McKinsey B2B Report Reveals The Key Factors In Effective Communication With Clients


New research reveals that the brand messages of business-to-business (B2B) suppliers are often ineffective as they do not address the needs of customers. B2B brands use Web-based video, online communities, and search to reach customers. But their core messages often skirt the characteristics valued most by customers.


McKinsey Survey

A research study by McKinsey looked at 13 topic areas and themes used by DAX 30 and Fortune 500 companies to market their brands. The themes ranged from practical issues like low prices to elevated ideas like corporate social responsibility. The researchers then selected 90 top global B2B firms and reviewed how closely their marketing messages were connected to the 13 topic areas used in the broader sample. To get the customers’ point of view, the survey queried more than 700 executives to evaluate how each theme influenced their evaluation of the brand attributes of their B2B suppliers.

The Findings

The results reveal that key themes such as global reach, sustainability, and social responsibility used by many B2B suppliers in brand imaging had little impact on customers’ opinion of brand strength. And, two important themes that influenced customer estimation of brand strength – specialist market knowledge and supply chain management – were among the least used by B2B companies. Customers also regarded open and honest dialogue as most important, but this theme was not emphasized by the all the B2B suppliers. Another finding is that leading B2B suppliers showed a herd mentality by using similar brand themes and messages.

Communication Tips for B2B Suppliers

Based on the findings of the survey, we provide three effective strategies that B2B companies can use to differentiate their brand messaging from the competition:

1. Tell a Different Story

Avoid the trap of similar messages to look unique. Customers won’t be impressed if your messages are the same as those of your rivals. In contrast, IBM’s Smarter Planet ads tell a distinctive story that reveals the company’s robust strengths in today’s digital economy. This distinguishing messaging guides both external communications as well as internal product development.

2. Use the Feedback from Your Frontend

Despite the digital era, sales reps who personally interact with customers exert a huge influence on B2B customers. Thus, salespeople are best placed to provide valuable feedback on how customers view your product. Do they think your product is distinctive and worth paying more?

Frontend salespeople can reveal if there is a disconnect between your messaging and the perception of customers. Top companies extensively use market research and frontline feedback to recognize customer perceptions and needs. For instance, a company named Hilti which makes professional construction tools, makes its salespeople double up as researchers and distributors at customer construction venues.

Read more:  5 CRM Business Solutions Built For Large Enterprises

3. Deliver a Consistent Brand Message

This aspect is important as advertising and communication channels are proliferating rapidly today. This calls for discipline in ensuring consistent communication of values and messages across multiple channels, including traditional ones. For example, after Deutsche Post acquired DHL, the rebranding effort involved repainting the tens and thousands of trucks as well as more than a hundred planes used by the courier company. The employees of the firm were trained to become brand ambassadors, and the company framed a set of rules for all materials and campaigns to ensure uniform corporate identity.

However, companies should avoid the pitfall of inertia while ensuring consistency. American Express keeps in touch with market shifts by using its Open Forum virtual platform to advise enterprise customers, and help them communicate with each other and the company. Amex advises its customers about the latest trends in the market, and uses their feedback to learn how it can differentiate its own products and services. Thus, it is imperative to get constant feedback from customers, and use the information to ensure there is no gap between your company’s brand messaging and customer needs.

Category: B2B News, Featured Articles, Hot Headline

10 Comments »

  • Tatyana White says:

    Brillianta’s New Whisper Reference program is specifically designed around the second point in McKinsey’s Communication Tips for B2B Suppliers, which is to systematically gather customer information from your fields sales organization to “Use the Feedback from Your Frontend,” , so that you can accomplish points # 1 “Tell a Different Story” and #3 “Deliver a Consistent Brand Message.”

  • JessieM says:

    Thanks to your post I got to read the McKinsey report, which is interesting. Buried among the findings is the theme, “shapes the direction of the market,” which didn’t register as significant factor in creating brand strength. Isn’t this theme about thought leadership? 72% of surveyed companies admitted to using this theme and yet the ROI is dismal. I still hear a lot of buzzwords on thought leadership from content marketers, but if this survey is any indication, it isn’t working as promised as the McKinsey numbers showed.

