HOW IS CORPORATE MARKETING DIFFERENT FROM CONSUMER MARKETING?

Corporate marketing deals with marketing activities associated with corporate customers. Like consumer marketing, these marketers perform market segmentation, conduct product marketing, establish pricing, offer promotions, and build an ecosystem of endorsers and ambassadors. There are some significant deviations from consumer markets. Let me illustrate a couple of them here.

In the case of consumer markets, the decision-making is less complex and more focused on individuals. For fast-moving consumer goods, individuals make product decisions based on their own criteria and sometimes use influencers to switch brands. Some products require decision-making across a family unit, where the decision-making involves spouses or parents and children. In higher ticket items, such as houses and cars, financial institutions begin to have some influence. However, for all practical purposes, the marketing communication is between an individual or family unit and the marketer. In corporate marketing, decision-making involves one or many organizations, and could involve a large number of personnel, each representing a role, a set of decision criteria, and related experiences to evaluate their alternatives. These individuals often interact with each other over a course of time to share their observations and evaluations. Depending on the level of formalization, organizations may set up formal processes for information collection, alternative comparison, and for pooling evaluations.

Business partners, suppliers, and customers also play a role in product selection. As a result, corporate marketing invests a fair amount of time in “customer account research" which is the task of understanding customer organizations, intracorporation organizational relationships and decision-making processes, and identifying individuals who participate in the decision-making.

Corporate markets are often stratified by the size of customers. A home-based small business may require a different approach to account research than a large multinational corporation with offices in several countries. The lower end of corporate markets is not very different from high-end consumers, and is often dealt in a similar way. Let me call that “small business" which can be characterized by the number of employees, customer revenue, or any other measure associated with their business activity. The next cluster of customers may be midsize companies, often termed as small and medium enterprises (SMEs), which may have a larger business potential, but may still be too large in number for a dedicated account management function. On the high end, a marketer may be dealing with large corporations, and in some cases, signature accounts, which signify top customers with significant business potential and which enjoy a dedicated channel treatment. As a marketer stratifies the market, the higher end of the stratification may require significant attention and account-specific research, as well as specialized customer needs. Often, dedicated account teams are involved in marketing to these customers, and they piggyback on standard components from other organizations that serve mass markets or small business markets and that customize marketing strategy and programs to each large customer. At the highest level, a handful of large customers may require dedicated teams and may contribute significant revenue per customer. Each level of stratification may bring ten times the number of customers, with one-tenth the revenue per customer.

Let me describe in more detail the situation with the large customers. Large teams of sales and marketing organizations often support these large customers. Thus, it is hard to penetrate a new customer.

A significant amount of activity goes into concept marketing and account research to attract the attention of new accounts. Existing relationships shield incumbents from new entrants. A fair chunk of corporate marketing effort is in building an image for the marketer to attract new customers, using a variety of channels, including targeted mailers, trade shows, white papers, presentations, and so forth. Larger sales organizations routinely invest a fair amount of their energy into new account prospecting. These organizations fiercely compete with others to win their business. Customer account research plays a major role in focusing and sharpening the marketing campaigns during prospecting.

Customer account research is often led by a customer-facing organization. In large marketing organizations, there are a number of staff functions, who collect secondary information about the customer organizations. However, anyone who interacts with customers is the best source of formal and informal information about the customer. Executives, when hired into a new organization, routinely go to the most important suppliers to get an understanding of their new organization. The customer-facing sales and delivery personnel often encounter supporting data, which is formally and informally collected, organized, and distributed across the account team. This information is increasingly electronic, and mostly unstructured. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) vendors sell tools with which the customer account information can be converted into structured form and shared more easily. Big data analytics facilitates collection, organization, and analysis for customer account research.

Let me now move from large customers to the SME market, which have many more unconnected customers, and yet, these customers are corporations and hence involve multiple customer touchpoints and relationships that must be satisfied for a customer purchase. Unlike with a large corporation, it is probably possible to get all the decisionmakers for a particular product in a conference room. The information sharing is even more interesting for the SME markets, as they deal with seemingly unconnected individuals who must find each other for collaboration in the marketplace. Because of their size, SME customers are more likely to outsource some of their organizational functions to other organizations, making those organizations part of the food chain and influencers in product purchases. Cloud IT service providers, human resource firms, and accounting firms are good examples of outsourcers who are participants and have an influential role in purchase decisionmaking. These customers still require significant account research, and big data sources and analytics are enablers to low-cost account research and a 360-degree view, using publicly available information,

Now let me move to customers’ needs, solutions, and offerings. Each customer has its customer needs, thereby providing marketers with opportunities to define solutions and offerings. Smaller organizations are more adept at changing their requirements to assimilate and use a new offering, while large organizations are more likely to develop their custom needs and seek custom solutions in response to their needs. They also have the purchasing clout to seek major changes to an offering to meet their needs, as well as seek custom pricing to get the best deal. In most industries, I ended up finding field engineering, consulting, and integration organizations that supported product customization to standard offerings. As I was studying the manufacturing and marketing of large trucks, I found they had created a standard configuration, a custom configuration, and a goody list to deal with various customers and their feature requirements for school buses, garbage trucks, long distance trucks, and so forth. In network engineering organizations, such as Alcatel Lucent, Ericsson, and Samsung, they have large field engineering organizations co-located with their customers. Telcos often move part of their engineering functions to these organizations in order to receive custom network solutions.

