B2B Marketing - Indian River Consulting Group https://www.ircg.com/blog/category/b2b-marketing/ Indian River Consulting Group specializes in helping distributors and manufacturers accurately diagnose problems and identify risk-bound alternatives so they can take their next steps confidently. Call us to learn more at 321-956-8617 or contact us now. Wed, 16 Nov 2022 14:53:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=6.1.1 https://www.ircg.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/favicon.ico B2B Marketing - Indian River Consulting Group https://www.ircg.com/blog/category/b2b-marketing/ 32 32 Market Better: How to Segment Your B2B Customers Using Behavioral Analytics https://www.ircg.com/blog/b2b-marketing/market-better-how-to-segment-your-b2b-customers-using-behavioral-analytics/ https://www.ircg.com/blog/b2b-marketing/market-better-how-to-segment-your-b2b-customers-using-behavioral-analytics/#respond Wed, 16 Nov 2022 14:39:12 +0000 https://www.ircg.com/?p=12311 You want to improve your marketing strategy, but you’re staring down the abyss of options to take. For proven success, develop a laser focus on where you direct your marketing efforts. Pour energy into how you’re growing revenue, how you retain customers and how you can remain profitable in an uncertain and challenging environment.  The …

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You want to improve your marketing strategy, but you’re staring down the abyss of options to take. For proven success, develop a laser focus on where you direct your marketing efforts. Pour energy into how you’re growing revenue, how you retain customers and how you can remain profitable in an uncertain and challenging environment. 

The best way to do this is by investing in the technology needed to become an analytics-driven distributor.  

Looking at your real-time data, patterns will start to emerge. Customer behavior will make more sense. You’ll be able to sort customers based on what they care about, what they’re shopping for and how (and when) they shop. Armed with these insights, your sales teams can work smarter—not harder—to meet customer needs, remove tension from the relationship, close deals faster and pick up new customers along the way. 

The Problem with How We Segment Customers Now 

Back in the day, customer segmentation was all about Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) and North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes. Although this information is undoubtedly useful for- economists, it’s no longer useful for distributors by itself. 

The original concept of segmentation and marketing strategy used these codes and applied them to territory zones. It looked at the customer size, type and other basic firmographics.  

For example, when a small company usually has employees wearing more than one hat, you might have one or two on a field sales team. Looking only at territories, you were left operating in patch geography. It’s an inefficient way to do business.  

Given that same logic, the only way you could segment was to grow. Getting larger as a company, operating in more territories meant you could specialize. You could have inside sales, technical sales and other niche roles, which also meant you could target customers more efficiently.  

Despite this awareness and the availability of technology, some distributors are still scrambling to find high-profit clients and please their existing customers. They’re operating in the dark.  

-Then there are the innovators. These companies are focused and pick up share simply because they’re smart about the best way to make money. They’re using behavioral segmentation. The innovative distributors are looking at what their customers truly value—because there’s a difference between what you think you sell and what customers are actually buying.   

>> Six steps to improve your customer’s experience 

How to Segment B2B Customers with Analytics 

To unearth where your profitability lies, it’s necessary to clearly understand your customer segments. What kind of customer occupies each spot? What do they want, and what do they need? How can you fulfill those desires?  

Once you’ve analyzed all the data, you can home in on the segment in your sweet spot—that’s where the money is. 

  1. Sort customers based on what they care about.  
  1. Apply NAICS codes. 
  1. Incorporate industry demographics into the equation. 

It’s critical to have a scale for meaningful segmentation. The old criteria was geography. You base resource allocation on size; treat the big customers well, and earn a large profit margin off the small ones.  

But when you scale and grow, you begin to see patterns. You’re accumulating more information and, therefore, more data to analyze. Instead of self-directed sales teams going out into the great unknown of their region, all of a sudden, the data is revealing choices and opportunities.  

The original concepts of segmentation and market strategy are still important because they serve as a baseline. However, you need to build on that foundation. Most distributors know their top 10 customers well, but they don’t know the 10 largest users of products in their markets. Those analytics matter. 

Addressing buying habits, such as how much customers buy digitally or how often they interact online but finalize their order through sales reps is key.  

Strive for efficiency to remain competitive. Weigh in the elements of cost to serve. There are plenty of distributors that have lower prices and lower expenses.  

