As B2B offers become more commoditized, the personal considerations of the business customer have become more central to their decision-making. This is according to Bain & Company’s “Elements of Value” Pyramid, which provides a useful way of understanding what exactly B2B customers value and gives useful hints on how to ensure your product and marketing meets these requirements.
The Firm reviewed and analyzed three decades worth of B2B Customer Studies, and identified what matters most to buyers. They identified 40 fundamental ‘elements of value’ which fall into five distinct but interrelated categories; table stakes, functional, ease of doing business, individual, and inspirational. See the March/April 2018 issue of The Harvard Business Review for the full report. You can think of the pyramid like the Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs for B2B Buyers.
It provides a framework to help companies deal with the broader challenge of intangibles, and can be applied across any area of the enterprise from product development and operations to marketing and sales. In this article, I take the view that this model can also be applied at the tactical level where Marketing is concerned, and each stage of the pyramid offers several opportunities to use content to attract, engage and delight your prospective B2B customer.
We’ll start by looking at each level of the pyramid in brief:
As the name suggests, Table Stakes are those elements of value which qualify you to sit at the table, or more precisely, enter into the customer’s consideration set. Your product or service must meet the client’s need, have an acceptable price, and comply with regulations and/or ethical standards.
The functional elements of value are the actual benefits you provide. Does your product or service increase revenue or reduce cost? Is your solution of the kind and quality that will help your customer to scale their business or add a new dimension to what they currently do? For most B2B sellers, this is where the rubber hits the road. But as it turns out, there’s more involved in closing the sale.
Ease of Doing Business Value
If your product or service meets the need, is acceptably priced, and delivers a tangible advantage, the next question is how much easier do you make it for your prospect to do business? Typically, it is within this category that you establish what makes you different.
- Does your product or service simplify, organize, connect or integrate aspects of their business?
- Does your product or service reduce their risk, improve compliance or improve their reach and flexibility.
- Does your product or service increase productivity, save time, reduce effort or improve capacity?
- Finally - and this is subjective – are you a good fit? Are you responsive, committed, stable, do you bring added expertise or extra value to their business?
At the individual level, you’re not only contemplating what your product or service can do for the business overall but what it can do at a personal level for the humans within that business. Will your product or service help them to become better at their jobs? Will it reduce their workload, increase the quality of their output, improve their reputation, decrease their anxiety, increase the size of their network, or expand their marketability?
Written somewhere in the vision or mission statement of most businesses is what they want to be when they grow up. A vision for the future. Does your product or service help them to improve their vision of the future or at least help them see it more clearly? For example, will it help them to become more socially responsible, adapt easily and affordably to shifts in technology, or enable them to become more sustainable?
How do you position your firm within this B2B Hierarchy of needs? What elements do you see as your strong points? What should you improve? How should you communicate your elements of value to the market, and what kind of content would assist you in doing so?
Here I propose some Content Marketing tactics that you may find useful in communicating your elements of value. It is always important to remember that purchasing decisions are usually the domain of several individuals or departments. The larger the enterprise, the more this will be the case. In fact, the person who determines whether you meet the table stakes may not be responsible for deciding whether you are a good fit.
Depending on where your product or service fits into the pyramid, you may face different adjudicators the farther up the pyramid you go. So let us look at the kinds of content that might be useful in helping you to convince the decision makers at each stage. I use the example of a fictional Service Firm, IT Hawk, that provides IT Security Services, and positions its total offering on each level of the pyramid. What Content Marketing tactics should IT Hawk use to communicate its value?
IT Hawk first has to decide whose boardroom they want to enter, and how to find that decision maker. So first they create a Buyer Persona. This is an archetype of the individual whom they wish to target. Among other things, this buyer persona dictates how IT Hawk will structure their communication. IT Hawk did their research, identified their ideal target, put together a Marketing Strategy, and must now decide which combination of tactics will be most relevant to their market. IT Hawk has chosen to use Inbound Marketing given that most of their prospects are likely to find them online. Inbound Marketing is the application of marketing technology that combines the use of content with the power of email, chat, search engines, advertising, and social media to attract, engage, and delight customers in a frictionless, never-ending cycle called a Flywheel.
Here are some ideas of the kinds of content that might be appropriate at each level of the pyramid.
Table Stakes Communication
IT Hawk, being an IT Security Firm must, at a minimum, have an online presence that fully describes the need they fulfill for their persona, along with any qualifications, experience, certifications, expertise, or training that prove their ability to do the work and their compliance with any regulation and ethical standards necessary to do the job. Therefore, the first tool in its content arsenal is their website. Clear, consistent, targeted Website Copy and Branding are the price of entry.
Communicating Functional Value
In addition to having a website that describes what they do, IT Hawk needs to go a little further in describing the functional value they bring to the table. Case Studies are usually a good way to do this. In a client’s mind, if IT Hawk has helped customers to reduce their IT Security costs before, chances are they can do it again. For the person doing the evaluation, a case study provides proof of due diligence, thus making it easier to include IT Hawk in conversations with other decision makers.
Communicating Ease of Doing Business
The prospect must feel that doing business with IT Hawk will make their lives easier. And there’s no other better way to communicate ‘ease of doing business’ that through a demonstration of the product or service. This may be in the form of client testimonials, a Webinar, or a Demo. Having someone vouch on their behalf is good to start with, but actually showing how they make life easier is even better. Obviously, the nature of business will determine the form of content you use, but showing is often better than telling.
Communicating Individual Value
IT Hawk must say how their solution will benefit their prospect and its employees at an individual level. This means driving home points around increased productivity, increased access to useful information, and ensuring employees have convenient, secure access to company resources from anywhere, thus making communication easier. The key is that whatever benefit your solution offers at a personal level should be relatable. Videos, Blogs, and Infographics are an easy way to use content to get this message across. So is posting on LinkedIn, or creating an email newsletter.
Communicating Inspirational Value
Typically, CEOs, Investors, and Board members face the perpetual question, what will the company look like in x number of years? If they envision a future where they are still around, chances are they are thinking of how to adapt their tools, processes and technologies to these new environments. IT Hawk must demonstrate their understanding of the current IT Landscape, the trends which are shaping the future, and the technologies that their client will need to adapt in order to succeed. IT Hawk needs to demonstrate that they too are visionary. Producing a White-Paper or an E-Book that outlines this future signals their understanding of these challenges, and how their solution fits the future needs of their client.
These content tactics only scratch the surface of what's possible when looking through the prism of the B2B Value Pyramid. Whatever product or service you sell, it is useful to explore what elements of value you offer to your customer, and the ways in which content can assist you in communicating these values.
About the Author: Paul Thompson is a Professional Copywriter, Marketing Strategist, and CEO of Peak Writing Services LLC, a Hubspot Certified Content Marketing Agency & Writing Consultancy.