Marketing to Your B2B Customers One-on-One

There is little doubt that organizations have generally recognized the value of the customer. Many business-to-business (B2B) marketers now realize that building a customer-centric company is vital to corporate health and profitability, but even the most superb customer-oriented companies may still be far removed from anything resembling one-to-one customer relationships. One simple reason is that it often means changing attitudes, then business practices, and sometimes even the corporate culture.

In the May 2000 issue of 1to1 Magazine, Cisco is mentioned as a company that has “virtually” reinvented itself around customer needs. Already a pioneer in creating a customer-focused Web site, Cisco publishes a print and online magazine, along with dozens of email newsletters that are industry and job specific. Cisco says all of these publications are offered free to customers, but they are only sent with the customer’s permission. According to Cisco, it is pursuing a “personalized, dynamic, customer-driven content model.”

Now B2B marketers are realizing that it pays to get customers involved in solving their own problems. Customer self-service is a growing part of Internet-based marketing, and it is saving customers and companies time and money. The MathWorks, the world’s leading developer and supplier of technical computing software, is a good example. It was one of the first 100 companies to create a Web site. Customers include technology companies, government research labs, and more than 2,000 universities. The company’s primary product is MATLAB., a fundamental tool for engineering and scientific work.

The MathWorks puts a major business emphasis on its services and support Web capabilities. Each month, the Web site gets 220,000 visits from 120,000 users who can access 13,000 HTML pages of information. The No. 1 destination of those users is the service and support area, which includes the ability to get technical support, check order status and license information, get quotes for products and services, edit contact information, obtain prerelease “sneak previews,” get downloads of product patches and updates, and gain access to the Help Desk and minicourses. The most popular part of the service and support area is the company’s solution-search database of over 10,000 cases, in which customers can solve their own problems based on the experience of other customers.

The move to customer self-service has paid off handsomely for The MathWorks. Now 90 percent of the company’s technical support happens over the Web. Users visit the site at least once every one to two months. “It is not just about sales and marketing,” says Patrick Hanna, Web manager for The MathWorks. “Our Web site includes full service and support. Service is the secret. If you do a good job at it, loyalty and repeat business will increase.”

One-to-one customer marketing doesn’t have to be nearly that complex. The Peppers and Rogers newsletter, INSIDE 1to1, last year reported on Hewlett-Packard’s efforts to improve upon product-registration rates. Getting a customer who just purchased something to fill in that registration card is a major challenge for manufacturers. Yet if the customer does so, the company collects customer data that can be used for further promotions.

HP implemented an automatic registration link: Each time a customer installs HP software, a window pops up on the customer’s computer screen suggesting electronic registration. Then, within a minute of registering, the customer receives a personalized email with a link to a Web page offering a coupon for an additional, related purchase. This process, says the report, moved the company’s registration rate from 5 percent to as high as 20 percent, while registration costs fell almost 90 percent.

In your role as a B2B marketer, you can demonstrate your commitment to the concept of addressing customer needs individually. You can do this by establishing a relationship program that truly enables your organization to get closer to your customers, and you can use the Internet as a powerful relationship-building tool in your move toward one-to-one customer marketing.

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