Success depends on knowing your customer's business

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It used to be that b-to-b sellers provided products or services to buyers without regard to the unique needs of their customers' customers. Those days are over.

In the conventional b-to-b relationship, sellers provide buyers with tools, solutions and resources necessary to make the buyers' businesses more enterprising and profitable. But for many sellers in this digital age, the commoditization of content is creating numerous competitors-as well as competitive opportunities for innovative enterprises.

To address this changing environment, the successful  b-to-b operation knows that serving a buyer's business functions is only part of the winning equation.

To stand out in a crowded field, b-to-b content providers must provide more than traditional media products. We must also offer answers and solutions in context, and become a partner in our clients' businesses. This requires thorough knowledge of industry-specific best practices and attention to our clients' needs for creating and keeping their customer bases. Whether through formal processes such as user conferences or customer advisory boards, or through simple conveniences like always posting contact information and offering timely replies, it is vitally important to encourage constant and constructive feedback from clients and clients' customers alike.

Content may still be king, but its value increases substantially when provided in a way that offers customers practical solutions to their work. Wolters Kluwer has revamped our product lineup to reflect this, offering our clients solutions that provide timely answers within their everyday work flow and interactions with their customers.

Wolters Kluwer's positioning statement, "The Professional's First Choice," is a reflection of this desire to put our content in a context, reflecting how each customer conducts its own business activities.

Throughout the farthest reaches of Wolters Kluwer, knowing our customers has become a function of our everyday reality. Our long-term future depends on knowing our customers better than our competitors do.

As an example, because of its focus on customer intimacy, one small segment group within Wolters Kluwer's CCH Tax and Accounting product brand, named CMG, recognized growth in a market in which CCH traditionally did not compete. CMG investigated and learned what small-business owners value in legal and professional advice, leveraged the unique professional information assets of Wolters Kluwer and then tailored a product that could be sold to those seeking to aggregate a small-business audience. The result, the Business Owner's Toolkit, is a licensable database of practical information and interactive tools written in plain English for the small-business owner. Currently,, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, AmSouth Bank, Fidelity, Intuit and Ameritrade all license CMG solutions to better serve their small-business customers.

At Wolters Kluwer Health, executives learned that responding to clients' needs with custom products translated into new sources of revenue and helped ensure important renewals. Medi-Span provides comprehensive, integrated electronic drug data and clinical information to health care professionals worldwide. Over the past two years, a number of Medi-Span's large vendor customers expressed concerns related to both new pricing disclosure laws on the state level and new Medicare requirements across the U.S.

In response, Medi-Span created a number of new services to provide custom reports from its existing data. They included a process for creating custom reports for pharmaceutical manufacturers to comply with a new pricing disclosure law in Vermont, a custom file to help customers meet the new requirements of Medicare Part B, a new algorithm using Medi-Span drug file codes to help customers identify drugs for Medicare reimbursement and a new Average Wholesale Price (AWP) indicator code. The new AWP indicator code was the first significant change in AWP reporting in several decades and has set a new standard in the industry.

While designed to provide customers with the information needed to comply with government regulations, these efforts also gave Medi-Span advantages over its competitors and provided an unconventional source of revenue: customizable reports from existing data.

Ultimately, b-to-b providers must recognize that serving a single need is no longer enough to compete successfully. At Wolters Kluwer, we work hard every day to get to know our clients and how we can help them serve their customers better.

Nancy McKinstry is CEO of Wolters Kluwer. She can be reached at

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