Quick Take: Don’t create demand; anticipate it
Are you using the “demand center” concept to meet rising customer expectations?
Are you keeping up with your customers?
An excellent article in the Harvard Business Review, B2B Customers Expect More Than Ever; Demand Centers Can Help, argues that “demand centers” are essential for keeping pace with the growing need for business customers to control how they buy, as well as their rising expectations for a blend of digital and human experiences. In this Quick Take edition, I share vital highlights and ask B2B leaders and innovation practitioners a critical question: “Are you planning to launch a demand center, or are your customers leaving you behind?”
Competing in the digital age requires answering questions before they are asked, designing solutions that transcend expectations, and fulfilling orders with staggering velocity. As the article explains, demand centers are fast becoming an essential tool for engaging business customers at the exact right moment to achieve radical satisfaction and results without limit:
Demand centers identify business opportunities through inbound marketing (e.g., personalized customer journeys with tailored content and experiences) and outbound marketing (e.g., paid media, events, webinars, and emails to find customers). Demand centers prioritize and qualify leads and orchestrate customer outreach. Sometimes, the response is digital (e.g., the demand center generates an email with personalized content). Other times, the demand center provides guidance and content to help an inside or field salesperson follow up. Together, digital tools and humans adapt to connect with customers at the right moment in their buying cycle.
Demand centers are hyper-effective. The authors found that demand centers may increase conversion rates while lowering lead-generation costs. Sales capacity is better utilized and balanced. Performance monitoring provides actionable intelligence around issue diagnosis and improvement opportunities. But there are challenges. Paraphrasing the article’s findings, three mind shifts are required to adjust traditional sales and marketing to a new approach commanded by a demand center:
The rhythm of sales and marketing activities evolves from pre-planned campaigns to the algorithmic deployment of content and customer engagement.
Sales and marketing execution shifts from pre-set timing to fast response through digital and human resources.
Demand centers put customers in control and replace sales-managed relationships with self-directed buyer-led procurement.
Houston, do we have a problem?
I have explored initiatives designed to achieve similar capabilities and outcomes in conversations with distributors, but I have not heard the term “demand center.” I wonder, are distribution’s B2B innovators working toward similar goals but doing so without the benefit of knowable best practices? Often, I argue that best practices are copying and a lazy way of mindless innovation. But, if established best practices for game-changing capabilities are unknown, organic methods to achieve the same powers may be too slow and result in less-than-optimal benefits.
Have you heard of demand centers? Do demand centers align with your understanding of B2B customer buying trends? Are demand centers discussed at distribution conferences about sales transformation? Can buying groups implement demand centers as a shared platform for members? Is there a distributor way of doing demand centers? Did I leave anything out in my summary above? Please share your comments below or reach me at email@example.com.
The demand center looks like using artificial intelligence algorithms to help the buyers get what is needed (in their minds and actions) faster, with more targeted efforts by the seller. This looks like optimizing incremental progress. What would a demand center do if confronted with the US auto market in the 1950’s? Would it latch onto trends that produced bigger and bigger fins on rear fenders and the Ford Edsel? I think of innovation as creative problem solving, usually when the underlying problem/solution may not be apparent—not to mention unknown demand for a new product/service. Would demand center algorithms continue to sell software as a product, or would it offer software as a service?