Another phase is the customer lifecycle management, where you analyze -retention strategies. Where do customers drop off in terms of their size and purchases? 

Real-time data analytics enables your organization to group people based on their behavior. Use your resources. Whether it’s an email, website pop-up or a discount shared through your field sales reps to your largest customers, use the data to be proactive. 

Consider this: according to a recent study published by Gartner in early 2022 only 17% of a buyer’s time is spent talking to salespeople, and all distributors in your industry are competing with each other for that precious time. How are you handling that remaining 83%?  

If you use the data right, you’ll never wake up too late to keep a customer who had all the red flags. There’s a reason they stopped their orders. Behavioral analytics can help you stay on top of these critical changes. Talk to the customer directly—and keep them as a customer.  

>> The biggest mistake in strategic planning is not focusing on customer insight 

Why Distributors Struggle with Behavioral Analytics

Many distributors have a hard time adopting behavioral analytics due to one (or more) of three things: 

  1. Their field salespeople don’t enjoy their autonomy and freedom -seemingly taken away. They don’t like to be held accountable. There will always be pushback to change. It’s human nature. Distributors fail when they don’t know how to handle the change management . 
  1. They begin the process thinking analytics can be managed via spreadsheet. It can’t. Applying data to customer segmentation, really diving into data analytics, is a project. It requires planning, infrastructure and design. Treat it like another big company initiative. When you don’t, you get stuck, and the project stops. 
  1. They don’t know where to start, so they chat with some friends, buy some random software and think that’ll be the solution. 

Every distributor can adapt and utilize behavioral analytics. The difference between the innovators and those who struggle lie somewhere in these three areas. If you’re willing, you must follow through and have a foundation to succeed.  

>> 3 Keys to Successful Sales Transformation 

How Can Distributors Facilitate Customer Segmentation Using Analytics? 

Map out the journey of your buyers.  

This somewhat simple exercise is always an eye-opening experience for distributors. Companies are usually shocked by what they thought their customer journey was versus what it actually is. In some cases, this exercise also reveals areas of friction for customers. And if a customer is used to an annoying process, 1) it’s no wonder you experience churn, but 2) using the data and changing how you interact will be all the more enjoyable for the customer.  

>> Learn how to map customer touchpoints and create a better customer experience 

Once the journey map is complete, you can start adjusting your sales process to align with that customer segment’s journey. When you can see that path from browsing to purchasing, you can begin to remove the friction from the relationship. 

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UID Sneak Peek: Dan Horan on Building an Intentional Brand https://www.ircg.com/blog/distribution/uid-sneak-peek-dan-horan-on-building-an-intentional-brand/ Fri, 20 Dec 2019 03:37:09 +0000 https://www.ircg.com/uid-sneak-peek-dan-horan-on-building-an-intentional-brand/ Of the 56 sessions offered at the University of Innovative Distribution in 2020, IRCG consultants will lead eight. Senior Associate Consultant Dan Horan will be presenting as a faculty member for the first time at the 2020 University of Industrial Distribution (UID). With a background in marketing and advertising, Dan will dissect the four aspects of an effective and profitable branding strategy in his session, “B2B Branding Strategies for the 2020s.”

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UID Sneak Peek Dan HoranOf the 56 sessions offered at the University of Innovative Distribution in 2020, IRCG consultants will lead eight. Senior Associate Consultant Dan Horan will be presenting as a faculty member for the first time at the 2020 University of Industrial Distribution (UID). With a background in marketing and advertising, Dan will dissect the four aspects of an effective and profitable branding strategy in his session, “B2B Branding Strategies for the 2020s.”

Dan talks about his goals for his session,  in this Q&A:

Why are you excited to participate in this year’s UID?
It’s a great learning opportunity and networking event, and educational to hear different people’s approaches and techniques.

Will you share a bit more about your course, “B2B Branding Strategies for the 2020s”?

One of the things I always try to tell people is that your brand is more than a logo, more than the typeface. It’s all the things that live in a customer’s mind when they think about your company. But you probably only get three or four words of what you are and how you exist in a customer’s mind. One of the exercises will be to write down four words you believe represent your company right now. And then, we’ll write the four words you want to represent you in the next five years.

People are starting to pay attention to branding, considering it intentionally as opposed to something that happened by accident. I hope to give students five things they can do as soon as they get back to their office that will have positive influence on their organization.

