Why are we writing this blog, and why should you read it?
- Practical research insights to add value
- ServiceQualityWorks has created this blog to share our thoughts and experiences on how good research can help organizations improve relationships with external and internal customers. Concise and practical posts will address real-world aspects of the research process – management, design, implementation, analysis, interpretation, presentation, and/or utilization. The focus will be on B2B (or B2B2C) companies, but we expect many topics to have broader applications. Your feedback on the blog in general, and on individual posts in particular, will be welcome.
The Secret to Successfully Raising B2B Prices in Mature Markets: A Journey not an Event (08/20/2014)
- Decision architecture in action
- Definition: Decision architecture describes the way in which decisions can be influenced by how the choices are presented - in order to influence the outcome.
- In today’s global economy “commoditization” is a fact of life for B2B companies - irrespective of providing a product or a service. The reality is that in all longitudinal business relationships there is always downward pressure on price. So how can B2B companies grow revenue?
- For some companies successful revenue growth strategies include entering new markets and innovating (developing new products or services). However, for many large companies in stable, more mature market sectors - these options are limited, and growth for the most part is driven by their ability to increase prices overtime.
- Our work with clients over the last few years has revealed a significant insight that we believe has noteworthy implications for B2B leaders: Companies that treat price increases as an EVENT are significantly less successful at raising prices than those that view price increases as a JOURNEY. Here’s how we understand these divergent approaches.
- What’s most exciting is that once companies start taking active steps to change the fundamental nature of “price increase engagement”, results follow quickly. We have learned that the journey approach delivers more rapidly if supported by senior leadership, though many of the ideas seeded above can be selectively applied by mid-level management to yield revenue gains. One of our clients in a mature industrial market sector (North America) grew revenue by 4% and increased retention by almost 10 points in their first year of adopting this approach.
- ServiceQualityWorks, LLC specializes in helping optimize business partnerships. If you would like to learn more about decision architecture and how it can be applied in your business don’t hesitate to contact us.
DOES “EASE OF DOING BUSINESS” MATTER IN B2B? (05/20/2014)
- Ease of doing business matters more than most think
- Recently we compiled and reviewed customer feedback data from 4 B2B sales enablement projects. Even though the feedback came from different market segments, the data shows that “Ease of Doing Business” (EODB) is consistently the biggest drivers of customer loyalty and retention in B2B relationships. However, this phrase means different things for different businesses, and even for different people within the same business.
Despite the variation in interpretation, we’ve learned that improving “EODB” in B2B is more about reducing interference (mistakes, delays, complexity, etc.) than adding extras. Several critical takeaways emerge:
- The graph below shows the average likelihood to recommend score (used to calculate Net Promoter Score) relative to the “EODB” performance rating. Likely to recommend scores increase across the entire performance range, but the (negative) impact is greater in the middle and lower parts of the scale.
- So what does this mean in practical terms for managing customer relationships? Simply put, if you want to increase sales you must make it easy – or at a minimum not make it hard - for customers to do business with you. Having a structured process to measure EODB (an annual business partnership survey works well) is critical; face-to-face meetings are generally not sufficient to fully identify customer concerns. EODB improvement is generally accomplished at a process or system level. Front-line sales and support teams may be able to manage EODB customer concerns in the short-term, but usually cannot remedy the cause. If you are tasked with growing revenue, you must insist that root causes be addressed.
- ServiceQualityWorks, LLC specializes in quantifying business partnerships. If you have any questions or are interested in learning more don’t hesitate to contact us.
Using Customer Feedback To Set Fact-Based Performance Goals / B2B NPS Benchmarks (03/14/2014)
- For external customers use competitor benchmarks, for internal business partners use previous years’ scores
- Organizations of all types use research to strengthen partnerships with external or internal customers. We approve of this, and not just because it’s a key part of our own business. Understanding customers’ value hierarchy (wants), and how well those wants are being met, will yield better strategies and tactics to support growth/profitability objectives.
Many of these organizations track their performance on key customer relationship metrics (dashboards, scorecards, etc.), which is fine. Many also set goals for those metrics, which is where problems can occur. “Stretch” goals are fine, but completely unrealistic goals are arguably worse than no goals at all. Two recent cases from our own work help illustrate this point.
