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SaferPak: Food Packaging Safety, Food Safety, Business Improvement and Quality Management
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Ask and you will know
 By Michael Herson

Companies engaged in B2B sales need to constantly measure satisfaction amongst their key customers. Often the success of the business can sometimes hinge on the views of the top 50 clients. Unlike consumer marketing where there are always many more customers to replace those who drop out; in B2B marketing it can sometimes takes months or years to replace a key account. It is now the perceived wisdom that it is a lot harder to replace a lost customer than to recruit a new one. Constantly going for new business puts more strain on the sales process, as there are typically more farmers than hunters in most field teams.

The key part of the process is not just to interview your ‘friends’ – i.e. your existing customers - who will often tell you what you want to hear - but also your terminated customers - those who have left to go to competitors – in addition to ‘lost prospects’, that’s people that you have recently pitched for, but not won.

Both these groups of people will traditionally tell a stranger a lot more than they will tell the company. The trick is to get them to open up in a non-threatening way to open ended questions, when the barrier of the sales relationship has been removed. The highly qualitative nature of the questionnaire means these interviews often act as case studies to determine what parts of the sales process worked and what parts failed. This can act as a useful tool internally within the business in terms of training and monitoring the effectiveness of the sales process.

Sometimes lost prospects can be due to simple things such as a call back not being made when promised. Rarely are decisions taken on price alone, even though that is often the perception held by the sales person.

When measuring customer satisfaction it is important to rank and rate the buying attributes, as what is perceived as important to the customer, may in reality not be to them. Usually there are six high rated attributes, but it is the top three that really count, and these can be expressed in descending order of priority. The company’s performance against those attributes can be measured through a rating scale which exposes under or over performance. Interviewing competitors’ customers in the same way can instigate a benchmarking process, so that the company can see how it performs within the overall sector.

Important questions can relate to areas like complaint handling. It is not simply the issue whether they have complained or not on the last 12 months (which is likely to be 75%+) but how that complaint was handled on a scale of 1-5, and then probing those who answer say below a 3, to find out why.

It is these sensitive areas, particularly those handled by other parts of the business, other than sales and marketing, where there is a need to closely examine the process. Areas that annoy the customer will often not be immediately transparent, because they are considered too minor, for example accounts/billing issues – all these will be exposed in this type of research. The frequency and level of account management is another issue, in terms of how often they want to be called upon, and what type of relationship they require – whether its a single level or multi level.

A report with quantitative and qualitative analysis will highlight areas of improvement, strengths/weaknesses and brand positioning vs. competition. Data can also be expressed by sector, by country or by type of customer for sub-set analysis.

If the accounts are really high value then there is a case for repeating the research every six months and conducting trend analysis to see if initiatives taken actually work and what impact that is having in the marketplace.


Michael has held a number of senior positions in blue chip food companies in a 20-year career in Unilever, Del Monte, United Biscuits and RHM, gaining considerable strategic marketing experience in both B2B and consumer marketing. Since founding The Strategy Works he has specialised in analysing markets where little information is available in the public domain, interviewing MD’s and publishing articles regularly in the trade and business press. Additional skills include commercial due diligence and expert witness work.







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