What can participants expect to take away from the course?
I’ll break it down into four primary elements. First, we’ll cover the foundations of a brand — what do you need to know, what are some assumptions? Then, we’ll hit on good and bad branding practices — taking examples from students’ own industry experience. We’ll continue with ideas on creating and building an intentional brand, as well as effectively maintaining an existing brand.

Read more about creating an intentional brand in Dan Horan’s article, 3 Steps for a More Intentional Brand.

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In Today’s Market, Branding Must Go Beyond Your Logo https://www.ircg.com/blog/b2b-marketing/in-today-s-market-branding-must-go-beyond-your-logo/ Wed, 31 Jul 2019 04:06:44 +0000 https://www.ircg.com/in-today-s-market-branding-must-go-beyond-your-logo/ In the digital age, branding is no longer just advertising, or logos and slogans. Now, successful branding requires a comprehensive strategy and it has to include the entire customer experience. 

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branding must go beyond your logoIn the digital age, branding is no longer just advertising, or logos and slogans.

Now, successful branding requires a comprehensive strategy and it has to include the entire customer experience.  To work for a company, branding has to be built on a foundation of knowing who your customers are, what they want, and what their pain points are, and learning how to address those to make the pain go away.

Getting it right means you genuinely have to care. If you listen to your customers to understand, they’ll tell you exactly what they want.

I’ll be talking in depth about successful branding  as a keynote speaker at the annual NAFCD + NBMDA Annual Convention, November 12-14, 2019 in New Orleans, La.

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7 Strategies to Make Your B2B Marketing More Effective https://www.ircg.com/blog/b2b-marketing/7-strategies-to-make-your-b2b-marketing-more-effective/ Wed, 31 Jul 2019 03:44:54 +0000 https://www.ircg.com/7-strategies-to-make-your-b2b-marketing-more-effective/ Your customers are used to making purchases online in their daily lives. And, more and more, they expect ecommerce in the working world, too. Too many distributors don’t focus enough on their B2B ecommerce – in some cases because they believe in-person field sales is their one and only go-to sales method, or because they feel they can’t compete with Amazon, so it’s pointless to invest in ecommerce.

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7 strategies to make your B2B marketing more effectiveYour customers are used to making purchases online in their daily lives. And, more and more, they expect ecommerce in the working world, too. Too many distributors don’t focus enough on their B2B ecommerce – in some cases because they believe in-person field sales is their one and only go-to sales method, or because they feel they can’t compete with Amazon, so it’s pointless to invest in ecommerce. But in today’s market, you can’t afford either approach. And while it’s true you can’t beat Amazon at its own game, there are B2B marketing strategies distributors should implement to stay competitive. Here are seven:

Protect and Promote Your Brand. Your brand isn’t just a logo or a tagline. It is how customers – and your employees – view your company. And every contact a customer has with your company, whether online or in person, should reinforce your brand. Having an online presence makes your brand both more important and more vulnerable. Using the free tool Google Alerts is a good way to monitor your brand to ensure brand consistency.

Unify Marketing and Sales. Marketing and sales departments should work together as a team. That may be difficult at first, but conducting alignment meetings regularly allows both groups to develop a mutual understanding of companywide goals, and messages and strategies aligned with those goals.

Satisfy the Need for Speed. According to Hubspot, 47 percent of customers expect a webpage to load in two seconds or less. Keeping customers waiting is a sure way to convince them to take their business to Amazon. Making sure your site loads quickly is imperative for successful ecommerce. Check your site speed, and consider using Google Analytics to review its performance on an ongoing basis.

Get Mobile. According to the Boston Consulting Group, 50 percent of B2B search queries today are made on smartphones. That figure is expected to grow by 70 percent by 2020. That means your website must be mobile friendly. You don’t necessarily need an app, but you do need responsive design built into your platform so your site is mobile-friendly. If it isn’t fixing the problem, it may be as simple as switching your design.

Be Valuable. When you provide content that provides information customers need and shows them how to solve their problems, you increase your chances of getting found by customers, and becoming valuable to them. Inbound marketing is about providing value and multiple touchpoints until a customer needs you.

