How B2B customers talk

Some years ago, our company supplied billing services for a mid-sized telecom provider. It was old technology, and we were very interested in migrating them over to a new platform we’d just begun to offer. They were referenceable and complimentary of our work with them. The IT group, our liaison, was happy to set up a meeting with the various groups that would be involved in a decision to change platforms.

At that meeting we learned the other groups didn’t hold us in such high esteem. Not only were they not ready to migrate, they had a list of issues with our current system they wanted fixed. And while we were there, they let us in on a lot of other ideas they had about what we could do better, ideas they had clearly been storing up for years.

We (me included – I headed the group that managed customer satisfaction) had made a big error – we had mistaken good feedback from our direct customer, the IT group, for good feedback from the whole user base.

When B2B customers talk, it’s a lot different from how consumers talk. It’s not uncommon to have a B2B product used by hundreds or thousands of employees in a single company, spread across multiple departments and geographies. “How are we doing?” in this case is a much harder question to answer. Weekly status meetings and yearly customer surveys sent to a handful of people will not let you know whether the company as a whole likes and values what you do for it – or whether there are pockets of dissatisfaction that could derail your strategic initiatives with this customer.

Don’t get seduced by the viewpoints of the people you deal with every day. It’s the people in the field, who use the product, who aren’t saying anything aloud – they are the customer you need to listen to.

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