In one, a client wanted to set improvement targets for ten attributes. Their initial instincts were to either seek the same increase (e.g., half a rating point) across all attributes or to seek bigger increases in lower-performing attributes. However, in our research we also asked customers to rate “best in class” competitors on the same attributes, and the resulting benchmarks showed that neither of these methods – while seemingly sensible – were the best way to set targets.
As shown in the table below, attributes with the best absolute performance (highest average ratings) were not necessarily those with the best relative performance (gap versus best-in-class). For example, they appear strong on “Easy to Work With” but there is considerable room for improvement. On the other hand, they appear weak on “Sales Staff” but they’re actually as good as anyone in their industry.
- In the second example, senior management at a B2B client had decided that their Net Promoter Score (NPS) target should be 70%, the executive had read about a successful company who had reached this score in the WSJ. The client’s latest research showed a current NPS of 12%, which in our experience is actually pretty good for B2B. NPS was higher for selected subsamples (verticals, functions, regions, etc.), but no customer groups were anywhere close to 70%. While Satmetrix – the biggest practitioner of NPS – reports values of 70% or more for a few of the very best companies (Apple, USAA, Trader Joe’s, Amazon, etc.), these B2C organizations have very different businesses from our client and shouldn’t be used for comparison purposes.
- ServiceQualityWorks, LLC specializes in quantifying business partnerships. Based on our work we can provide valid and reliable NPS benchmarks for both external customers and internal business partners. If you have any questions or are interested in learning more don’t hesitate to contact us.
Quantifying “Internal” Business Partnerships to Support Innovation and Growth (01/14/2014)
- Internal Customer (Business Partner) Assessments: HR, Procurement, IT, etc.
- Many global companies have deployed shared services models for core business functions such as HR, Procurement, IT, etc. The benefits of shared service operating models are well known: regularizing processes and systems, improving risk management, and almost always reducing costs.
That being said, the appeal of standardization can also be a model’s downfall and begs the question, does one size fit all? In our experience the simple answer is, no! In increasingly dynamic global market places, highly standardized operating models lack the flexibility to adapt to changing business needs and often do not support innovation. However, we acknowledge that standardized shared service operating models are here to stay. So what do do?
The answer is actually quite simple. All shared services business functions should periodically validate their business partner needs and measure their performance. Insights from this assessment can be used to refine – or even redesign - mission critical elements, so customer facing organizations can deliver differentiated service offerings within a consistent overall framework.
In the example below, a comparison of derived and stated importance measures showed our client which attributes are “table stakes” (required to meet basic needs) and which ones are “value drivers” (required to achieve company growth goals). This allowed HR staff to have more effective conversations – and ultimately better relationships – with their internal business partners. It also allowed HR management to prioritize improvement efforts.
- ServiceQualityWorks, LLC specializes in quantifying business relationships with internal and external customers. We deliver meaningful and actionable insights to help business leaders more effectively support their company’s growth goals. If you have any questions or comments don’t hesitate to contact us .
ARE YOU A “PROMOTER” OF YOUR NPS PROGRAM? (09/28/2013)
- Understanding relative importance of key value drivers
- A large and growing number of organizations calculate Net Promoter Score (NPS) to track customer satisfaction/loyalty. Unfortunately, a large and growing number of those organizations are dissatisfied with their NPS programs.
- In our experience, the primary reason for this dissatisfaction is insufficient emphasis on understanding what is driving NPS. Knowing that your NPS is higher/lower than a competitor’s, or knowing that it has increased/decreased over time, is of little use unless you also know why.
- NPS purists claim that you only need to ask customers two questions: a closed-ended rating for likelihood to recommend, and an open-ended explanation of that rating. We don’t think that’s enough, even if you correctly code the open-ended responses. Critical insights are obtained from periodically measuring importance (stated and/or derived) and performance for key customer experience attributes.