Get Social. Social media is important. You don’t need to be everywhere, but having a blog and LinkedIn page are great places to start. Limit your platforms by focusing on the ones that best represent your business, the content you create and your customers. Don’t simply rely on your team to post when the mood strikes. Instead, make social media a priority and budget time and dollars to it in order to create valuable content that reflects your business goals.

Measure to the Sale. B2B marketing often measures to the lead, but you need to measure to the sale. Measuring to the transaction will help you align with sales and leadership – reflecting profitability and not just the marketing effort. 

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9 Tips for Distributors to Make the Most of Social Media https://www.ircg.com/blog/b2b-marketing/9-tips-for-distributors-to-make-the-most-of-social-media/ Fri, 12 Jul 2019 03:22:57 +0000 https://www.ircg.com/9-tips-for-distributors-to-make-the-most-of-social-media/ If you’re still wondering whether your business should be on social media, it’s easy to learn the answer: Ask your customers.

If they’re using it, then you should be, too.

But don’t begin and end with that single question. Equally important is the follow up: Which social media platforms do your customers use most, and for what purposes?

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9 social media tipsIf you’re still wondering whether your business should be on social media, it’s easy to learn the answer: Ask your customers.

If they’re using it, then you should be, too.

But don’t begin and end with that single question. Equally important is the follow up: Which social media platforms do your customers use most, and for what purposes?

That is important information because you don’t need to spray posts all over the social media universe; instead choose the platforms that best represent your business, are the best potential homes for the content you create, and are the best way to deliver your message to your customers and prospects.

Once you have that knowledge, developing and growing a social media presence really isn’t as difficult as many distributors assume it is.

Here are some basic tips for getting started – or improving – your social media presence:

  1. Create a plan. Know what you want to achieve and who you want to reach, and use that as the foundation of your social media plan. From there, create a calendar so you’re posting regularly. This calendar should be separate from your overall editorial calendar, but the themes and messages you convey should be consistent.
  2. Choose the right platforms. You don’t need to be – and probably shouldn’t be – posting on every platform. It stretches your resources too thin and diffuses your message. Don’t know which platform are best for you? Talk to your customers. Where are they posting? What are they reading? What is important for them to know?
  3. Make sure the message matches the platform. What works on Facebook, ie, short-form content about employees, success stories, industry updates, etc. won’t fly on the visual world of Instagram, and maybe won’t work on the business-centric LinkedIn. And each attracts a different group of followers, so it’s important to know who your audience is, and tailor your message accordingly.
  4. Get help. Your team members are probably posting already through personal accounts. So tap into their expertise – recruit that sales team member who takes great photos to supply visuals for Instagram. But do this carefully. Before granting the keys to the posting kingdom to anyone who isn’t in the marketing department, be sure to review what’s appropriate and what isn’t, what messages you want to convey, and those you don’t.
  5. Get professional help. If your marketing plan includes blogs or other longer-form writing, it might be worth investing in a consultant or contractor with writing and communications experience to compose those, if you don’t have a marketing department.
  6. Create a system for posting consistently, and often. Often, of course, is a relative term. For giant corporations, often may be several times a day. For smaller businesses, it may mean once a week. Do what works best for your budget and resources, but try to avoid posting three times in one week, and then going silent for three weeks. Consistency is key, and achieving it is fairly easy, thanks to the numerous scheduling apps available.
  7. Be flexible. Don’t confuse consistency with inflexibility. If your company wins a major award, but a post about it wasn’t scheduled, post about it anyway. You can always postpone or re-schedule another post if necessary. But it’s important to recognize great opportunities and take advantage of them.
  8. Stick to business. Unless your company is involved in either of these fields, avoid politics and religion.
  9. Re-use and recycle. Don’t forget to like or forward content your suppliers, member associations and customers create. And don’t forget to send them your original content to share.

Taking advantage of the opportunities for exposure and messaging social media offers is not terribly complicated, and its benefits can be huge. So, go forth and post!

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In the News: What Motivates Your Customers to Buy More? https://www.ircg.com/blog/b2b-marketing/in-the-news-what-motivates-your-customers-to-buy-more/ Tue, 15 Jan 2019 05:42:27 +0000 https://www.ircg.com/in-the-news-what-motivates-your-customers-to-buy-more/ It’s important to know the difference between one customer’s needs and another’s. Associate Consultant Dan Horan recently wrote about this in a guest post for Modern Distribution Management, What Motivates Your Customers to Buy More? Horan outlines three ways distributors can segment their customer base: Internal segments (size of purchase, how often they buy, what …

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It’s important to know the difference between one customer’s needs and another’s. Associate Consultant Dan Horan recently wrote about this in a guest post for Modern Distribution Management, What Motivates Your Customers to Buy More?

