Marketing: open more doors with segment-specific data
We all know that personality plays a big part in whether we like someone or not. That is why marketers in packaged goods do their best to imbue their brands with attractive personalities. But what about business-to-business marketing, where the relationship between buyer and seller is traditionally determinedly rational?
In business-to-business, most buyers pride themselves on their professionalism - which usually boils down to an earnest, hard-nosed quest for the best price for the best product and service specification - and sellers appeal to them on that basis. Yet, as every salesman knows, soft factors such as personal relationships and contacts, trust and attitudes often go a long way to opening doors and closing sales.
Marketers have long segmented actual and potential customers, using information about what they buy, when, how often and so on. And many segment their customer base into different groups such as 'low current value, low potential' (in which case, invest little sales and marketing resource in them), 'low value, high potential', and 'high value, high potential'. But while analyses such as these often help marketers identify what they should be focusing on, they don't always throw much light on how. Could segmentation by corporate culture or personality be a more fruitful way of approaching the task?
An enormous amount of research has already been done into how corporate personalities differ. According to Christine Farrell, research and development director at Saville & Holdsworth, which specialises in this area, companies can be characterised by at least 30 different cultural or personality attributes. These include how price focused they are, how open they are to organisational change, the degree to which there is an 'us and them' relationship between staff and management, how well departments communicate and co-operate with each other, whether they are obsessed with short-term objectives or have always got their eye on long-term goals, how formal or informal their decision-making processes are, how much influence employees have on decisions, how obsessed they are with staying at the leading-edge of technology, and so on.
Saville and Holdsworth works mainly for human resources specialists.
But, argues Paul Hawkes, a director of consultancy firm Abram Hawkes which advises companies on business-to-business marketing, these same personality characteristics can have a tremendous influence on how and what companies buy. Highly formal companies tend to have more bureaucratic, inflexible approaches to how they operate, for example. In which case, marketers targeting them need to know things such as which decisions need to be referred through what chains of command. On the other hand, a company with high levels of employee influence will tend to allow its staff high degrees of individual discretion.
If these personality differences can be identified, then marketers should have a useful tool to help them develop segment-specific customer or prospect product, price, communications and distribution propositions, he argues.
'For example, companies that readily embrace change can be targeted for new products and service. Those with a short-term profit focus must be offered the opportunity for immediate commercial gain. Those with a participative decision-making culture must be nurtured, with communications directed at both decision-makers and influencers.'
Hawkes has developed special software called Business PsyKey to help identify such characteristics. It's especially useful for the second tier of accounts just below 'key account' status, Hawkes suggests, or customers whose combined value to the firm is high but which are just too numerous or individually too small to justify the devotion of enormous amounts of time by sales and marketing staff.
Software of this sort has yet to be tested in the marketplace: whether specific programmes are really needed remains to be seen. But the recognition that because companies have different cultures they need to be handled differently is certainly an avenue worth exploring.
Alan Mitchell was editor of Marketing and now works as a freelance journalist.