Collating these field-generated requirements and creating global solutions and offerings is a challenge. In most organizations, field- developed solutions travel like “tribal knowledge” and are driven by specific people. Marketers must ingest these requirements, which are often written, using many languages, and identify common solutions that cover the needs across many countries, regions, and industries. In one such exercise, Google translator was my tool for studying a large number of artifacts, and I still struggled with understanding local cultures and buzzwords. The common process involves collating requirements across many customers and creating a common solution and related artifacts, which are then communicated to the rest of the marketplace.

Products may be configured in specific ways to deal with the lower end of the corporate market, where the products can be targeted based on a cluster of customers. For example, the health-care market for a telecom marketer may be different from retail, but a large number of hospitals may offer a cluster in SME stratification with similar needs and targeted using a health-care product line. Large corporations may, on the other hand, have specialized requirements, which can only be addressed via significant product customization. Product managers often use larger corporations to experiment with requirements, hardening the product configurations to deal with smaller corporations. Alternatively, the product may be configured for smaller customers, and a customer-facing product engineering office may work toward customizing the products for larger corporations. As customers use the products in a variety of “use cases" the sales engineering organizations support product interfaces and customizations to meet and respond to specific use cases. A medical supplier may have originally created a piece of equipment to support patients who are likely to be confined to their beds. However, as doctors and hospitals begin to use the equipment, they may find that it is beneficial for more active patients and seek product changes to meet the requirements for those patients. These changes may become included in the product once the marketing organization has studied and projected a wider demand for it. Many of the product engineering and solution development ideas discussed in chapter 4 are highly applicable to custom product development and use case marketing in corporate markets. Products are often complex and require significant marketing literature to communicate and influence corporate customers. Often, business partners collaborate to create these use cases and share them across their social marketing channels.

Pricing in corporate marketing often mirrors the product customization process. Larger corporations may require customized pricing for each engineered configuration. Often, the account teams offer specialized contracts to encourage long-term engagements and use product bundles specially created for a specific customer. Contract renewal is typically an event for special promotion offers for additional products, customization services, or discounts. Account teams are responsible for overall revenue and margin, and they wield tremendous power in discounting individual products to maximize overall long-term goals for a specific account. Product marketing organizations actively participate in developing mechanisms for custom pricing. For example, software companies often set their prices based on the number of users, number of transactions, or business outcomes. Organizationally, the usage information is studied carefully to find ways to establish pricing that can be used across a specific user group, and can be computed for each user on specific use cases. The multiyear long-term nature of business often reduces the short-term profitability tactics. Most large customers are savvy negotiators who use a network of third parties and research outfits to evaluate products, compare prices, and seek the best solution. Corporations are also multiheaded. A technical buyer may be more interested in product features, while a financial buyer may focus on pricing. The winner must optimize across various constituencies to win the customer’s business. Product management and financial organizations establish discounting guidelines based on profitability criteria and use analytics to establish criteria and monitor the impacts, based on incremental gains to top- and bottom line.

A significant challenge for a marketer is to rise above the commodity pricing. Corporate customers have unique requirements that result in value-added custom changes to products. This is a perfect example of economic supply and demand. A standard product may attract a fair amount of price competition. A customized product specifically designed for a customer may be unique and attract a higher price because of its uniqueness. Extensive account research and barriers to entry protect these value-based products. A marketer must understand the trends and customizations most desired by their most lucrative targets and use customizable products to attract these customers. Increasingly, these customizations are requiring collaboration across companies. A savvy marketer has a good understanding of his/her customers’ business and his/her customers’ end users in order to generate novel ways of product usage. A well-designed solution customized for specific use cases commands a higher price and competitive positioning as compared to commodity products. A good marketer rises above product features to discuss solutions and use cases specific to clusters of user communities, and collaborates with these communities to develop these solutions.

In the next three sections, I will use the propositions developed in chapters 3, 4, and 5 respectively to identify how corporate marketing is changing with big data. I will use customer account research and solution marketing as two areas to examine these changes and how they impact corporate marketing.

 
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