Horan outlines three ways distributors can segment their customer base:

  • Internal segments (size of purchase, how often they buy, what they buy, etc)
  • Demographic segments (business size, business type, location)
  • Behavioral segments (what and why customers do what they do)

The last is the most valuable because it takes into account a buyer’s needs and motivation. It is however one of the most difficult for distributors to achieve.

Read more about behavioral segmention in this post: What Motivates Your Customers to Buy More?

Questions about segmentation? Contact Dan Horan at dhoran@ircg.com.

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3 Steps to a More ‘Intentional’ Brand https://www.ircg.com/blog/distribution/3-steps-to-a-more-intentional-brand/ Thu, 17 May 2018 23:13:23 +0000 https://www.ircg.com/3-steps-to-a-more-intentional-brand/ Dan Horan offers distributors a pragmatic way to narrow the gap between their current brand and their ideal brand.

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In the third part of this four-part series, IRCG Associate Consultant Dan Horan offers distributors a pragmatic way to narrow the gap between their current brand and their ideal brand by employing patience, humility and outside-the-box thinking. (Did you miss the first two parts? Get caught up by reading Part 1: What Makes a Brand in B2B? and Part 2: The Difference Between Good Branding and Great Branding.)

When is the last time you took steps to manage your brand? Considering how your company and your target markets have likely changed over time, you can’t let your brand be something that just happens to you. You must build your brand with intention.

For most distributions, there is no need to build a new brand from scratch, nor is that possible. Instead, distributors should aim to turn their existing brand equity into something stronger and more cohesive, taking control of what they already have.

Brand building does not happen overnight; it takes work and attention. In a perfect world, you would have months or years to craft, test and refine every element of your brand. In reality, you have a business to run and often need to be building your brand on the fly and in your and your employees’ spare time.

Here are three steps to help you balance your idealistic view of what your brand could be with a pragmatic assessment of what you can realistically achieve.

Step 1: Assess your brand

Before you start building your brand, you must first understand how your brand is currently perceived. While there are plenty of formulaic assessments out there that claim to be able to tell you your brand’s strength or value, the best brand assessment comes straight from your customers and potential customers.

As I mentioned in Part 2 of this series, be wary of relying too much on your sales team for customer insights. With only a single, internal input source to guide you, you run a high risk of falling victim to your own “echo chamber,” hearing only what you want to hear. Getting honest input directly from customers may make you feel uncomfortable, but it is required for an accurate brand assessment.

Don’t limit these conversations to just your best customers and your friends. Talk to a diverse group of customers/potential customers, including ones you have low wallet share with. Don’t try to sell your products or the added services you offer during these conversations – just ask questions and listen.

If you receive negative feedback, or if your customers’ perceptions are vastly different than your own, it can be intensely discouraging. Resist the urge to justify or defend your own position by recognizing that the feedback you’re receiving is a gift, an opportunity to make meaningful changes.

Another way to better understand your current brand perception is to compare yourself to the competition. Ask yourself: What niche do you fill in the marketplace? How is your brand different or unique? How do you compare to the other regional or national players? For the most meaningful comparison, consider your five biggest competitors (local, regional and national), and ask yourself how your brand is positioned to each – not just by strength or size, but by how your brand is unique and differentiated.

If your best answer is good people with great service, I would start looking for another source of employment. Everyone claims to have good service, so what do you offer that the competition does not or cannot?

Step 2: Envision your ideal brand

In a perfect world, how would you like to be perceived in the marketplace? How would you like customers to view your company, your products and your services? Even if you’re not clear on all the details, outline the basics of what your ideal brand would look like.

This idealized brand (how you are perceived) isn’t the same as your ideal business strategy (what you do), so it’s important not to confuse the two. You should also keep in mind that even with all the time and money in the world, you won’t be able to be all things to all people; even idealized brand strategies have tradeoffs.

