B2B Extortion, the big company way

Big companies have big money, and that is especially apparent to small companies. Big companies know this and like to ‘lean’ on small companies. We all have war stories to tell of orders accepted under duress, to say the least.

Sometimes big companies take it farther and make up their own rules to suit their interests. Today is just such a day for our company, and I wanted to tell you about it.

A large aerospace/electronics customer of ours has decided to outsource vendor qualification and maintenance, especially for on-site contract services.  The amount of service work we do with this company is minimal (I’d guess 5-10 calls a year), as we only install and/or maintain what we manufacture. Over the years we’ve had to have our technicians take safety classes, or drug tests before they can work in a facility. It’s a pain, but we comply.

Now this third party steps in to keep track of insurance, certifications, and compliance to their rules. One might say it is some perversion of a union. And what do unions need to run? Dues.

Yes we have to pay this third party for the privilege of servicing our equipment at our customer’s site. Not to mention all the hoops they have for certifying us, as well. How much do we have to pay? $3,500 a year, plus $500 set-up fee. The fee is based on the size of our company, and not the amount of business we do with the customer.

Are you kidding me? This third party benefits the ‘hiring company’, not us, the ‘hirees’, yet we are the ones who have to pay.  Especially for us, while the equipment we sell may justify the initial $4K fee, the actual contract service work we do cannot. And if they expect us to do all the service work while they keep the equipment for ten years, the fees will add up significantly.

Honestly, if it wasn’t for the onerous fee, I might think this was a helpful ‘web 2.0’ service to streamline everything (their website even looks 2.0-ish). But the third party gave the big company the price of ‘free’ and pushed the cost to us poor schmucks who need the big company’s business.

Our salesperson is going to plead our case with the purchasing person enforcing this service. I’m sure she’s heard the whining before and won’t be able to do anything about it anyway.


Slowing down the sale with roadblocks

I market capital equipment. But as a marketer, I’m a consumer of B2B services. Software especially. While there are very limited choices about selling equipment, services are infinitely flexible. Here are some examples I’ve been dealing with

  • CRM software has concurrent licenses, which controls the number of logged-in users, but gets less flexible once you get to remote users.
  • Online “cloud” service that is strictly ‘per user’, that causes me to artificially restrict users to the most active on our sales team. 
  • Adobe Creative Suite upgrade that costs nearly as much as our original purchase. And bonus now nearly requires a monthly maintenance fee. 
  • Free Angry Birds app that has clumsy ads instead of trying to get me hooked first, and trying to get me to pay for the app.
  • Software that charges a premium for vague added value, such as phone support. Well, vague value until you need it.
  • Microsoft Office tiering of license value by business or student user, or by number of applications.
  • Being sold on the ‘monthly’ rate when really you want me to subscribe by the year.

You see, the problem is that I can sell one of our units, and the customer can share it with others in the company, let their brother-in-law borrow it, customize it, or let it sit unused.

My biggest problem with buying software/services is that I have to make some decision on value per each user, while I really want to make a decision based on value to the company. Why doesn’t our service techs have access to our ERP or CRM customer database to look up phone numbers and addresses? Because it would cost nearly $1K each. Or why aren’t we using the latest Adobe Suite? Because we aren’t power users at an agency, or folks doing cutting edge design.

Now maybe I’m being cheap. I should just roll that cost in along with the power users for an average value to the company. But wouldn’t it be nicer to spend that $1K on the service tech for something of greater functional value?

For our salespeople the biggest hump to get the customer over is ensuring they have proper utilities and space for our equipment. This can be painful for large or powerful systems, costing as much as the unit itself in some cases. I have no sales process for this, no supporting literature. (I probably should work on this.)

In the same way software salespeople must pull teeth when asking ‘how many users’. How many users I’d like to have the software, or how many will I likely cut it down to. Again, they have no sales process, no way to make it easier. But software could be flexible on licensing and just cut past this roadblock. It would make my life easier and make the sale faster.

Now I know that some roadblocks can be profitable, I’m just saying that they can diminish the value of the product.

New for yearly planning: A Christmas list … and I want a pony!

I did something new this year as part of my planning for 2013: I created a “Christmas List”. Really! No, I wrote an email to send up for the things I’m wishing for this year. When you write such a list to send to Santa, you are asking for things that you can’t get yourself. Presents that would make your life happier and better, and sometimes for your whole family.

