Draw a cup. What do you see? A stylish item of crockery? A football trophy? Half of a bra? The point of this classic psychology exercise is to show that what one person says can be interpreted by others in many different ways. Now draw a “seamless integrated solution”. Your IT supplier would doubtless sketch out a perfect system that solves all your problems. But what would you draw?

Money on the table

A recent Gallup study* found that only 29% of B2B customers feel fully engaged with the companies they do business with. The other 71%, Gallup reckons, would shift their account elsewhere at the drop of a hat. That’s a lot of money on the table. What’s the problem? According to the report, suppliers are too busy seeing the world from their own perspective. It’s all about them. They need to “view the world through the lens of their customer” says Gallup.

No one trusts a bore

Just like people at a party recoiling from the bore who won’t stop talking about himself, companies hate it when suppliers bang on about how awesome/unparalleled/seamless etc. they are. According to the Trust Equation**, too much of this “self orientation” brings levels of trust crashing down. And who likes to buy from a business they don’t trust?

We see this “me, me, me” attitude reflected in B2B communications a lot. Why do businesses behave this way when there is so much at stake?

Getting inside customers’ heads is hard

As those of us without stellar levels of emotional literacy will know, it’s because seeing things from someone else’s point of view can be really, really difficult. So if you can get away without having to do it, you will. It's why a big 4 global consultancy, bolstered by a reliable stream of revenues, can happily drop a sentence like this on the world, “Our global mindset and collaborative culture across our diverse team of consultants and industry professionals inspire us to ask better questions about the cybersecurity challenges you face”. It may inspire them. Does it inspire you?

On the other hand, B2C companies, in their ferociously competitive markets, go to colossal lengths to get into their customers’ heads. By finding exactly the right cognitive buttons to press with its target audiences – using elegant lines like “I will what I want” for sporty women customers – upstart sportswear brand Under Armour recently knocked Adidas off the number 2 spot in the multi-billion dollar US market. When the prize is that big, it’s worth investing in some serious customer focus.

So with 71% of their customers apparently letting out a collective “meh”, isn’t it worth B2B businesses doing likewise?

Fixing the “me, me, me” problem

As customer-centricity experts we think so. Investing in customer focus is the single most cost-effective way for a B2B organisation to buy itself some competitive advantage today. When we go into companies, we often find a huge gap between how they think their customers perceive them, and what their customers really think. The results often shock them. Closing the gap, so that the customer experience matches what the customer needs, has meant the difference between success and failure for some businesses.

Sorting out communications can be a quick fix for solving the “all about me” problem. This could be anything from rewriting sales materials to talk about benefits instead of features, to teaching salespeople the art of listening.

But ultimately, in business as in cafés, if terrible service lurks behind a revamped facade, customers won’t be coming back for a second cup.

This article was borne out of a conversation between myself and Paul Waddington, plain-text.co.uk.

* Guide to Customer Centricity: Analytics and Advice for B2B Leaders, Gallup 2016
** Charles H. Green co-wrote three books: The Trusted Advisor, Trust-Based Selling, and The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook. All three books describe The Trust Equation in detail.   

The Trust Equation