At the Summer Olympics in Rio, all eyes were watching as the competitive duel between the South African swimmer Chad le Clos and the U.S.’ Michael Phelps came to a head during the 200-meter butterfly final. Tensions were especially high as le Clos had beat out Phelps for a gold medal at this same event during the 2012 games in London. As Phelps was about to win the event, a picture was snapped of le Clos glancing over at Phelps in the next lane while trying – and failing – to catch up to him. The picture was almost immediately broadcast all over social media, with captions such as “Winners focus on winning; losers focus on winners” and “Perfect example of what happens when you don't worry about your own lane.”
This Olympic metaphor can very easily be applied to the business world and there are ample quotes about this topic from business leaders. For example, Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, once suggested that worrying about competition is the last thing you want to do, as it distracts you from the primary job at hand, which is to delight your customers. This got me thinking about competition and the customer, and the roles they play in the marketing strategies of b-to-b companies.
While competitive analysis is a factor in the marketing planning process, many b-to-b organizations lack a comprehensive framework for it. Often, they only perform a SWOT analysis or focus exclusively on product comparisons. However, addressing buyer behavior, enhancing customer experience and making a shift to a more audience-centric approach are top priorities for marketing organizations and, according to SiriusDecisions’ 2016 global survey of b-to-b CMOs and other marketing leaders, these factors are key to shaping strategy.
In this study, we asked more than 270 marketing leaders about their top growth strategies, marketing strategy priorities and investment allocation decisions for the next two years. One survey question asked, “Which of the following priorities has the most influence on your marketing strategy over the next two years?”
Respondents ranked “address changing buying behaviors” second among the factors that will affect their marketing strategies. The fourth-highest marketing priority is customer experience. Another SiriusDecisions study of more than 1,200 b-to-b buyers revealed that 71 percent of a buyer’s vendor selection is based on customer experience. The need to shift from a product-centric to an audience-centric approach is the fifth-highest priority and ties closely to customer experience.
So, when it comes to strategy, marketing leaders are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of buyer behavior, customer experience, and audience centricity and the impact they have on business performance. Competitive analysis certainly has its place, but true high-performing marketing leaders realize you can only become a winner by focusing on your customer – in whichever “lane” that may take you.
Jennifer Baker is a research analyst, CMO and Marketing Executive Services at SiriusDecisions. She has 15 years of experience in strategic marketing, demand generation, branding, team leadership, change management, and sales support for various organizations in the market research, software and media industries.