Once you’ve outlined what your ideal brand would look like, ask yourself what your plan would be to get there if you had total control, unlimited time and unlimited resources.  That plan is your Ideal Brand Strategy.

Step 3: Reconcile your Ideal Brand Strategy with reality

Chances are good that there is a sizeable gap between how you are perceived in the marketplace now and how you’d like to be perceived. It’s also likely that there are many things outside of your control, and you’re limited in how much time you can invest in a branding project. The reality is that you may never achieve your ideal brand strategy, but you can begin to narrow the gap and make purposeful decisions on where you want to invest.

Whether you realize it or not, you are constantly investing in your brand through every customer interaction. So building a realistic brand strategy means not just deciding what new things to do, but also what things to stop doing. Many of your new brand actions will be replacements for old ones, helping you to make the most of limited resources.

You should also consider the size of the gap between each element of your current brand and each element of your ideal brand. If an element of your current brand is drastically different than your ideal brand, you need to consider whether it is worth the time, effort and money to change that perception. 

Don’t write something off just because it might not have been part of the original plan.  Think about what would happen if you embraced or doubled down on a certain perception instead of trying to change it.

For example, you might not have wanted to be the low-cost choice, but if you are already perceived that way, remember that there is value in the brand equity you already have. Consider the existing equity and the cost of building the same level of equity (especially if competition is fierce for a particular perception) if you choose another direction.

Finally, when it comes to brand strategy, remember that aspirational is good. You should feel like your strategy is pushing you and is a stretch to achieve, but don’t go too far. If all your brand goals are pie-in-the-sky, your execution will suffer.

To be notified when the next post in this series is published, join our “Industry Insights” email list via the form at the bottom-right corner of this page.

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The Difference Between Good Branding and Great Branding https://www.ircg.com/blog/b2b-marketing/the-difference-between-good-branding-and-great-branding/ Wed, 25 Apr 2018 22:00:31 +0000 https://www.ircg.com/the-difference-between-good-branding-and-great-branding/ This is the second part of a four-part series on distributor branding.

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Brands are all around us. Most people can identify iconic brands and point out many of the traits that make them unique, but few can clearly define what branding is or explain why it is important to have a branding strategy. In the second part of this four-part series, IRCG Associate Consultant Dan Horan outlines a simple, team-oriented approach to brand consistency that helps build loyal, more profitable customers. (Did you miss Part 1? Access it here.)

Consistency is the key to making a brand feel more dependable. Giving consumers a dependable experience across all your communication channels works along the same lines as always putting out a dependable product. The more consistent you are, the more dependable all aspects of your business will appear.

Brand consistency helps you seem trustworthy and helps you build loyal customers. In a recent survey by Fierce Retail, participants cited brand consistency as one of the reasons they remain loyal to their favorite brands. Loyal customers are the ultimate goal of any company – they cost less to serve, will more readily accept price increases and are more willing to forgive errors.

As IRCG Managing Partner Mike Marks is fond of saying, “When I was young, I thought it was all about the money, now that I’m old, I found out that I was right: It is all about the money.” Consistency makes money. A consistent brand increases the overall value of your company by reinforcing your image in the marketplace and attracting more loyal customers. A 2013 McKinsey & Company study found that “B2B companies with strong and consistent branding are 20 percent more successful than those that are weak or inconsistent.”

The best way to protect your brand? Be consistent. Consistency gives you more control over how customers perceive you, helping you to present your desired image. You will never control your brand 100%, but by being consistent, you set guide rails for how you will be perceived.

Part of being consistent is creating, maintaining and making available your “brand standards.” As Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski often says: “We don’t have rules, we have standards. Rules are meant to be obeyed or broken; standards are accepted and become a part of you.” This “standards, not rules” approach implies a more positive, less punitive approach to brand management that is team-oriented, not top-down.

Simple is best. Consistent branding is already hard enough, so don’t make it more difficult with unnecessary details and rules – decide what is most important and skip the rest. There is no reason to have dozens of variations of all of your images, designs and logos; just establish the base standard and stick with it. I once had a Fortune 100 client that didn’t take this advice and – after 46 revisions – ended up with a nearly 100-page “book.” By the time the book was done, they had to start working on the next one. To this day, no one reads it and it was not helpful to anyone.

