Understanding B2B customer roles and needs

Our view of business is based on three beliefs:

  1. Long-term profitability depends on customer loyalty

  2. Customer loyalty is created through consistently great customer experience

  3. Great customer experiences come from meeting customer needs

Everything starts with customer needs, so lets take a closer look at how they should feature in your insight.

What are customer needs?

In B2B markets it's easy to make the mistake of taking a strictly functional approach to customer needs. It's true that customers want a good quality product, delivered on time, and an accurate invoice...but there's always more to it than that.

To help people across the organisation think about this we use a model made up of 4 types of need: functional, ease, relationship, and individual.

The detail of what customer needs are depends on the customer, which is why you need to do your research, but thinking in terms of groups like this helps to open up the full range of needs that make a difference to the customer experience.

One example that comes up again and again in B2B markets is that customers will remember for years those occasions where you went the extra mile to fit in an urgent request when it really mattered for them. That's not a product feature, but it's just as much a part of your proposition as price and quality.

How do they vary?

In a complex B2B sector, and construction is a good example of this, a manufacturer should be thinking not just about one set of customer needs, but how needs vary across different types of customer.

Needs vary by type of organisation, but also across roles in the project. Many of these roles are not traditional "customers" at all, but may have a big part in deciding which supplier is used.

So what you should aim to build up is a full picture of those needs, and how they vary across all the different customer roles that you identify. These are just examples, and in the real world there are likely to be more, but the point is that these customer roles will have different needs at every level of the pyramid, from functional to individual.

How do we find out what they are?

Both your understanding of customer roles and your insight into what their needs are should come from qualitative research.

It's only by talking to customers and observing the context in which your products and services are used that you can map out these questions in realistic detail, based on real customers rather than stereotypes.

Doing this work is essential if you want to open up the "lens of the customer", and you can't do it just by speaking to the contacts on your database.