I don’t need an XBox or a train set. But I do need things to happen in engineering to fix  certain products. I need support for one of my new projects. I need answers about other lingering opportunities. Simple stuff like a large-screen TV in the conference room. And the chance to offload some responsibilities as we grow.

Some of the items on this list weren’t even for me, but for the people I support, namely customers and salespeople. Improvements to products, fixing gaps in our processes.

Then I was bold enough to ask for a pony. A metaphorical pony! A new project that would invest in research for a new product line. Like a pony, there would be a lot of work for little output. And it would be a long term commitment. It would push aside other projects I am working on, and others I was already considering.

This pony project is for the future of our company, to take it someplace ahead of where it would normally go. It is a project I’ve day-dreamed about, and now have found an chance where it makes sense. I’m not just a ten-year-old with a wish. I’m a marketing manager with a vision of the future.

Oh, I hope I get the pony Santa! Please, please, please!

Attention my dear contractor

I had to send out this email yesterday to one of our service contractors:


I’m guessing someone was trying to help you get web traffic by reposting our company’s videos. The stats of views probably means that it isn’t working. With that few views, I’m not so concerned about impacting our business, although it is a violation of copyright and may confuse people. More to the point, it’s probably time to take them down, as I’m sure our company president wouldn’t like to find them.


It’s so easy to just copy and paste content, even YouTube videos. I’ve been very tolerant of contractors and reps and even those without affiliation when it comes to copying images of our products. (Except, of course, when they are being misused.) But copying our videos just to change the titles for SEO value … there apparently, I draw the line.

Meeting the prospect at THEIR interest level

I’m just back from one of the trade shows we do every year. It’s a great opportunity for our salespeople to see their existing contacts and customers, but as marketing manager, I don’t have ‘existing contacts’. What I enjoy most is talking to people new to our company, or even our type of product.

You know the type … they blindly grab a piece of literature, usually a specialized piece that only the rarest of booth visitors may need. They stare for a full minute at your company’s logo on the booth. Some will look your demo unit up and down, others will be oblivious to its presence. They don’t make eye contact at all, and may even look right thru you.

What’s happening is the non-verbal part of their brain is working, trying to fit together a small puzzle:

  • Brand
  • Product
  • Purpose
  • Need
  • Importance

When they appear ready, I’ll ask something as basic as ‘any questions?’ Then they can start to verbalize about the part of the puzzle they need help with.

For the extrovert (i.e. salesperson), this can be an awkward point. They want to start asking the ‘mark’ questions about his company, his need, if he knows so-and-so, etc. Or they’ll try to impress the visitor by answering his inquiry with a story or a spiel.

Our guys are pretty-well disciplined, and don’t do this right away, but they may be itching to flip the control of the conversation … to move the visitor from a ‘mark’ to a ‘lead’ quickly. I’ll attribute their behavior to the fact that they are in unfamiliar territory. Their usual leads the rest of the year are already qualified, and are a bit rusty in engaging a complete n00b.

It seems a bit odd at first, but the puzzling booth visitor fully wants to talk about you, your company, and your products. But he also fully wants you to listen to his questions and body language. They are in control, even if they are meekly asking questions. The best thing you can do is ask clarifying questions, so they know you are listening, and that you’ll cooperate with them. They still haven’t decided if you are the right person or company to talk to and need some time and info to do so.

One of the even odder moments at a trade show booth is when a conversation gets passed from one booth-person to the other. But that is a good sign that the discussion is probably shifting from ‘puzzling’ to ‘familiar’.

It all starts when you meet the prospect at their level and pace. Websites are awesome for this because a visitor can linger until they decide to engage us. And it shields us from these awkward moments. But, done right, these awkward moments can be awesome opportunities to make new relationships, and hopefully, customers.


China ripping off our products?

Last time I shared how a Chinese company was copying design and content from our website. And I left a little cliff-hanger that they were using our product pictures. Here, take a look:

Copying our jpgs and more

Okay, it’s distrubing to see my product pictures being used by another company as theirs. And insulting to see these images watermarked. The watermarks I can only guess are a cultural thing, in a place where copying can be rampant (ala ebay.com these days).

