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Dan Adams

Quality Insider

Five Tips for B2B Growth on a Budget

You can move your business forward even in a stalled economy

Published: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - 13:58

Warren Buffett famously said, “Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful.” And you’d love to be that kind of long-term thinker, willing to invest in the future when others are running for cover. Of course, Buffett has his $60 billion fortune to cushion the risks associated with his maverick tendencies. You, on the other hand, are saddled with a shortage of cash and a coterie of colleagues who believe the right response to a slow economy is to hunker down, slash costs to the bone, and wait for the storm to pass.

What’s a frustrated would-be business-grower to do?

You can aim for growth in a sluggish economy. In fact, now is the perfect time to do so because your competitors are probably still distracted by the problems brought on by said economy. But if you’re trying to grow your business-to-business company using old, costly, inefficient methods, you’re doomed to fail. You don’t have to go that route. You’ve probably tightened up other areas of your operation since the economy went south—and you can do the same with your growth efforts.

Here are five small-budget growth ideas that you can use right now.

Tip No. 1: Find out what your customers really want

Profitable, sustainable, organic growth starts when you have a deeper understanding of customers’ needs than your competitors. If someone tells you otherwise, be careful: They might be misguided in other areas as well.

When my clients begin using advanced methods to interview customers, they are usually surprised by what customers want. This means they had been planning on developing a product that interested them, not their customers. No wonder the average hit rate for products under development is one in four. Companies are not using the right techniques to unearth true customer wants and needs. But no one can afford to introduce failed products these days.

Tip No. 2: Conduct customer interviews remotely

This is more effective than you think. Consider a web-conference customer interview, using a service such as Live Meeting, WebEx, or GoToMeeting. It may not be quite as effective as a face-to-face interview, but it is better than no interview at all. And it saves on sky-high air fares and aggravating travel restrictions.

Actually, there are some benefits to interviewing customers remotely. For example, you can have more people “from your side” in remote customer interviews than is comfortable or practical in a face-to-face interview. And if the customer’s key buying influences—such as manufacturing, technical, marketing, and so forth—are located in different facilities, it’s much easier to have them all “at” the meeting.

Tip No. 3: Get everyone listening to the voice of the customer

Some large firms keep a small staff of highly trained voice of the customer experts poised for action. These folks parachute into a project as dawn streaks the morning sky, interview your customers for you, and hand you a report of “what the customer wants.” This is a flawed model. Most businesses chalk up thousands of face-to-face customer meetings during the course of a year, as sales reps, technical service reps, and others go about their normal duties—so why not train these people to become VOC experts? They’ve already gained the customer’s trust, they know the customer’s language, and there’s no extra travel cost. Best of all, you’ll develop a reputation among customers as “that supplier who really listens to us.” Keep that handful of experts—but let them become trainers and coaches for the masses, not primary interviewers.

Tip No. 4: Use other people’s knowledge (OPK)

I have a lot of very smart clients, yet many are stuck in the past in important areas. There are two reasons why this is so. First, more work is being required of fewer employees. Most of us want two things out of our jobs—to contribute and to learn—but in today’s pressure cooker, there is little time to learn and apply fresh thinking. Second, useful knowledge is exploding. Each year, mankind generates enough new information to fill half-a-million Libraries of Congress. Who can keep up?

Fortunately businesspeople have access to new tools to help process and use the information. Let’s say you want to get better at a growth practice such as consultative selling, acquisition integration, or product launch. You can learn a lot using three approaches:

• Search for books on Amazon.com. I purchase more than 100 books a year and I’m amazed at the brilliant thinking one can access for a pittance.
• Google for subject-matter experts. Many will gladly share their knowledge—via white paper or web conference—in hopes that you’ll become a client.
• Tap into associations such as www.APQC.org and www.ISBM.org for great benchmarking and shared learning.

Tip No. 5: Bring your training in-house

How many announcements do you get per week for conferences in San Diego or Orlando? These are at the “intersection of interest” for three parties: revenue for the hosting organization, publicity for sponsoring vendors, and learning for attendees—in a pleasant environment.

In some cases, the attendee returns to your company, shares what she learned with colleagues, and things change for the better. More often, though, the conference materials stay stuffed in a bag and nothing changes. That’s too bad, because these affairs often cost $3,000 to $5,000 per person with travel costs.

Compare that to private, in-house training, where the trainer comes to you. This may cost $1,000 to $2,000 per person. But beyond lower costs, there are big advantages. One, the training can be customized for your company and industry. Two, everyone learns the same new language and methods at the same time, which greatly improves implementation. Three, the business leader can hold attendees accountable and drive change with a solid post-workshop follow-up plan.

Here’s the best part about aggressively moving forward with your small-budget growth plans: Your competitors probably won’t do the same. So when the economy is in full swing again, you’ll be ahead.

 Yes, there is a lot of economic stress now, but we can say with confidence that things will get better. They always do. So while your competitors are completely distracted with hand-wringing, why not focus some of your energy on the coming upturn? Thinking in new ways may do more for your future growth than spending-as-usual will.

Discuss

About The Author

Dan Adams’s picture

Dan Adams

Dan Adams, president of Advanced Industrial Marketing Inc. (AIM), has more than 30 years experience in Fortune 500 marketing, business development, strategic planning, working within and with major B2B corporations. He is an award-winning speaker and conducts workshops globally to train commercial and technical teams in advanced B2B product development, and provide post-workshop coaching support. He is the author of New Product Blueprinting: The Handbook for B2B Organic Growth (AIM Press, 2008), which has several chapters you can download at no cost, and Adams is listed in the National Inventors Hall of Fame.