Talk to people how they want to be talked to

Interline’s sister company, Accountability Information Management, Inc. is a specialized market research company focused on business-to-business issues. In a recent piece of research using open-ended response, 56% of distributors indicated what they want the most from manufacturers: information – easy access, current, and repair-related. In another piece of research, distributors said they were least satisfied with the relevance, accuracy and frequency/timeliness of information from manufacturers.


In this age of content(1) it is difficult to believe people suffer from a lack of content. How Much Data Can You Eat is one of our most popular blogs.

But, it is the “right” content we are talking about – isn’t it?

One of the major obstacles corporations face is talking to themselves. Despite “voice of the customer” movements, companies are just not talking to customers very much.

This is largely due to defining the concept of the customer itself. In B2B, it is often difficult to ascertain who the customer really is. The true customer is often filtered with labels like “value-chain participant,” “stakeholders,” or other names. According to Value Chain Struggles by Jeff Neilson and Bill Pritchard:

“Within the field of value chain scholarship, researchers have confronted questions in various ways. Common to all, however, is an overarching appreciation of the importance of qualitative research to elicit the nuance of circumstance for individual firms, communities and other stakeholders.”

In other words, talking to customers is the best way to really find out what the heck is going on.

Who is the customer?

In the Kellogg Executive Education programs, a course entitled “Distribution Channel Management: Bridging the Sales and Marketing Divide” tells prospective students that managers frequently complain about a lack of communication between their marketing and sales executives, often caused by a poorly designed or implemented distribution channel strategy. “A well-designed distribution channel strategy takes into account both the salespeople’s activities with channel partners and the marketing managers’ efforts to better reach and serve end-users.” This$6,000 course addresses needs of companies who sell through wholesalers and retailers, business-to-business firms working through independent distributors and sales representative firms, or retailers seeking to improve efficiency in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

But, do you really need to spend $6K to address your needs? Just talk to your customers — not as you, but as your customer’s customer! You will be surprised what you will learn!

In recent research, we found that one entity — by the way, like many entities — has more than one customer. In this research, there were the members of the group, the vendors who supplied the group, and the actual customers whom the members served. Which is the most important? One thing for certain: you can’t talk to each the same way!

One of the biggest mistakes companies have made in the past is sending the same message out to every one of their customer audiences. They talked to the distributors, the contractors, the engineers and the facility managers the same way. Unfortunately, they are not interested in the same things!

Take Quality.

Every customer satisfaction ever written has addressed if quality is important. Our blog on What to Do About the Inexperience of Recognizing Quality talks about quality. However, the point is, who would say they are NOT interested in it? But the “level” of quality changes over time.

One of my former CFO friends recently said to me at breakfast proudly, “It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be good enough.”

Can you imagine if you are an architect or engineer or contractor wrote that in your specification or had that in mind when purchasing the products for your buildings? Can you imagine if you are a manufacturer settling for that as your attitude?

Of course, “perfect” really isn’t possible; I mean, a circle is perfect, but outside some shapes from nature, or some math, what is perfect?

“A man’s reach should exceed his grasp,  Or what’s a heaven for? “ wrote Robert Browning in Andrea del Sarto. Striving is the thing, isn’t it?

Interline, through our sister company AIM, offers our clients exceptional access to such techniques. You’ll find an entire set of reports in their newly designed website covering a myriad of products and the specification process, including that is being called recently the “basis of design.” Go to their REPORTS section and just keep scrolling down until you see one you like.

Our specialized list assets give unduplicated knowledge to help bridge the gap between what manufacturers believe the market should believe, and what the market really believes. For more information on recent projects, contact Jim Nowakowski at 847-358-4848. Let’s talk! The way you want to be talked to!

(1) Computer users world-wide generate enough digital data every 15 minutes to fill the U.S. Library of Congress according to “A Data Deluge Swamps Science Historians” by Robert Lee Hotz writing in the Wall Street Journal in 2009. In fact, more technical data have been collected in the past year alone than in all previous years since science began, says Johns Hopkins astrophysicist Alexander Szalay, an authority on large data sets and their impact on science. “The data is doubling every year,” Dr. Szalay says.

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