in the 2018 survey.
Both the LeanData/Sales Hacker study and the SiriusDecisions study identified three major models of revenue operations.
  • Virtual Alignment - Companies using this model do not have a formal RevOps structure or a dedicated RevOps team. In this model, individuals from each operations team (marketing, sales, customer success) agree to work with each other on a cooperative basis. SiriusDecisions called this model a "coalition of the willing."
  • Hybrid - This is a "somewhat centralized" model of RevOps. Companies using this model have at least two operations functions that report to a RevOps leader, while their other operations functions still report to their departmental leader.
  • Centralized - This is the most formal structure for a RevOps function. Companies using this model have s designated revenue operations leader in place, and some also have a dedicated RevOps team.
The following table shows the percentages of participants in the LeadData/Sales Hacker and SiriusDecisions studies using each model of revenue operations.

As the table shows, the most popular RevOps model in 2019 was virtual alignment, which reflects the relative newness of the RevOps concept. This also suggests that company leaders want to prove the value of RevOps before they make major changes in their organizational structure. As companies gain experience with RevOps, it seems likely that the use of a more formal and centralized RevOps model will grow.
Is More Needed?
Companies are hiring chief revenue officers and implementing revenue operations processes because they need to take a more holistic approach to managing revenue growth. These are steps in the right direction, but company leaders may need to do more to achieve their customer experience and revenue growth goals. I'll discuss what else may be needed in a future post.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

How Quickly Will U.S. Consumers "Move Past" COVID-19?

Back in March, I published a post describing the increasingly optimistic outlook for the U.S. economy in 2021. Then last month, I wrote about the equally optimistic outlook for marketing and advertising spending this year.

The optimism embodied in the economic and spending forecasts is largely due to a widespread belief that the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. will be brought under control in the near future and that this will unleash pent-up consumer demand that will drive rapid economic growth, increased consumer spending, and falling unemployment.

Three recent surveys have provided several important insights regarding the sentiment of U.S. consumers. These surveys explored how consumers are thinking about the overall state and direction of the U.S. economy, their spending plans, and their attitudes about returning to prepandemic behaviors and routines.

Consumer sentiment is obviously important for B2C marketers, but it also matters to B2B marketers. Consumers are at the end of many B2B value chains, and therefore consumer demand influences the revenue growth potential of many B2B companies. Boeing doesn't sell commercial airplanes to consumers, but the willingness of consumers to travel influences how many planes Boeing can sell.

The McKinsey Survey

Over the course of the pandemic, McKinsey & Company has produced an impressive library of resources addressing the public health aspects of COVID-19 and the pandemic's economic and social impacts. McKinsey's research has included periodic surveys of consumers and business executives.

The most recent consumer survey was conducted February 18-22, 2021. In this survey, 41% of the respondents said they were optimistic about the recovery of the U.S. economy, while only 14% said they were pessimistic. The survey defined optimistic as:  "The economy will rebound within 2-3 months and grow just as strong as or stronger than before COVID-19." The remaining 45% of the respondents had a mixed view, believing that the economy will be impacted for 6-12 months or longer and will stagnate or grow slowly thereafter.

Thirty-three percent of the respondents said they were already engaging in "normal" out-of-home activities (returning to stores, restaurants, etc.), and 75% of vaccinated respondents said they expected their routines will return to normal by the end of this year.

Fifty-one percent of the respondents said they expected to spend extra by splurging or treating themselves, and about half of these respondents plan to spend more in the near future.

The Gartner Survey

A January 2021 survey by Gartner paints a similar picture of consumer sentiment, although the overall tone of the survey report is more cautious. The report states:  "CMOs should plan for the possibility that consumers may take longer to resume prepandemic behaviors, even after they have received the full two doses of the vaccine." (Note:  At the time of the survey, the single-dose J&J vaccine had not been authorized by the FDA.)

Gartner asked survey participants how soon they feel their life could return to normal after being fully vaccinated. Forty-five percent of the respondents said in six months or less, 36% said they were unsure, and 15% said in a year.

Gartner also asked survey participants about their willingness to engage in several specific activities after being fully vaccinated. The following table shows the four activities that respondents were most willing to engage in. Note that none of these activities was identified by a majority of the survey respondents. And only 15% of the respondents said they would be willing to stop wearing a mask or go to large public gatherings, even after being vaccinated.

