Revisiting B2B Strategy: Engaging With Your Customer’s Customer

b2b

The digital revolution has created disruption across all sectors as companies like Amazon are redefining the customer experience.  While the narrative has been about the transformation of B2C, the greater impact of the digital revolution may ultimately play out within B2B.  As the founder of a software and advisory company, I am seeing the same theme emerge with almost every B2B client the need to begin engaging directly with the end consumer.  This is generally not to disintermediate current business customers, but rather to work with channel partners in a new way.

In healthcare, commercial real estate, and professional sports, B2B organizations are evaluating how to respond to a combination of changing consumer behavior, technology-driven innovation and new forms of competition.  In all three industries, the key emerging B2B strategy is to collect and curate the right consumer data to anticipate the changes that will drive their own upstream businesses as well as enable them to better partner with traditional business customers.   In the process, innovative B2B companies are discovering they can create a competitive edge given their unique vantage points.

Healthcare – No other industry is entering more of a B2B transition than healthcare. Don Bobo, Corporate Vice-President of Strategy and Development at Edwards LifeSciences puts it like this, “While the ultimate sale still runs through the business partner, engaging with and educating both healthcare providers and patients is now critical to success.”  B2B healthcare companies have historically distinguished themselves with innovative, proven products, solid data and deep relationships throughout healthcare.  “We are now elevating consumer insights and engagement- it’s becoming an additional leg of the stool.”

“the best companies understand that to be the next generation of B2B leaders, they have a critical role to play listening for and organizing the end-consumer outcomes relevant to their products.”

“Because of access to information via the internet and social media, patients are driving the need for all healthcare stakeholders to engage directly with them,” echoes Rolf Benirschke, co-founder of Legacy Health strategies and an expert on patient engagement and outcomes.   Regulatory changes are also amplifying the need for new patient-centric approaches within healthcare B2B.  “With government and insurance reimbursements increasingly tied to patient satisfaction, both device and pharma companies realize their fortunes are now tied to patient defined outcomes not simply product sales,” he adds.

Real Estate – As the nature of work evolves, developing the right consumer insights and data is essential to creating a higher ROI and a significant competitive edge within real estate B2B. “There is always a ‘C’.  The more we can work backwards from what creates a great outcome for the person actually working at our campuses, the higher our value proposition,” says Tim Schoen, CEO of the nation’s largest life sciences real estate provider, Biomed Realty.  Schoen’s point is that ultimately his clients, typically the heads of large real estate departments at blue chip companies, have their own internal clients- the employee who works in the space they lease or purchase from Biomed.

Like BioMed, the owners of major shopping malls have traditionally concentrated on leasing to their B2B retail tenants.   However, they are beginning to prioritize shopper insights consistent with their role as the organizer of a large joint consumer and business environment – the mall.  Even though they are paid primarily by retail partners, in an increasingly competitive and digital retail world, success is tied to creating a clearly differentiated consumer experience. The mall owner is uniquely positioned to engage with consumers and create the data and action plans that drive value for everyone within the mall eco-system.

Professional Sports – Approximately half of the world’s population is under the age of 25. Representing the current and next generation of sports fans and consumers, they know a world of ever-increasing arrays of content, networked devices and technological innovations. Their ​resulting ​consumption desires and expectations are notably unbridled by the ways things have always been done.  “To effectively serve sports fans as consumers, sports leagues​ and teams​ must work closely with their media and other ​B2B ​partners to intimately understand what content these fans want and expect to engage with, and how, when and where,” comments Jason Glen Cahilly, CEO of private investment firm Dragon Group, a Director at leading eSports company Corsair Gaming and at Carnival Cruises, and former Chief Strategy & Financial Officer at the NBA.

Cahilly provides the graphic below illustrating how vastly different the format of competitive video gaming, or eSports, “broadcasts” on over-the-top (OTT) channels such as Twitch and YouTube Gaming​ can be from traditional broadcasts. Representing massively-crowd-sourced outcomes, the OTT formats highlight the divergent desires and expectations of Millennials and GenZ’ers.  ​“These ​next-gen channels ​already have assembled ​massive audiences that are deeply engaged,” notes Cahilly.

Traditional Broadcast Example Next-Gen Broadcast Example
   *Source: CBS/NFL Network    *Source: Twitch.com

 

The punchline is that it is essential for sports leagues and teams to work in concert with their B2B partners to develop superior, authentic consumer listening skills to understand and meet the rapidly evolving consumption patterns among the current and next generation of sports fans worldwide.

In all three highlighted industries, the best companies understand that to be the next generation of B2B leaders, they have a critical role to play listening for and organizing the end-consumer outcomes relevant to their products.  While some B2B companies may try to dis-intermediate traditional business clients by going direct, most will not.  The strategy is not to jeopardize existing business relationships but to enhance them.  Biomed’s Schoen sums up the evolving B2B strategic landscape well, “In a business world characterized by increasing choice and an accelerating rate of change, arming yourself with the right end-user data can transform B2B relationships.”  Traditional B2B vendor relationships migrate to true partnerships organized around how to deliver superior consumer outcomes within a rapidly evolving landscape.

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