B2B marketers and sales professional should adopt a page or two from the B2C handbook regarding marketing best practices for interacting with their prospects. The concept of mass customization has been preached in business schools and board rooms of consumer-focused companies for many years. Many leading B2C firms had to evolve from mass production to mass customization in order to be competitive. Neglecting this shift caused many firms to lose market share and even resulted in enough disruption to de-throne market leaders (a very rare occurrence in the B2C space when compared to B2B). A similar shift has been occurring in the B2B market and the consequences of ignoring the need to change are just as dire. So how did the successful firms serving consumers do it? The evolution of the 1:1 relationship with the target consumer required companies to go through the following progression:
- Mass Production: Think Henry Ford and the famous quote “you can have any color you want, as long as it is black.”
- Market Segmentation: The concept GM put into place in the 70’s targeting a car for each phase of your life, with the feature/price mix increasing at each one, from Chevrolet to Buick to Cadillac.
- Mass Customization: A recent visit to the Saturn website has the “build your own” feature, with no less than 30 options (based on consumer feedback of the most important components to choose). Add in financing options; leasing options, pick-up or delivery, no-hassle pricing, free service for the first 40K miles, etc., … and you get the point.
Note: If you want another great example, check out bestselling author Malcom Gladwell’s presentation on how Ragu was displaced by a PhD. Food Scientist who gave the people what they wanted. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIiAAhUeR6Y
For B2B firms, the process is much more complex, in that BOTH the solution and selling process must incorporate mass customization. As with cars and tomato sauce, the end buyer has unique needs that must be addressed. However, unless you’re at the self-checkout line at my grocery store, the consumer buying process is straightforward. Conversely, businesses have complex buying processes and unique needs. As an example, the B2B buying process involves multiple decision makers and influencers, each with their own selection criteria and agenda (hint: address each one individually and your chances of winning the deal increase exponentially). Add up the other complexities in the research, evaluation, consideration, and selection phases and mass customization becomes a real challenge.
The good news is, if you can customize your selling process to these buyers in a meaningful way, you can convert more prospects into customers and many of these will be customers with a significant reluctance to change. This equates to a competitive advantage, especially if you are a first mover or innovator.