The Pew Research Survey

One of the largest recent surveys addressing the "when will things get back to normal" issue was a survey of a nationally representative panel of 12,055 U.S. adults conducted March 1-7, 2021 by Pew Research Center. In this survey, Pew Research asked participants the following questions:

  1. "Just your best guess, how long do you think it will be before most businesses, schools, places of worship and other public activities operate about as they did before the COIVD-19 outbreak?"
  2. "Just your best guess, how long do you think it will be before the job situation in the U.S. recovers to about where it was before the COVID-19 outbreak?"
The following table shows how the survey respondents answered these questions.

As the table shows, 57% of the respondents believe it will take at least a year for most businesses and other public activities to return to normal operations, and more than eight out of ten of the respondents (81%) do not believe that unemployment will fall to prepandemic levels for at least a year.
My Take
I wasn't particularly surprised by the caution identified by the Gartner survey, which was conducted in January. At that time, the vaccine rollout was just getting started, and the number of daily new cases of COVID-19 was still high. I suspect if Gartner conducted the same survey today with the same survey panel, the results would be quite different.
I was somewhat surprised that a majority of the respondents in the Pew Research survey believed that most businesses and public activities won't return to normal operations for at least a year. The Pew survey was conducted in early March, by which time the number of daily new cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. had declined significantly, and it had become clear that the vaccine rollout was going well.
Current data from the CDC regarding vaccination progress, current data from the TSA regarding the number of people flying, and the latest quarterly earnings reports from several large U.S. retailers indicate to me that the "return to normal" is progressing even faster than many of us anticipated.

Top image courtesy of Robert Couse-Baker via Flickr (CC).

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Why It Pays To Be Empathetic and Benevolent

Empathy became one of the hottest topics in marketing last year. Yesterday, I performed a Google search using the term empathy in marketing for the period of March 1, 2020 through March 31, 2021. The search returned over 5.5 million results.

Marketing thought leaders and practitioners have long recognized that empathy plays a valuable role in marketing, but the COVID-19 pandemic elevated the importance of infusing marketing actions and communications with empathy. In a global survey of marketing decision makers conducted last fall by Salesforce, 81% of the respondents said their prioritization of providing customers with empathetic, personalized messages had increased because of the pandemic.

Social scientists generally define empathy as the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another person. To develop empathy, marketers need to put themselves in their customers' shoes in order to understand and feel what their customers are thinking and feeling. With these insights, marketers will be better able to create content and messaging that will resonate emotionally and rationally with customers.

Empathy is also vital for effective B2B marketing because empathetic marketing communications will signal that a company is worthy of a customer's trust. And trust is the single most critical component of strong, long-lasting customer relationships. To be clear, empathy alone cannot create trust, but empathetic communications will make customers more inclined to extend their trust.

How Trust Arises

Trust has been widely studied by psychologists and other social scientists, so we have a sound understanding of what creates a willingness to trust and how trust develops. Most social scientists agree that an individual's willingness to trust another person or an organization - and the level of trust that will develop - largely depends on the perceived trustworthiness of the other person or organization. Most scientists also agree that the trustworthiness of a person or organization is primarily based on three factors - ability, integrity, and benevolence.

Therefore, the willingness of a potential buyer or an existing customer to trust a vendor depends on whether - and to what extent - the vendor exhibits these three antecedents of trustworthiness. In the trust context, ability and integrity mean what they normally do, but benevolence has a special meaning. The essence of benevolence is putting the interest of another person or organization above your own.

Ability, integrity, and benevolence are equally important for the development of trust, but benevolence is the most potent source of differentiation because it is the rarest of the three trustworthiness attributes. Benevolence is rare, not because most companies are intentionally "malevolent," but because the importance of benevolence is usually underappreciated.

The Importance of Benevolence

There isn't a lot of recent research regarding the role of benevolence in business relationships, but a 2016 survey of 2,400 consumers by MECLABS Institute shows why benevolence is so important. For this study, MECLABS divided the survey participants into two equal groups. One group (the "satisfied customers") were asked to think about a company they were highly satisfied with when answering the survey questions. The other group (the "unsatisfied customers") were asked to think about a company they were very unsatisfied with.

When the unsatisfied customers were asked which of thirteen statements were true about their experience with the company, the most frequently selected statement was:  "The company does not put my needs and wants above its own business goals." In this survey, 60% of the satisfied customers said the company often or always puts their needs before its business goals, compared to only 16% of the unsatisfied customers.