- This doesn’t require turning a short survey into a long one. Our questionnaires typically include importance and performance ratings for 10-15 attributes, yet take less than 10 minutes to complete. On the other hand, if a survey isn’t telling you what you need to know, then it doesn’t matter how short it is. A minimal increase in respondent burden, analysis requirements, and program costs can therefore have a big payoff.
- Please contact us if you’d like to explore ways to improve/enhance your NPS program.
Using Differentiated Value Propositions to Improve Sales Organization ROI (08/23/2013)
- Shaping sales conversations to produce value focused solutions
- As customer experience programs mature, they increasingly focus on translating customer feedback into meaningful and actionable insights. A customer experience program leader recently shared, “High response rates for our annual survey and analysis that produces generalities no longer cuts it. For our program to be viewed as valuable, we need to deliver more actionable insights - to all of our internal customers.” In this post, we want to share an approach and tools we use to accomplish this objective.
We recently worked with a B2B2C client – focusing on the B2B relationship component of their business – to help better understand and optimize relationships with retailers who distribute their products. We started by identifying the key stakeholders responsible for shaping the customer experience (executives, category leaders, front-line sales, etc.) and mapping their needs. Our research design ensured that a single annual data collection effort could deliver customized outputs to meet the needs of all stakeholders. These outputs included:
- Our ability to make explicit granular value propositions supported category and customer specific growth strategies and engagement tactics (down to shaping conversations), enabled our client to significantly outperform its competitors. Start with an evidence-based strategy, identify differentiated value propositions, and support with the right conversations, and growth will follow. If you have any questions or comments don’t hesitate to contact us .
Moving Beyond Band-Aids Means Never Having to Fix It Again (05/10/2013)
- Tools, Translation, Transformation: What’s The biggest challenge for sales and customer experience leaders?
- More and more of our business is transitioning to work with clients to help them design and implement customer experience programs their businesses. Tools: Cost effective and intuitive tools make amassing customer feedback easier than ever before – though we would still argue our tools are differentiated to specifically address the needs of B2B clients. Translation: That being said, with the increasing accessibility customer information a significant challenge for B2B sales, marketing and operations leaders is to convert customer feedback into meaningful and actionable strategy and implementation plans to drive performance improvement in their businesses. There is no question that tactical customer feedback at the individual and account level produces results in the short-term. Customer-facing organizations invariably respond to customer needs and concerns when they are made explicit, yet often performance improvement is just temporary. Transformation: Without a rigorous framework to identify and address the root causes of defined customer experiences, systemic problems will re-occur and companies just have to face the problem down the line. Meaningful transformation is most often the greatest challenge since it’s not just front-line behaviors that need to change but also policy, process and systems. Successful, high growth companies use customer feedback to purposefully design and deliver differentiated experiences – that are shaped by people and supporting policies, processes and systems. If you would like to discuss in more depth don’t hesitate to contact us .
How to Improve B-2-B Sales Force ROI (04/01/2013)
- Using service review reporting to make value explicit
- In most sales forces, high performers (20%) - by virtue of their very nature - are already delivering optimized returns, while low performers (10%) - even with additional investment and support - are unlikely to improve returns. Savvy sales and marketing leaders therefore recognize that average performers (70%) are the primary driver of sales force ROI (return on investment) in many organizations.
- How can Sales and Marketing leaders increase average performers’ effectiveness, and thereby appreciably improve the overall return of their sales organizations? The most obvious solutions - hire more top performers, increase training, strengthen field management, improve administration, etc. – tend to deliver mixed results, and often underperform relative to the investment required. .
- So is there a solution that delivers a real return relative to the cost? In our experience, working with B-2-B and B-2-B-2-C sales and account management organizations, we have found an important link between account revenue and the quality of the conversation sales people have with the customer. When sales people (average performers in particular) periodically engage customers in discussing value and partnership rather than day-to-day operations, account revenue is more secure and the potential for growth increases.
- We have designed and tested a number of tools which empower and guide sales people to have these conversations. The most effective by far is to provide the sales person with a periodic service review report, which provides a simple yet structured framework to regularly make explicit the value of what you are delivering to that customer, which makes it easier to discover additional opportunities to grow revenue (see below)
- For this report to be most effective, the metrics must be meaningful to – and ideally selected (or at least customized) by – your customers. This can be achieved through a quick online survey asking customers  which metrics they currently use,  which ones they find most valuable, and  which ones they’d be interested in seeing in a report from their supplier(s).
