Staying Connected to Customers Over the Long-Term Key to Maintaining Market Position
Listening to Customers on an Ongoing Basis Helps Manufacturer Stay on Top
Today the B2B marketplace is changing more rapidly than ever before. To build and maintain a company’s position in the market, it is important to stay “connected” with customers. Therefore, evaluating and monitoring customer satisfaction with a company’s products and services is critical to continued success. To remain “on top,” manufacturers need to maintain continuous communication with their customer base.
While this seems elementary, it is not always easy to do. Some manufacturers distribute their products through two-step or three-step distribution channels. This requires companies to stay connected to the value-chain participants who buy the product, as well as with end-users who purchase and use the product.
But distribution keeps end-users a step or two away from the manufacturer, which adds another layer of complexity to understanding what the “customer” wants. In addition, there is often an “influencer” audience who impacts brand preference and selection as well.
Over the past 15 years, AIM has successfully assisted a major manufacturer evaluate their customer product and service satisfaction levels annually. This has helped the manufacturer evaluate product and service satisfaction levels and identify areas of opportunity and weakness. Monitoring customer satisfaction at all levels of what “customer” means has been instrumental in keeping AIM’s client connected to their customers and to maintaining a competitive position in a crowded marketplace.
By using AIM, a third-party research company, the client receives unbiased feedback on their product and services. Using an outside company to collect and analyze satisfaction data delivers a higher level of validity and accuracy. It allows customers to offer honest opinions knowing their information remains confidential.
Beyond measuring customer satisfaction levels, AIM evaluates the market’s satisfaction with the key competitors in the market. This gives the client a basis for comparison and is a great way to identify competitors’ strengths and weaknesses. In addition, an important part of any customer satisfaction research includes open-ended comment fields to allow the customer to provide candid feedback.
Because market influencers are regarded as experts by their followers, AIM encouraged the client to gain insight from the “influencers” who have a major impact of whether their brand is ultimately selected and purchased. AIM recommended that the manufacturer conduct satisfaction research with their influencer group at least every two years to remain competitive in their market.
The client’s influencer group included architects, interior designers, contractors and engineers. Not only did AIM help the client measure product and service satisfaction levels for each group, but the research took a pulse of the market’s satisfaction with the client’s major competitors too. Connecting with the influencer audience also helped our client identify new product opportunities and industry trends.
Conducting annual customer research keeps manufacturers updated on any new or current “issues” that may impact the market. For example, COVID caused a market disruption when businesses and production either shut down or slowed creating increased supply chain issues. This prompted the client to add questions to their annual survey to identify specific product delivery and service issues during this time. This provided great market information that helped the client make operational adjustments to maximize product availability.
Since customer research can be conducted using a variety of methods, companies should use more than one format to get feedback from customers or potential customers.
Successful customer research should include both qualitative and quantitative reviews. For our client, we used in-depth phone interviews or an on-line focus group format to get candid feedback directly from customers and influencers. Talking directly with a company’s target audience provides a deeper understanding of customers’ needs and allows companies to gain more detailed information about their products and services. In addition, this type of direct communication can uncover issues in the market and identify potential business opportunities.
Using Research to Drive Customer Connections
Research of any kind is a terrific way for manufacturers to stay connected to their target audience. While it is important for companies to strive for a high level of satisfaction with customers, they should also look at “non-customers” and potential new customers to grow and expand their business.
Conducting other types of research such as lost customer research, buying trends/behavior studies, awareness research, communications or new product studies can also help manufacturers stay close to the audiences they serve. In fact, AIM’s proprietary research indicates that manufacturer websites are the MOST important source customers and potential customers use to learn about products and services. Yet, it is surprising how many companies do not conduct research with their customers or target audiences when redesigning or updating their website.
According Gardner Marketing, an international marketing firm, brands often make the mistake of designing a websites to focus on what they want the customer to know versus what the customer or audience is looking for. They go on to suggest that companies need to understand their audience by getting feedback from those who use the website, not just from people within the company.
Over the 15 years AIM has been conducting customer satisfaction for a specific manufacturer, the company has managed to keep overall satisfaction scores in the “top” box (9 to 10) on a 10-point satisfaction rating scale. This has remained higher than most competitors. By monitoring product and service satisfaction scores and adjusting where needed, the client has managed to continue to be one of the top preferred brands in the industry. In a market with increased competition and changing customer requirements it is difficult to keep customers satisfied unless you are staying connected. By conducting regular customer satisfaction research, manufacturers can gain valuable market insight to help maintain and strengthen their market position.
For more information on AIM’s research capabilities and how we can help build and strengthen your company’s market position, please contact Patty Fleider at email@example.com or 847-358-8558.
 Digital is affecting everything, including B2B marketing shifting to become more customer-focused and digitally oriented. This means processes, people, and technology of B2B companies are all in flux. The B2B buying journey is changing, ecommerce is gaining traction (manufacturers have always been shy about opening up direct stores and having their distributors in a flux), and spending on third-party data will remain critical to B2B marketers.
 Bloggers as Celebrities was written in 2012 on the growing impact of what has become known as influencers by our sister company, Interline Creative Group. They concluded: “One of the things that COVID-19 has accelerated is the chopping up of the established media outlets. Now, anyone working from home has a voice. Now, people who get cut from their jobs or find themselves ‘collaborating’ digitally have a choice to make.”