    • XT Arby says:

      Well, here’s the irony, McKinsey has been using thought leadership since it launched its McKinsey Quarterly in the sixties and it continues to publish more industry papers since. It might have inevitably started the idea of thought leadership as mentioned in a Forbes article. So while the “shapes the direction of the market” may not be effective, it’s only one aspect of thought leadership. Thought leadership can also mean knowing market trends that you’re not responsible, or, indeed, your product in and out, and not necessarily being no. 1 in your industry. These insights project confidence; hence, customers are more comfortable dealing with you. So go ahead keep pounding on producing videos and blogs because they will have an ROI if done with transparency and consistently.

  • Nicholas says:

    Funny how many marketing campaigns or product development are thought up in the boardroom without the single presence of a sales rep. Getting the feedback from your frontend is most effective if you have CRM in place, whether with the aid of software or done manually. In fact, even before you get a software, make sure to have a CRM process first. They say that a sale is not the end of your marketing cycle, but the start. And we all know that it’s costlier to get new customers than to keep one, especially in B2B.

  • SpinsterGuy says:

    Nice tips. Just want to add another dimension on tip no. 2. Getting feedback from your frontend is an opportunity to gain insights from your market. But sometimes it’s too much to expect sales to take the extra mile to get these insights, which require an inquisitive and intuitive mind of a researcher. Unless you give them incentives, sales will only sell. As a marketer, I want them to specialize on selling; all other tasks are a distraction to their goal. That’s their job. Furthermore, if I want insights, I’d get a specialist to this as a main task, not a derivative. The nice thing about the digital age is that you can get feedback straight from customers if you have a CRM program in place.

    • gracelarkey says:

      It’s too much to ask salespeople to be intuitive and inquisitive? You sound like you have a confidence crisis with your team. Asking the right questions (and following them up with leading questions) and anticipating customers’ needs are two basic skills salespeople are trained for. I’m not sure if I get you. These skills can give you market insights. In fact, salespeople often have these insights, they just don’t share it because they’re not being asked to. Then the problem lies with the marketing director or VP, not the agents. That’s the point of the article, to use your frontend because they carry golden nuggets of information that you can use in your next campaign.

  • Andrew Scheinberg says:

    Telling a different story in your tip no. 1 is actually creating a USP for your business. A USP or unique selling proposition differentiates your product from the rest. It doesn’t always mean you have a superior product, just different and that difference may be the feature the client is looking for. That’s why crafting your USP is not based on your inputs, but on your clients’. Research your clients well and find out what specific needs they value, then run your USP along these values. Your messages will resonate louder with them once you present this “difference.”

    • boydB says:

      Telling a different story can also mean, well, telling a different story. USP can be over hyped. In persuasive writing, a story about a customer rather than your product is more likely to catch other customers’ attention. In fact, instead of telling, show. Don’t just tell that this customer likes your product. Show how things have worked out in her business. That’s the story, a hard thing to unlock because they can be buried under egoistic copies.

  • Qasar says:

    There’s a better way to get feedback from your frontline. Why not from customers themselves? With a plethora of CRM with non-intrusive survey tools, surely, this is more manageable than ever. I’m not saying sales people should be overlooked. Sure have lunch with them and share stories. In fact, thanks to this tip I remember to add this tactic to my next meetings. But learn also the best practices on getting feedback from customers. That’s where the real gold mine.

  • CFO says:

    I knew it, this article nails it. CSR talk is all hogwash. Not the real work at the grassroots, but when companies try to self glorify their social programs, that’s where my beef is. Imagine an oil company talking about taking care of the environment. It reeks with hypocrisy. I’m happy that at some level marketers don’t really give much credit to this CSR talk. Maybe companies will stop glorifying their charity works.

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