- Most companies can design, test, and implement service review reports in less than 90 days. Minimal work is normally required to update the company’s selling model, s, although the reports may help identify desirable changes. The return is immediate, as value-focused conversations and targeted probing translate into revenues, while the cost is very modest. There is no magic bullet, but in our opinion nothing works better to increase the effectiveness of your average sales person – get the conversation right and revenue will follow. If you have any questions or are interested in viewing a real-world example of a value report don’t hesitate to contact us .
Ignore Your Customers at Your Peril (03/01/2013)
- The importance of structured data in business decision making
- Groupon, who along with LivingSocial pioneered the group discount concept, is struggling financially and recently fired its CEO Andrew Mason. In a parting letter to Groupon’s employees, Mason said “If there's one piece of wisdom that this simple pilgrim would like to impart upon you: have the courage to start with the customer. My biggest regrets are the moments that I let a lack of data override my intuition on what's best for our customers.”
Listening to customers can take many forms, but we believe that the linchpin should be structure. Without structured data, business decisions are too often made based on either anecdotal or no evidence (e.g., opinion of the most senior member in the room), which can lead to regrets. To get the biggest bang for the buck, especially in B-2-B, we suggest applying the following principles when surveying customers:
- A common – but we believe unfair – criticism of customer experience research is that it’s a lot of money to confirm what you already know. That’s a good “problem” if true, since it means you know your customers unusually well. Even so, there is value in verifying and quantifying your intuition. More often, there are insights to be gained which can make a big difference to your business through increased growth and/or improved retention. For example, identifying and saving a single at-risk account can pay for such research many times over. Trust your intuition if that’s all you have, but you’ll be much better off with real data behind that intuition. If you have any questions or comments don’t hesitate to contact us .
BEYOND RECOMMENDATIONS: TURNING RESEARCH INTO ACTION (01/23/2013)
- Making research actionable
- A lot of good B2B (and B2C) business research is underutilized, and there are many reasons for this. Sometimes it’s due to financial, strategic, organizational, or management changes on the client’s side. Sometimes it’s politics - the client doesn’t like or want to hear what the researcher is saying. And sometimes the researcher does not provide sufficiently actionable insights:
- Sometimes the researcher comes up with actionable insights but doesn’t do enough to help their client take appropriate actions. Based on our experience, we have four recommendations:
(S)he’s making a list, (s)he’s checking it twice! (12/15/2012)
- Making measurement meaningful
- Many researchers focus too much on how to measure and too little on what to measure. No matter what question and answer formats you choose, if you don’t have the right product/service/brand attributes your results will suffer. Here are five pitfalls to avoid when building an attribute list.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU SURVEY B2B CUSTOMERS? (11/20/2012)
- Align survey frequency to your ability to drive change in your business
- One of the most common questions we hear from our clients is, “How often should we survey our customers?” In our experience, once companies see the value of engaging their customers in a structured dialog their natural inclination is to want to survey their customers more frequently, logic dictates more is better, however it’s not always the case. So before making a decision for your program here are some of our experiences you may want to consider:
- To summarize, in B2B populations are increasingly becoming over-surveyed, it is becoming more and more difficult to solicit feedback from customers, if you are going to ask your customers to take time out their day, make it count. Let your customers know what you learned from their feedback and share your strategies for improvement. Execute on those strategies, and only once you feel confident that you have positively impacted the customer experience, survey again. If your customers experience the tangible benefits of participating in this structured dialog, it will not only guarantee elevated response rates for subsequent surveys but also create the platform for growth and retention in your business. If you have any questions or comments don’t hesitate to contact us .
What Makes B2B Research Different from B2C? (10/15/2012)
- Best practices for quantifying B2B relationships
- Conducting quantitative surveys of business populations seems like it should be basically the same as for consumer populations. It isn’t. Researchers who don’t recognize and account for this are unlikely to achieve the best possible results. Here are some of the many things that make B2B research unique and need to be addressed to make program outputs meaningful and actionable:
- In the end, there’s no substitute for experience. ServiceQualityWorks performs both B2C and B2B research, but specializes in the latter. If you have any questions or comments don’t hesitate to contact us .
