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Steve Minett


Interview

PE: Who did you have in mind when you wrote B2B Marketing, and how might it help them?

SM: The book is aimed at B2B practitioners. Its goal is to provide them with a specifically business to business paradigm. What this means in practice is that B2B marketers, in all their activities, should focus on two areas;

  1. Case stories of sales and applications (both successful and unsuccessful) , and
  2. the customer’s decision criteria for purchasing the product in question

These two elements are what differentiate B2B from B2C. A lot of B2B marketers know all the above intuitively, but this book provides a structural framework and a terminology through which it can be communicated, taught and systematically implemented.

PE: Tell us more about a scenario in which your book might prove particularly useful for our readers?

SM: Well, one such a scenario would be a new product launch. Rather than simply trying to generate a lot of publicity around the launch, implementing the true B2B paradigm would involve analyzing the pioneer sales and application cases:

  1. Unsuccessful sales cases should indicate which customer decision criteria the product is failing to meet. This can provide a basis for modifying the ‘product package’, i.e. the physical product, the target market or the marketing message.
  2. Successful applications stories can illustrate the strategic strengths of the product, i.e. the ways in which it can satisfy strategically significant customer decision criteria. These stories should then form the core of the product’s marketing communications; short, straightforward versions for the company website & ads, more technically complex versions for brochures, the customer magazine & placement in trade journals.

PE: Is this one for a global audience?

SM: Definitely! The marketing and customer selection of B2B products is part of the technological development of our species on this planet – cultural and national differences in this process are generally arbitrary and often tend to be dysfunctional. The book very much promotes the idea that B2B marketing should be conducted in a completely global way.

PE: If there is one critical message that you would like readers take from your work, what would it be?

SM: Master the customer decision criteria relevant to your products! Matching these together with your products' differentiators is the key to marketing and selling them, but before you can adapt the ‘lock’ of your differentiators (via new product development) to this key, or publicize the fact that you’ve done this – you first have to know exactly what the relevant criteria are! This can be established through ‘Case Analysis’ (see the answer to question Two above). To express this in another way: if you’re a B2C marketer you need to try to look inside your consumer’s mind, if you’re a B2B marketer you need to try to look inside each of your products' case process.

PE: What in the world of management has done most to create the need for this book?

SM: I’d say the unreflecting assumption that B2B products can be marketed by B2C techniques, i.e. by trying to influence and/or manipulate the inner world – values, life-style preferences, etc. - of individual decision-makers. I argue instead that B2B marketers should concentrate on addressing the consensually agreed decision criteria of organizational buyers, via ‘rational discourse’, focused mainly on the presentation of case stories.

PE: How does your book build on the work of previous books on this topic?

SM: The book builds on the work of Neil Rackham (mainly Rackham, Neil (1989) "Major Account Sales Strategy" McGraw-Hill Inc., New York & Rackham and Neil (1995) "SPIN-selling" Gower Publishing Ltd., Aldershot). Rackham evolved the concept of customer decision criteria via extensive empirical work with thousands of sales people. In my book I extend this concept into the marketing of B2B products.

PE: All interesting stuff, so how should we go about putting it into action tomorrow?

SM: You can start as follows:

  1. Talk to your B2B sales people. Collect from them all the relevant sales and application case stories they can remember, or have recorded. Concentrate on the customer’s decision criteria.
  2. Find the patterns and trends in this population of criteria to discover which are strategic for your markets.
  3. Present these strategic criteria to your product designers development people in order to establish whether further development of the product to adapt it to these criteria is possible.
  4. Where you have strategically successful application stories, make these the center of your marketing communications.

PE: And do these ideas work?

SM: Yes. Let me quote Thomas R. Martin, Senior Vice President and Director, Corporate Relations, ITT Industries, Inc. "…case stories help spark the imagination of the buyer, presenting a range of new possibilities not always obvious from a simple description of product features. Steve Minett’s ideas aren’t just interesting theoretical suppositions; they actually work. On behalf of ITT Industries, Minett Media has, in recent years, placed approximately 350 articles in the international trade press. In terms of the cost of equivalent advertising space, these placements represent a value of around USD 2 million, while the cost of achieving these results (including the cost of article production) has amounted to less than USD 150,000, less than 7.5% of the value. More importantly this editorial coverage leads to actual buyer interest and, ultimately, sales." We could get similar endorsements from our many other clients – ‘Case-Based’ marketing is an extremely cost-effective method for B2B companies.

PE: How do you keep in touch with the changing world of work?

SM: By talking to sales people & their customers (ideally at the same time) about particular application stories.

PE: Finally, any questions that you'd like to ask your readers?

SM: How conscious are you of the differences between B2B and B2C marketing? Do you consciously adopt a different paradigm when promoting your B2B products? Is this paradigm clearly different from that of the ‘conventional marketing professional’, as communicated to you via your education, training & the previously available literature? If so, how do the two paradigms differ?

 

October 2001

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