When it comes to consistent branding, it’s important to remember to practice like you play. Your brand and best practices need to be ingrained. It does not matter if what you are doing is internal and will never see the light of day – the more you express your brand in a consistent manner the easier it will be executed when it matters. In fact, if it starts to feel a little repetitive for you, that means you’re doing it right.

Building a consistent brand is a process, not a finish line. Start by:

  1. Evaluating your internal branding. Do an informal survey of employees from different departments. Ask two questions: What does our company stand for? What does our company mean to you? If your employees don’t see your brand as consistent, how will consumers ever do so? The responses don’t have to be identical (in fact, it’s probably better if they aren’t – that means they have internalized your brand), but there should be commonalities in the words used or images invoked.
  2. Making brand guidelines widely available. I once consulted with a company that presented new brand standards to their team during a big meeting. When an employee asked how they could access the new assets, they were told to ask their manager, who would pass them along. This is a start, but not good enough. Everyone in the company must have easy access to the latest version of logos, colors and other brand assets. And your brand’s core values shouldn’t be passed down solely through a list of talking points – they should be embodied daily by the actions of company leaders, both internally and externally.
  3. Reviewing marketing materials, policies and processes. Does the same logo, color scheme and font set appear on all customer and internal materials (email, mailers, social media, letterhead, business cards, vehicles, buildings, notices, etc.)? Do all customers encounter the same processes when they interact with you, and are they subject to the same policies? If a customer calls two different sales reps, will they get the same (or a very similar) quote? Identify discrepancies and explore ways to correct them.

Building a successful brand strategy takes more than an outdated list of brand guidelines. It takes attention and hard work and the support of all your employees. But done well, it will make everyone’s job easier and ultimately, your company more profitable.

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What Makes a Brand in B2B? https://www.ircg.com/blog/distribution/what-makes-a-brand-in-b2b/ Tue, 03 Apr 2018 19:56:03 +0000 https://www.ircg.com/what-makes-a-brand-in-b2b/ IRCG Associate Consultant Dan Horan argues that a company brand is defined by much more than its logos or letterhead.

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Part 1 of IRCG’s Distributor Branding Series

Brands are all around us. Most people can identify iconic brands and point out many of the traits that make them unique, but few can clearly define what branding is or explain why it is important to have a branding strategy. In the first part of this four-part series, IRCG Associate Consultant Dan Horan argues that a company brand is defined by much more than its logos or letterhead and outlines branding guidelines that lead to loyal customers.

What is a brand? The American Marketing Association defines a brand as: “A name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.” I would argue that this definition is too narrow, that these elements in themselves are not a brand. Things like logos and slogans are “brand assets” that, only when combined with a company’s voice, tone and visual identity, contribute to a brand.

It’s true that logos are important for brand recognition. Intel’s “Intel Inside” logo, for example, helped customers distinguish between premium, Intel-powered computers and competitor products. The logo itself, though, would have been meaningless to customers if it had represented a sub-par product, or if it had existed without the support of an accompanying marketing campaign and Intel’s unique OEM marketing partnership.

A brand is made up of much more than your company’s logo or letterhead. Think of the Intel Inside “chime,” 3M’s iconic red packaging, Salesforce’s reputation for customizability or Oracle Founder Larry Ellison’s entertaining “rags to riches” story. None of these are a company’s logo, but they all contribute to a brand.

Paul Rand, the designer behind the iconic logos of ABC, IBM and UPS, said a logo “derives meaning from the quality of the thing it symbolizes, not the other way around.”

So a brand is more than the sum of its brand assets, more even than the image a company attempts to project through marketing and graphic design efforts. A brand is best defined as a customer’s perception of a specific product, service or company.

The key to this statement is a customer’s perception. It means your brand is not yours – it belongs to your customers. Intuit’s Scott Cook said, “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.” It consists of both the tangible attributes of your brand (what customers can see, hear, taste or touch) as well as the emotional ones (how their direct or indirect experiences with your company – for better or for worse – make them feel).

It is created through the actions and interactions of every department, every operation and every employee. It is the way your customer service people answer the phone, the packaging you use, the vehicles your sales team drives and the services you offer. Even employees that are not customer-facing have an indirect impact on your brand.

A brand, broadly defined, is your first impression. In “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,” Malcolm Gladwell writes that “Buyers make most decisions by relying on their two-second first impressions based on stored memories, images and feelings.” This impression is unique to each person, and it is constantly evolving your brand through each new customer interaction.

