B2B Value Selling Across Cultures

In the world of consumer marketing, it’s difficult to overstate the impact of cultural preferences and socio-economic behaviors. The concept is simple. Different groups of consumers, with varying sets of values, priorities and perspectives, will respond differently to a single marketing campaign or message. The more successfully you can segment these consumer behaviors and understand each group’s buying behaviors and motivations, the greater your ability to market directly to that group of consumers. It therefore comes as no surprise that every other global consumer ad agency seems to claim unique insights into these culture-driven purchasing behaviors. Backed with big data trends and distant echoes of Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’, consumer marketing agencies fight over one another to perfect the art of psychologically appealing to Latinos vs. Afro-Americans in the U.S., or Malays vs. Chinese Singaporeans, or Walloons vs. Flemings in Belgium.

B2B marketing is different.

B2B Value Selling Across CulturesIf mapping consumer behaviors around the world is a complex triangle of behaviors and motivations, the B2B behavior model looks a lot more like a one-way straight line with a singular, all-encompassing motivation – profit. Whether you are trying to sell to a business located in China, Chile or Chechnya , the basic formula to successfully convince a business to select your product or service is the same. You must be able to clearly communicate and measure the amount of value your total offering provides to the customer. Anywhere around the B2B world this cardinal rule holds true. If you can show a positive connection between your offering and the customer’s balance sheet, you’re very likely going to win the business.

While the timing and ways you communicate, measure and negotiate a sale should vary across cultures, the methodology should not.

Step 1: Define customer value in their terms and units.

Pretend your company sells chemicals to a customer who uses them to make disposable coffee cups. It doesn’t matter that you price and sell your product by the kilogram and ship it in large barrels. If the customer’s standard terminology and balance sheets calculates the cost per metric ton of cups produced (or cost per single cup for that matter), then that is the unit you need to start with when calculating customer value.

By definition, “customer value” is always specific to each customer. Every time you calculate the value of your total offering to a specific customer it will look a little different.

Step 2: Quantify value in their currency.

This step is the very essence of B2B value selling. You simply must be able to measure in dollars, or yen, or pesos how much value your product and/or services provide to each customer. If can’t do this, you’re probably just communicating your perceived features and benefits and then hoping your B2B customer can inherently understand your offering’s value.

Maybe your offering will increase your customer’s production of coffee cups. Great. Now calculate the cost per cup and measure the added value in dollars. Maybe you can also reduce labor hours for your customer. Excellent. Calculate the average hourly cost for your customer and then the savings. Perhaps your products and services reduce the risks of lawsuits or exposure to regulatory fines. Or they lower future warranty claims, increase their ability to gain market share, or lower energy usage costs in the manufacturing process. Maybe they increase the productivity of their employees or will allow the customer to design an entirely new product to bring to market. Each claim you make must be quantifiable and connected to the bottom-line of their balance sheet. When considering what your offering provides to a specific customer while making these value calculations, don’t forget to include both those of the product and your service packages (technical support, on-site training, speed of delivery, etc.). If your offering has some negative costs (e.g. testing/qualifying costs for a new product, a necessary increase in scrap rates, etc.), you’ll need to honestly calculate those, too.

Notably absent in this approach are many of the softer value elements commonly used in consumer marketing. Sometimes those trendy consumer buzzwords like “brand loyalty”, “neuromarketing insights” and “product imprinting” have merit. However, if you can’t credibly quantify their value to the customer in dollars then they don’t belong on your value propositions and proposals.

Step 3: Measure and communicate value compared to the customer’s next best alternative.

If the customer does not select your offering then what will they most likely choose? Sometimes they’ll elect to continue with their current solution. Or it may be a competitor’s offering. Or perhaps it’s simply choosing no action whatsoever.

B2B customer value is always relative. If you know the customer’s next best alternative, then you can help the customer reasonably compare your offering to that choice. Rest assured, if you can show that your product is positively differentiated from their other option and can quantify that value in actual currency, you’ll be successful selling anywhere around the world.

Step 4: Adapt your communications and timing to local business norms

While the first three steps listed above transcend all global cultures, the manner of which customer value is communicated does vary around the world. For example, familiarity and strength of current relationships matter much more across China than they do in Canada. A proven track record of supply may be weighted more heavily in Germany than in India. Executives may need to be involved in the contract negotiations in Japan but not in Sweden. The list goes on. These cultural variables are very real and do play a critical role in the timing and etiquette surrounding the delivery of sales presentations.

Regardless of which industry, country and culture you are selling to around the world, however, the formula to communicate B2b customer value remains a universal constant.

B2B customer value is always:

  1. Specific and unique to each customer
  2. Quantifiable and measured in the customer’s currency
  3. Relatively compared to the customer’s next best alternative