Focus group№ 1 July 2018

Igor Mann,

marketologist, business coach and founder of publishing company Mann, Ivanov and Ferber:

It takes most organisations two to five years of transformation in order to achieve customer focus. Unfortunately, the Russian B2B sector as a whole is not customer-oriented enough. The main reason is the lack of a developed corporate culture. Some managers still run on Soviet ideas and are not open to change. If they are faced with the task of increasing sales, their first thought is to enter new markets or reduce prices.

The B2B market is more conservative than B2C, but that doesn’t mean customer focus is not important to it. Companies in this sector should make the most of the available tools to attract and retain customers. That means looking beyond the tried and tested techniques and exploring new IT solutions, such as messaging and chatbots, to get feedback fr om customers.

Konstantin Kharsky,

Consultant and Director, Value Management for Business:

Before you can begin to work on improving customer focus, you must have clarity on your starting point – where the company and its main competitors are already. Thereafter, you can track the progress brought by changes in the company’s approach to customer interaction.

There is a global trend moving towards the simplification of processes that involve the customer. This can range fr om filling out forms, to various interfaces and instructions. The best way to improve customer interaction is to discuss each individual situation in working groups with the aim of minimising the effort required of the customer.

Customer focus calls for a change in company mentality. It may not cost a lot of money, but it can be much more expensive in terms of effort than, for example, introducing new technologies. Nevertheless, the long-term effect makes it worthwhile.

Maria Smirnova,

Head of the Marketing Department, Graduate School of Management, St Petersburg University:

The key activity for improving customer focus is self-examination. It is important that interaction with the customer is not the sole responsibility of the sales department. All employees must be aware of the company’s priorities. This method is best combined with customer surveys to identify problems.

Another good way of understanding how people react to the company is to analyse the customer’s path from product search and choice, to the signing of a contract, through to waste disposal. Regrettably, many companies lose interest after the sale. Yet it is the customer’s path from that point on wh ere the maximum potential for increasing customer loyalty lies.

All these approaches should be tried first and only then does it make sense to turn to something such as advanced CRM systems. Special marketing activities, such as topical seminars wh ere current and potential customers meet, can also be effective.

B2B services moving onto smartphones will be a trend for the immediate future

Vera Rebiazina,

Associate Professor of the Strategic Marketing Department at the Higher School of Economics:

Strangely enough, not every Russian company feels the need to improve its customer focus. Whether customer focus seems relevant depends directly on how competitive the market is. Customer focus in Russia is the highest in the services sector (banking, telecoms, etc).

As for industry, car manufactures work hard to meet customer needs, offering plenty of attractive services. Most of them have a trade-in service which offers buyers a discount on a new car in return for letting the seller have their old one.

The buyers save the trouble of selling their old car second-hand and the companies boost customer loyalty.

Elena Naumchik,

head of consulting agency E&A Loyalty, co-founder of the Association of Customer Loyalty and Customer Focus:

Russian B2B companies give far less attention to customer focus than the B2C sector. However, awareness of this problem is growing.

There are several reasons for this. The economic crisis intensified competition for paying customers. Advances in technology gave rise to new risks and demands. Social networks made business more transparent: tariffs and service processes are now matters of open discussion. The needs of the customer changed: processes and functions are outsourced, people work remotely. In the mobile economy, the B2B sector must get used to things that seemed alien before – flexible procedures, 24/7 access, etc.

In the future, the boundaries between services aimed at B2C and B2B will be blurred. Customers nowadays want their problems solved where and when they arise, with minimal effort on their part. B2B services moving onto smartphones will be a trend for the immediate future. It is important that the gathering of customer feedback leads to the analysis of cross-functional processes and product.

Darya Zozulya,

Associate Professor at Don State Technical University:

I believe one of the most effective techniques that can be used is to apply ‘engineered marketing’ methods, designed to promote products to corporate clients.

Our university had a successful experience using engineered marketing methods at a defence equipment factory. Though it is a special case, it can be considered typical of many industries. We began by reviewing the relationships between the different departments of the company. The relationships were so weak that on many issues staff simply spoke a different language. Our representatives acted as interpreters, so to speak, helping the teams to sort out their problems. Then we looked at how staff worked with customers, which, by modern standards, cannot be the exclusive task of the sales force.

The level of customer focus depends largely on the quality of training, so more attention needs to go to education, which currently lags a long way behind global standards.

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