Making Customer Experience Meaningful for Sales Organizations - Sales Enablement! (09/15/2012)
- Connecting customer experience and sales enablement
- “Sales enablement is a strategic, ongoing process that equips all client-facing employees with the ability to consistently and systematically have a valuable conversation (with the right set of customer stakeholders) at each stage of the customer's problem-solving life cycle to optimize the return of investment of the selling system.” (Forrester Research) We are often asked two questions by our prospective clients: (1) “Are you a sales effectiveness or customer experience firm?” and (2) “What does a sales enablement solution look like?” To answer question 1, we are both. We use customer experience inputs to power our sales enablement solutions. We harvest customer feedback with the explicit purpose of providing sales organizations with meaningful and actionable insights to shape customer engagement strategies and tactics. In our experience many firms have customer experience programs yet few purposefully package customer feedback to specifically help sales organizations retain and win more business. Part of our success is due to the fact that we make customer feedback accessible at all levels - individual, account, region, division, and company To answer question 2: Effective sales enablement solutions provide valid and reliable insights to support the following mission-critical objectives:
Most organizations are able to deploy fully integrated systems like this for a tiny fraction (often less than 0.01%) of sales revenues. Improving operational visibility for sales leaders, and helping front-line teams solve problems and focus on value, delivers an immediate ROI.
A picture is worth a thousand words (09/01/2012)
- Perceptual mapping makes measurement meaningful for front-line teams
- Visually meaningful outputs can increase the effectiveness of customer feedback programs. Many customer experience teams focus on methodology and metrics, but fail to realize that if the data are not communicated effectively they may not be understood or accepted by their internal customers. Let’s face it not all users, especially sales organizations, have the time or inclination to get up close and personal with the data. We’d like to illustrate this point with an example from our own work. A core element of our standard research approach is helping our clients understand which experience constructs are important to their customers and how they perform relative to those constructs. When we started our business we used to represent the outputs as a table.
- At first we were puzzled why our client’s sales organization was often not as excited about the findings as we were. Then we realized that we needed a different way to represent these data so they’d be more useful to our audience.
- We therefore, developed value maps, which are easy to create at multiple levels (respondent, account, region, company). More importantly, they are easy to interpret.
- Account managers and sales staff gravitated to these maps. They would print them out, make notes on them, use them to prepare for client meetings, and even bring them to those meetings. It became evident that insight – now in an accessible form – was driving behavior change. The choice of program outputs depends upon the material and the audience, and need not be an either/or decision. In fact, we still produce tables as well, because we find that they’re preferred by many marketing and strategy teams. The point is that presentation deserves careful thought – and sometimes experimentation. You want to avoid ‘all sizzle and no steak’, but you also want to avoid ‘all steak and no sizzle’.
Internet Surveys Can Be Completed Quickly, But Shouldn’t Be Completed Too Quickly (08/15/2012)
- Get a representative sample, not just a large sample
- Internet surveys generally require shorter data collection periods than phone or mail surveys. With enough outgoing solicitations, sufficient completions can be obtained in as little as 24 hours. This speed is very attractive to researchers (and their managers/clients).
- However, people who respond immediately are often not representative of the overall target population. Researchers familiar with phone surveys know that it’s important to get responses from people who do NOT answer the initial call. However, fewer researchers seem to be aware of the similar risk with online surveys.
- We recently completed a customer experience study which clearly illustrates this point. One of the key questions was how likely customers were to recommend our client, from which we calculated a Net Promoter Score (NPS). Daily results revealed that unhappy customers had something to get off their chests and were therefore more likely to respond right away. This is a pattern we have seen repeated time and time again. As shown in the chart below, had we ended the field period sooner we would have met our quota but produced a lower – and we believe inaccurate – overall NPS.
Internet surveys are easy to do but hard to do well. Resist the temptation to rush data collection, or you could end up with misleading results.