But what is that with the last image highlighted in orange? Their picture is close, but not ours. Based on other products on their website, I think they replace stolen images with their own as they fill out their product line by actually building what they advertise on their website. The web page that picture is on is otherwise a nearly-verbatim copy of our product page for this same model.

They are copying our website and images, then systematically copying our product lines, and creating a business in China on the backs of our success.

This is even more obvious when I look at the stuff on their website they’ve copied from our parent company. Nearly all theirs have been assimilated.

Interesting that our parent company shrugs their shoulders at this, I guess they are used to the copy culture in China. The implications to me are stomach-churning. While our customer base knows our brand and quality, it is disturbing to thing that someone else is making a copy not only of our product info, but of the products themselves.

Referrals and name dropping: Questions and answers

I’ll get back to my story about China rip-off soon. For now I’m doing a blogging favorite of mine: I just read two post by two of my favorite bloggers that talked about the same issue, and they need to be connected…

Chris Rand (who is about my favorite B2B blogger these days, with several past posts inspired by him) asks:

How hard do you find it to tell the world who’s using your product?

Do you find getting permission to quote a customer by name to be a problem? Do you care? Is the grief so much that it makes sense to cut your losses, in your opinion, and just say: “Our Blue Widgets are being used by one of Europe’s leading tractor manufacturers?”

Then way-back-when B2B blogger Rick Short (still one of the very few B2B in-the-trenches marketing managers who blog like me, although he has a staff) answers the question in his post:

Hey buddy. Wanna’ buy a Referral?

Bottom line, true referrers, people that really CARE about your product, don’t want, or need, to be bought. When bought, referrals are neither heartfelt nor meaningful.

More specifically, Rick provides this list

When you are seeking B2B Marcom referrals, testimonials, and references for your products and/or services:

  • Aim for much less quantity and much higher (meaningful, useable, specific) quality.
  • Seek individuals who you’ve really moved.
  • Seek people to whom you truly matter.
  • Seek people who are ALREADY talking about you.
  • Seek referrals with huge amounts of traction.
  • Seek sales leads that will be pitched to by a passionate 3rd party (the person recommending you).

It’s a tall order, and a Rick doesn’t make it look easy, but helps us focus on what we should be doing to be successful. And I love this tibit: “BONUS: You’ll also learn the TRUTH about yourself.”

Uh oh: The Chinese are stealing our website (part 1)

A couple weeks ago I received an email passed along from our HQ in Japan that our website was getting copied by a Chinese company. This may take more than one post to discuss … here I’ll just tell you what happened. It gets more interesting than a rip-off of our website, so stick with me.

HQ’s email told us that they had found this company copying our division’s website, my baby! (I’ll abbreviate the offender’s name to GHT, my company is called ENA.)

The email from HQ:

Fwd: Written warning for the imitated website

As you have heard, there is a website that is remarkably similar to ENA. We would like to inform you of actions we took and our findings.

1. Our findings
After receiving this information through ENA, we have started investigating the company.
Company: (Lets just call them GHT)
Establishment: Jan, 27, 2011
Sales: 4,232,000RMB
Employees: 300

Their website (HK)
http://www.instrument .com.hk/Dan Ye30S2.html

Their website (China)
http://www.hong zhan.com.hk/cont acts.html (remove spaces to see the real deal)

2. Our actions
August 7th:
We sent a written warning as attached to the email account listed in the HK website, but it was returned. We sent the written warning to the email listed in the China website. It was not returned so we assume they have received it.

August 8th:
We sent the written warning to their China office by Fedex.

*As of today, we have not received any feedback or have not seen any actions by them.

3. Further actions that we wants to request for ENA:

This issue was discussed at the Directors’ meeting this morning and now below action is requested:
Please note on the ENA’s website that ENA does not have any relationship with this company and their imitated website. (Please use your wording regarding this note.)

This requested action is to prevent from any damages to our business.

If you have any questions, please let us know.

I’ve de-personalized the email and broken the URLs, but this is pretty much the email we got. My reactions (holding off on looking at the websites):

  • Wow, this company was founded a year and a half ago and has 300 employees?
  • Is there a reason why these specific page URLs are being shared? (no)
  • Why do they have two websites for Hong Kong and China.
  • Putting a note on our website is going to fix this? How am I going to do this anyway?
  •  Forget it, I’ve gotta click on those URLs!