This study also demonstrated how benevolence contributes to important and valuable business outcomes. MECLABS asked survey participants how likely they were to take several actions, and the following table shows the stark differences between the responses of satisfied vs. unsatisfied customers.

The MECLABS study showed that the "value chain" of benevolence works like this:  Benevolence contributes to a perception of trustworthiness, which enhances the development of trust. And trust contributes to a higher level of customer satisfaction, which leads to improved business outcomes.

So, practicing benevolence isn't only "the right thing to do," it's also a powerful driver of business performance. And empathetic marketing communications are a vital link in the customer trust value chain.

Top image courtesy of EKG Technician Salary via Flickr (CC).

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Use a "Barbell" Strategy for Better B2B Marketing

Many professional investors use a "barbell" strategy when constructing their portfolios. The barbell strategy was popularized in the early 2000's by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Taleb has been a derivatives trader and a hedge fund manager, but he is best known as the author of The Black Swan and several other books regarding randomness, probability, and uncertainty.

The essence of the barbell strategy is investing simultaneously in extremely low-risk assets (such as U.S. Treasury bills) and extremely high-risk assets (like stock options or IPO's), while avoiding middle-of-the-road choices. The assets at the ends of the barbell have very different characteristics, and the investments are made with very different objectives in mind. Proponents argue that over time, a barbell strategy increases the odds of achieving superior overall returns.

The Barbell Strategy for B2B Marketing

A barbell is also an apt visual metaphor for B2B marketing. As the following diagram shows, the two components of the B2B marketing barbell are brand marketing and demand generation marketing. We now have persuasive evidence that companies must excel at both to produce superior marketing results.

The barbell metaphor is appropriate because brand marketing and demand generation differ in several major ways. Most importantly, they have fundamentally different objectives.

The objective of most brand marketing programs is to evoke changes in the minds of potential buyers. For example, such programs are often designed to:

  • Make potential buyers aware of the brand (company or product)
  • Cause potential buyers to remember or think of the brand when a need or buying situation arises
  • Cultivate favorable perceptions of the brand in the minds of potential buyers 
In contrast, the objective of demand generation programs is to elicit a behavioral response from potential buyers who are engaged in - or are at least ready to begin - an active buying process.
These dissimilar objectives call for different marketing tactics and messaging, and the following table highlights some of the important differences. For example, because brand marketing is primarily intended to influence the feelings and perceptions of potential buyers, the messaging usually needs to have a more emotional appeal. Demand generation messaging, on the other hand, usually works better when it is more rational.

Many companies have traditionally used separate teams for brand marketing and demand generation. This approach enables them to develop the specialized knowledge and skills needed to perform both marketing disciplines more effectively. Unfortunately, this approach often leads to the development of organizational silos that result in a disconnect between the company's brand marketing and demand generation efforts.
In a recent article, four McKinsey & Company consultants argued that this disconnect can have important negative implications. They wrote:  "For many companies, this split is inhibiting growth aspirations. Budget and impact conversations often become contentious:  performance marketers tout their ability to drive clicks while brand builders argue for longer-term investments . . ."
Some marketing thought leaders have argued that the solution to this problem is to integrate brand marketing and demand generation to create a single, so-called "full funnel" marketing discipline. The risk with this approach is that the specialized knowledge and skills required to excel at each discipline will be diluted.
The better solution is to improve the coordination of brand marketing and demand generation programs by improving the relationship between the two teams. Once again, a barbell provides a useful visual metaphor. Every barbell has a bar, and the following diagram depicts the major components of the bar that connects brand marketing and demand generation.

As the diagram shows, there are four keys to elevating the relationship between brand marketing and demand generation teams.
Recognized Interdependence - Brand marketers and demand gen marketers must recognize that the two functions are deeply interdependent, that they need each other, and that coordinated efforts are essential for success.
Shared Understanding - Marketers in both disciplines need to have a shared understanding of the fundamental factors that make up the marketing environment. This includes the brand purpose, the positioning of the brand (i.e. core value propositions), and the structure of the market (size, competitive landscape, customer buying processes, etc.).
Ongoing, Self-Directed Collaboration - Brand marketers and demand gen marketers need to work collaboratively on an ongoing basis, and this collaboration needs to occur naturally and spontaneously, at all levels of both functions, whenever and wherever it's needed.
Linked KPI's - Because of the significant differences between brand marketing and demand generation, it's not feasible for the two functions to use the same exact set of performance metrics. However, the two functions should share some KPI's, and it's particularly important to measure the impact of brand marketing on the performance of demand generation programs.

