Basics first: Identify key purchasers, key decision-makers, influencers (like users) and invisible influencers who exert power unofficially. Evaluate how your product or service is used by each segment. An operations director has different needs than an IT director, but both can influence purchase. Rank attributes and criteria for each target.
Internal brand audit: Is the internal perception of your brand the same as your customers'? Use a brand audit to rank brand attributes and measure perceptions regarding customer needs, wants and expectations. Map positives and negative. Fix gaps first. Your messaging has to match customers' perceptions or the buying decision gets derailed.
Talk to me: Find out why customers behave the way they do. Use sales surveys, focus groups, e-mail/online testing. Call your customer service center to see how customers are treated.
Competitive check: Go beyond the usual metrics to capture individual customers' emotional and rational impressions of your company versus the competition. Find out if competitors are speaking to prospects more directly than you. Are they more innovative? Glean these nuggets through continual sales team input sessions.
Map the customer's buying process: Consider each stage and all levels a prospect's purchase decision goes through. Who is involved, what do they do, when do they do it, how do they all interact, how long does it take? Are there interrupters and rejections points? How can you affect the outcome?
Put it all together: Now define the tangible and intangible benefits your product can provide to each target individual and segment. From this, develop value propositions, messages and materials. Always keep in mind the customers are in charge. Make your materials available when the customer wants the information, not when it is convenient for you to provide it. Communicate your brand's value when your customer wants to buy, not when you want to sell it. Pinpoint where your customer touches the brand, not where you want them to touch it.
Each b-to-b customer is unique. Your messaging and point of contact has to be at a granular level to reflect that.
Elizabeth Brohan is president of Colman Brohan Davis, a Chicago-based branding and marketing firm. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.