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two team members using a laptop in an office and unlocking key B2B customer insights

Everyday VOC: How To Capture B2B Customer Insights

September 14, 2023

In an ideal world, market needs would transition smoothly from the minds of your customers straight to your R&D department. But the reality is that valuable B2B customer insights often get lost or filtered out along the way. 

The good news is that by turning your sales force into a learning force, your business can capture customer needs consistently in a comprehensive way.

In this post, we are covering key strategies and practices to prevent loss and ensure that your sales force is not just selling, but learning and adapting to better serve your customers and your business.

Quick Takeaways

  • VOC helps businesses capture key B2B customer insights by understanding the customers’ perspective.
  • The What-Why-Clarify method identifies customer problems, asks questions to understand the problems, and clarifies the customer’s desired outcome.
  • The key to successful selling lies in fully understanding your customers’ needs before seeking a solution.
  • Turning “outcomes” into a unit of B2B customer insights will help transform your sales force into a learning force. 

Explore the power of VOC in unlocking B2B customer insights, enhancing selling effectiveness, and transforming your sales force into a learning force.

Understanding VOC and B2B Customer Insights

As a large business, it is your responsibility to grow your business by solving your customers’ problems. But without the right strategy in place, it is easy to overlook voice-of-customer (VOC) and key B2B customer insights. 

VOC is a research method that captures customers’:

  • Expectations
  • Preferences
  • Aversions

Essentially, it’s about stepping into your customers’ shoes and seeing the world from their perspective. VOC is crucial for developing products or services that truly meet customer needs and expectations.

However, understanding VOC in the B2B context is not as straightforward as asking a few questions. It requires a systematic approach to capture B2B customer insights. 

The What-Why-Clarify Probing Method

The AIM Institute has developed and continually refined a probing methodology to help your business’s staff understand the outcomes your B2B customers want. They call it the “What-Why-Clarify” method.

graphic outlines 3 steps to the What-Why-Clarify probing method

First, you need to identify a potential customer problem. Then, ask the following probing questions:

1. What

These questions do not necessarily start with the word “what,” but they aim to delve into the heart of the problem. For example:

  • Can you detail the issue you’re facing?
  • Where does this issue occur?
  • Who are the people involved in this?
  • What kind of equipment is being used?
  • When does this issue arise?
  • How frequently does it occur?
  • How long does the issue persist?
  • Can you walk me through the sequence of events to this issue?

2. Why

“Why” questions are designed to understand the significance and implications of the issue for the customer. These questions can include:

  • Why is this particular problem a concern for you?
  • In what ways does this problem affect your business?
  • Who are the individuals or groups impacted by this issue?
  • How significant of a problem is this in terms of its impact?
  • How severe is the impact of this problem?
  • Are there any specific areas where you would like to see improvements in terms of speed, quality, or cost?
  • Is there any additional information or details that we should be aware of regarding this matter?

3. Clarify

To better understand the customer’s desired outcome, use an “outcome statement,” a strategy developed by Tony Ulwick. This involves testing the customer’s objectives using the format: 

image outlines Tony Ulwick’s outcome statement

For instance, you could ask the customer:

  • Are you aiming to minimize the time it takes for the adhesive to reach full bond strength?
  • Are you looking to maximize the corrosion resistance of your product?
  • Is your goal to minimize the time needed to install the equipment?
  • Do you want to reduce the overspray of your coating?
  • Are you trying to cut down the training time required to reach full competency with the software?
  • Do you wish to extend the service life of a component?
  • Are you aiming to reduce the time required to receive a satisfactory technical support response?

After asking clarifying questions, it’s important to ask the customer if there are any other problems your business should know about. If so, address any additional concerns with another round of the What-Why-Clarify probing method. 

What-Why-Clarify Probing in Action

There are many advantages to using the What-Why-Clarify method, but two primary benefits stand out when it comes to helping businesses unlock B2B customer insights.

1. Greater Selling Effectiveness

Consultative selling, or needs-based selling, is based on fully understanding your customers’ needs and pain points before seeking a solution. This concept was introduced in 1988 by Neil Rackham with the Spin Selling publication. 

After monitoring 35,000 sales calls, Rackham and researchers learned that the most successful sales teams weren’t selling features or promoting customer benefits, but simply asking 4 types of questions:

  • Situational questions to help understand a customer’s current situation
  • Problem questions to identify specific problems the customer is facing
  • Implication questions to fully understand the impact of the customer’s problems
  • Need-payoff questions to find ways to help resolve the customer’s problems

The most important takeaway here is that great selling lies in the questions you ask. Thoughtful and thorough questions not only demonstrate that you’re committed to learning about your customer’s needs, but also highlight a clear path to finding a solution. 

2. Data Mining Market Needs

When it comes to turning your sales force into a learning force, turning “outcomes” into a unit of B2B customer insights is key. This approach provides clear guidance to your R&D or solution providers about what they need to address with new products or services.

The importance of this approach was highlighted in a 2015 white paper, “Timing is Everything,” which emphasized the role of data mining in customer relationship management (CRM). 

This process, known as market scouting, serves as an early-warning system, letting businesses know when it’s time to start working on a new product or service, based on rising customer needs.

graphic explains market scouting in data mining for B2B customer insights

Think about the evolution of mobile phone displays. At first, small glass displays on bulky  phones didn’t require crack resistance. As displays grew larger and eventually covered the entire phone, the need for crack-resistant glass became critical. Recognizing this need at the right time, when customers anticipate the problem, is crucial.

By consistently recording customer outcomes after each call and adding these notes to your CRM, you can detect such needs. Although, keep in mind that recognizing a need does not always call for product development. Instead, it should prompt thorough VOC interviews to better understand the market.

This process ensures that you work on the outcomes customers truly care about at the right time. By doing this consistently, you can stay ahead of your competitors.

Unlock Key B2B Customer Insights Today with ISBM

Understanding VOC and B2B customer insights is a strategic necessity in today’s competitive business landscape. By adopting a systematic approach like the What-Why-Clarify probing method, businesses can dive deeper into their customers’ needs and expectations, and ultimately stay ahead of emerging market needs and gain a competitive edge. 

Ready to start unlocking key B2B customer insights? Ask about how an ISBM Membership can help you now, join us at our next Member’s Only Meeting or visit ISBM today to learn more!

Dan Adams, a seasoned leader and visionary in the B2B market, is the founder and president of the AIM Institute and an ISBM Practice Fellow. With a dedicated career spanning over 25 years, Adams has spearheaded countless initiatives that embody innovation and progress, like VOC. His commitment to excellence and unwavering dedication to empowering his team has cemented the AIM Institute as a beacon within its industry.

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