The half-hearted website copy

As you will find out if you go to the first link, the company complied and took down the site. It was an exact copy of our current website, but with a logo that copycats our biggest competitor. There were some signs they had tried to change things, like an obvious search-replace of company names, but many of the hyperlinks actually went back to our website.

I was entertained and flattered. The more I clicked, the sillier it got. Was this worth legal action, I pondered. Well, I guess if they were going to complete the project, but as it stood, no one was going to confuse our companies, that’s for sure!

The more serious problem website

The other website URL looked more typical of a Chinese B2B website. Interestingly, it defaults to English, I assume by determining my location.

Wait, wait, I see a picture of one of our products. And the name of a different product of ours.      And that picture looks almost exactly like one of ours, but it isn’t … HOLY SHIT THEY ARE TRYING TO COPY OUR PRODUCTS!

And with that revelation, I’ll discuss this issue of copying products in part 2.

Godin’s Hierarchy of B2B Needs

Seth Godin is, no doubt, my favorite marketing guru. At one point I decided to blog here less about what he had to say, because if you are reading my little B2Blog, you have to also be reading his blog.

Every guru deserves a “law” named after them, and its time for Seth’s. I make this particular pick because he took the consumer-based convention of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs and re-invents it as a B2B concept.

Godin’s Hierarchy of B2B Needs

If you’re selling a product or service to a business–to a non-owner–consider this hierarchy, from primary needs on down:

  1. Avoiding risk
  2. Avoiding hassle
  3. Gaining praise
  4. Gaining power
  5. Having fun
  6. Making a profit

(The only tweak to this list, I added numbers to the needs.)

Application help:

This hierarchy gets worked a bit differently for two different types of B2B situations. I won’t dwell on these, but using the hierarchy without knowing which category you are in could be a problem.

  • Demand-based purchases – the customer needs to satisfy an internal need
  • Discretionary-based purchases – the customer can continue to ‘do nothing’.

My comments:

Seth’s six listed needs makes sense, I find myself getting to ‘gaining power’, and that is more than enough to make the sale. Pushing out ‘making a profit’ to the lowest need makes sense,  the more immediate need is to solve a problem, which is driven by #1 & #2.

The doozie Seth throws in before ‘making a profit’ is ‘having fun’. It makes sense, when I think about my typical customer who is an engineer or project manager. The doozie part of it is this:

How do I meet the prospect’s need for fun?

Figure that out, and the competitive edge is most certainly yours, IMHO.

I’m sure that others have tried to do this needs list before, but I’m biased enough to pick Seth’s hierarchy as excellent, and name it after the guru who created it. Thanks, Seth, for giving us a new tool for B2B marketing.

Keeping your language uniform … or avoiding collateral ‘damage’

I’ve been staring at my computer blankly this morning, overwhelmed.

Part of the challenge of B2B marketing is the jargon. We need to make sure the language we use is concise, consistent, and understandable. Jargon is actually acceptable and commonly used, but only if it is consistent and understandable.

So I need to nail down the terminology and usage of what electrical power supply and amperage our equipment requires. Depending on product line, we’ve used the following:

Maybe a picture of my brain right now!
  • Power supply source
  • Power supply
  • Electric service
  • Electric supply
  • Full load amps
  • Disconnect breaker
  • Electric hook-up

Okay, I’ve got to pick one that makes sense to our customers, and to the electrical installer. And there is a big difference (25% typically) between ‘full load amps’ and ‘disconnect breaker’, so if I choose the wrong language, the wrong power will be made available.

So, I’m going with a longer description that calls out both the FLA and the breaker. So much for concise 😉

Now that I’ve made my call, I need to make sure this is universally applied. Where are all the places this product information is published? A surprisingly long list:

  • Website
  • Brochure/PDF
  • Sales manual
  • Quotation
  • Videos
  • Engineering specification
  • Equipment manual
  • Installation guide
  • Electrical prints

Even worse, the last four items I don’t have control over, and revisions are usually reserved for needed changes (in the eyes of engineering). I’ll have enough work to do to fix the marketing collateral.

One could say that this is stupid-silly details that a marketing manager shouldn’t be worrying about. But it is! Customers who have insufficient power installed for our equipment can get irate. Salespeople who are confused by our terminology look stupid. And   B2B marketers who don’t care about the details of their products, well, should find another line of work.