Current methods 'just aren't working'

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`The idea that we really know how b-to-b customer markets make decisions is just often false. Current methods for measuring customer relationships, and gaining the insights we need to innovate, just aren't working. We need better tools." This single quote summarizes the key finding in the "Trends 2007" research project conducted by the Institute for the Study of Business Markets (ISBM) in the Smeal College of Business at Pennsylvania State University through late fall 2005. This survey is conducted every other year and gathers insights from both academic researchers as well as leading b-to-b practitioners. It focuses on three key questions:

What are the key challenges business marketers will face?

What are the key capabilities business marketers will need to build?

In the areas you find, who would you single out as a benchmark firm?

The clear "front and center" issue that surfaced was a better understanding of customer needs and management of customer relationships.

Firms want to find new ways to build organic growth. Recent research shows that the "innovation engine" is stalled across many firms. Several leaders, including GE and DuPont, are taking significant steps to reinvigorate innovation in their culture.

To truly innovate requires deep connection with the often unstated deep needs down the value chain. Our research findings illustrate that this is a frustration and a key issue for many b-to-b firms. There's a call for more research, experimentation and the development of stronger tools for tapping into customer needs, motivations and the strength of customer relationships.

This whole area was the subject of the February 2006 ISBM Members Meeting in Atlanta. Fred Reichheld, a noted author and consultant, discussed the emergent use of the "Net Promoter" scoring mechanism to gauge the depth and value of customer relationships. Researcher Liam Fahey discussed the use of "Emotion Mining" techniques-normally considered in consumer situations-to tap into b-to-b motivations and the role of brands, and to gain a better understanding of deep needs.

In ongoing dialogue, it was clear that this area would be front and center for the next several years, as b-to-b firms seek the insights necessary to create real, significant new value in their markets.

China and India, and their impact on reshaping market behavior, were cited as a close second concern in the "Trends 2007" study. There are fundamental changes under way that need to move beyond consideration in the executive office to the front and center view of every business-to-business marketer.

For more on the ISBM study and the other key trends listed, see

Ralph Oliva is executive director of ISBM. He can be reached at

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