No junior or middle manager would like to admit that they have a problem when faced with a new B2B solution that has the potential to vastly improve efficiency or reduce cost. Such an admission involves potentially admitting that the manager is not doing her job. The risks seem just too much with a new supplier, legacy systems and the fear of the unknown. A classic case of marketers trying to promote value as buyers try to reduce risk. And we are not just referring to purchasing and supply management folk- but the potential users of the new product that the marketers is trying to convince in the buying center.
Unless of course the buying organization has a culture of openness to new ideas from new suppliers. The fact is that most organizations are not even willing to look at new ideas from existing suppliers is the idea of "S" curves of innovation from an earlier post. Why? because new is outside the comfort zone and frequently involves changing links with other processes,training people and for really disruptive products (say a robot) firing people. Unless there is a compelling reason-most organizations are reluctant to deal with the change that a new B2B product into their existing system would create. An exception are retailers (like WalMart, Costco) who are willing to look at new products that are a good fit. For these retailers adding a new packaged food from a supplier is not a whole lot of internal organizational trouble.
To make innovation happen, here is what marketers and buyers should consider:
- Get promoted: Buyers including junior managers who are specialized users and supply chain folks (in the Buying Center) should know that no-one ever got promoted for doing the same old thing. While doing something new involves some risk and some internal selling and headaches- it is far easier to do new stuff with a new supplier than trying to motivate co-workers internally to do something entirely organic.
- Understand that sellers Motivation is always high: B2B Marketers- particularly new suppliers who are trying to get something new started will be highly motivated. They'll attend meetings when you ask them to and go much beyond an internal employee for the rewards of success in your organization is very high.
- Be kind and friendly to new suppliers: We tend to treat sellers badly. It is very common to cancel meetings at the last minute, make sellers wait at the reception unnecessarily and worst not return calls after the first meeting. Sellers (like everyone else) look for a little respect and kind (negative is OK) feedback is great because you generate an industry friend who will continue to be in touch with you with new developments if you say "stay in touch." Why - see the first two points!
- Understand the world of organizations:Employees who are not salespeople in your customer organization generally have a lot of drama going on in matters frequently unrelated to your product or service. They are fighting fires on a daily basis. Your product or service is not their priority, so periodic email newsletters and emails are a must.
- Follow-up is a must: Most marketers give up on hearing back as you don't want to be seen as a "pain". Remaining in touch is the key to success.
- Reduce perceived risks to the managers: Understand the risk concerns that junior managers have and address them upfront. Offer to post your engineer on customer premises to help internal people adopt the new product. Training offers and 24 hour support can also help a great deal. Anything to reduce the career risks of the junior managers who are discussing with.
- Never undermine the user: You need the support of users for your new concept to succeed. Do not paint the junior folks in a bad light when you do get to meet the VP or CEO - stay with the task and how much better things will be with your new solution. And how you are willing to support implementation,training for a smooth transition.