Top Image Courtesy of Lance Goyke via Flickr (CC).

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Four Essential Attributes of Outstanding B2B Customer Experience

 Merkle B2B and two of its constituent firms, B2B International and gyro recently published the results of research that focused on what is required to consistently deliver world-class customer experiences, and where most companies have work to do to meet those requirements.

The research report is based on an analysis of 5,000 previous studies relating to customer experience and on over 3,000 interviews with B2B buyers and key decision-making influencers in North America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific. The interviews examined over 5,000 brand experiences involving the purchase and use of financial services, manufactured goods, professional services, and technology solutions.

The report begins with a rather sobering assessment of the overall quality of B2B customer experiences. The authors observed that over 35% of the interviewees with large companies (1,000 or more employees) said that buying from B2B suppliers is often a difficult process. So it's not surprising that the resulting customer experience is often mediocre. An analysis of Net Promoter Scores found that two-thirds of B2B customers have a passive or negative customer experience.

Merkle's report summarized the state of B2B customer experience in stark terms:  "We have established that the process of identifying, researching, choosing, and using a B2B supplier is rarely impressive, often ordinary, and frequently suboptimal."

The Four "Brand Superpowers"

Merkle identified four factors that collectively produce world-class customer experiences - Reliability, Understanding, Enrichment, and Preeminence. The report refers to these factors as "brand superpowers," and it places each superpower into one of two groups based on the type of value delivered.

Reliability and Understanding are superpowers that deliver "business" value directly to the customer organization, while Enrichment and Preeminence provide "personal" value to individual buyers, influencers, and users. Here's a brief overview of the attributes of each superpower.

Reliability - Merkle uses the term Reliability to describe company and product/service attributes that address basic business requirements. So this superpower includes good product quality, dependable customer service, and appropriate product/service pricing. If we think in terms of a hierarchy of needs, Reliability would be at the base.

Understanding - In Merkle's framework, Understanding refers to the quality of the relationship between a company and the business organizations it serves. Merkle says that Understanding includes attributes such as tailoring, adaptability, service, and aligned business cultures and philosophies. The report puts it this way:  "Where Reliability speaks to performance, Understanding is concerned with experience - the whole business-to-business customer journey must work in a seamless and integrated way."

Enrichment - Enrichment refers to a company's ability to make work life easier or better for the individuals in the customer organization who use or otherwise interact with the company or its product or service. So Enrichment provides personal value because the benefits are experienced by individuals, rather than by the customer organization. Enrichment also includes enhancing the professional knowledge and skills of individuals through educational resources and events.

Preeminence - In Merkle's model, Preeminence is the superpower that enables a company to enhance the professional status of the people in the customer organization who made the decision to do business with the company. A company that succeeds with this superpower is usually a recognized innovator and thought leader in its field, and if it also excels at Reliability, Understanding, and Enrichment, the people who made or influenced the decision to do business with the company will see their status enhanced in the eyes of their colleagues.

The B2B decision makers interviewed for the Merkle study generally gave companies good marks for delivering on the Reliability superpower, but they rated performance on the Understanding superpower as no more than satisfactory. The interviewees rated performance on almost every aspect of the Enrichment and Preeminence superpowers as unsatisfactory.

The idea that companies must provide both "business" and "personal" value isn't new. For example, a 2013 study by CEB (now part of Gartner) and Google also demonstrated that providing "personal" value is critical. This study tested the impact of more than seventy brand benefits on a range of "commercial outcomes," including familiarity, consideration, preference, purchase, repeat purchase, premium payment, internal advocacy, and external advocacy.

The researchers divided the benefits into two categories - business value benefits (those that flowed to the customer organization), and personal value benefits (those that flowed to individual "buyers"). The study found that personal value benefits had twice as much impact (lift) on commercial outcomes as business value benefits.

The Merkle research highlights the importance of the personal dimensions of B2B customer experience, and it provides a helpful framework for marketing, sales, and CX professionals to use when evaluating the quality of the experiences they are providing.

Image courtesy of frontriver via Flickr CC.