In B2B, where sales cycles are long and customer interactions occur regularly over a long period of time, brand impressions can make or break relationships. You could have dozens of great engagements with a customer (most you won’t ever know about) under your belt only to have one bad impression or interaction change your customer’s view of your company, requiring many new positive future interactions to rebuild the favorability of your brand.

Your brand is not something created solely by your marketing department, nor defined by something as simple and dimensionless as a logo. Your brand touches every aspect of your business, defined by everything you do.

How strong is your company brand? Find out by:

  1. Directly asking customers about their perception of your brand. Find out how both your “good” and “difficult” customers describe you to their friends, colleagues and customers. Don’t rely on your outside sales team for meaningful insights. If possible, have someone in a leadership position conduct these interviews to make customers feel special and encourage them to talk.
  2. Asking for suppliers’ perspectives on your brand. Do they value it? Do they feature you as a customer on their website or promotional material? If so, why? How does your company image compare to your competitors’, and what specifically do your suppliers like or dislike about working with you? Try to dig deeper than how they feel about your operations, logistics and sales processes to get to the heart of what they think makes for a strong brand.
  3. Comparing supply chain partner priorities with your own. Suppose your customers tell you that they place the highest value on working with a distributor with a reputation for helping select the right products for the right applications. Are your KPIs and resources aligned with this customer priority? Put metrics in place to assess your performance in this area, and leverage that data to identify investment areas with the highest potential ROI.

In the next blog in this series, I’ll discuss how to develop a consistent branding strategy that helps successful companies build a loyal customer base. To be notified when that post and other new blogs are published, join our “Industry Insights” email list via the form at the bottom-right corner of this page.

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Overinvested in Sales, Underinvested in Marketing https://www.ircg.com/blog/distribution/overinvested-in-sales-underinvested-in-marketing/ Wed, 02 Aug 2017 03:16:41 +0000 https://www.ircg.com/overinvested-in-sales-underinvested-in-marketing/ Today’s buyer takes a much more active role in the buying process. These customers – who would much rather do their own research than be interrupted by a salesperson – are turning to company websites and other sources for product and application information before they buy. Some buyers want very little to do with a sales rep in the traditional sense. Companies willing to adapt to these changes have begun to shift resources away from outside sales to inside sales and/or other specialized roles. But this only solves part of the problem.

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Today’s buyer takes a much more active role in the buying process. These customers – who would much rather do their own research than be interrupted by a salesperson – are turning to company websites and other sources for product and application information before they buy. Some buyers want very little to do with a sales rep in the traditional sense. Companies willing to adapt to these changes have begun to shift resources away from outside sales to inside sales and/or other specialized roles. But this only solves part of the problem.

If a customer visits your website for product, pricing and application information, will that information be easy for them to find? Is there enough awareness in your industry of your brand and offerings to drive potential customers to look for your site? Have you optimized your website and its content so that the customers who are looking for you can find you? Do you know what your potential customers look like, and do you have technology to communicate in a personalized way with each of them, regardless of their market segment, buying preferences or place in your sales pipeline?

If you’re answering no to many of these questions, you’re not alone. Many of the distributors I’ve worked with over the years are spending a ton of money on sales but almost nothing on marketing. In the rare cases companies do invest in marketing, it’s usually done by the owner’s daughter on her Macintosh, sporadically and on a part-time basis.

Before you dismiss marketing as being tangential to your business, consider this: Many potential customers are nearly two-thirds of the way toward making a decision before they even talk to a salesperson. So it would make sense for most distributors to invest a lot more than they currently are on the pre-sales touchpoints – including advertisements, webpages and emails – that determine whether prospects will even be willing to move to the next stage.

The good news is that when you invest enough in marketing, selling becomes more efficient, saving you time and money in the long run. While it costs a lot to make sales reps available for every customer, it costs relatively little to create a decent-looking website or to set up an automated email marketing or advertising campaign. The bad news is that many distributors are dramatically overinvested in sales and underinvested in marketing, and they’ll need to step up their game if they want to make a good digital first impression on potential customers.

For more on how to tailor your capabilities to fit the needs of your customers, check out our Five Keys to Unlocking Profitable Growth whitepaper.

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