C-Suite Advisory

Why it pays to listen to B2B customers

Charlene Gervais

Listen to your B2B customers and you’ll hear something amazing: the keys to your true competitive advantages. That’s the power that comes from a type of deep qualitative research called Voice of Customer (VOC). 

Often used to undercover early warning signs of customer dissatisfaction, we find VOC research can be used beyond risk mitigation to guide meaningful change such as improved positioning and brand strategy, product enhancements, and even surprising new market opportunities.

VOC research methodology comes in many forms, and is typically more intensive than standard quantitive surveys because of the high-touch aspect, analysis, and follow up required. One-on-one interviews run by a skilled interviewer are the gold standard (for those that have the budget). Focus groups can be done in person or on Zoom, and live chat can also be used opportunistically. 

Why invest in VOC research?

Discover the recipe to your “special sauce.”

Differentiation—not just standing out, but standing above—is key in most industries. But it’s hard to read your label from within the jar. 

Is your product or service superior to the competition? Why do your customers choose you, and why do they stay? Do you really know what this “special sauce” is, or are you just guessing? The answers can help you improve loyalty and retention, shape pricing strategy, and may become foundational to your ongoing brand strategy. 

One software development company we worked with was feeling the commoditization of their offering, and needed to reposition. In talking to their customers, we learned our client was especially adept and tackling complexity and ambiguity, setting them apart from their most relentless overseas competition. These consultative capabilities—overlaid with their experience in highly regulated industries such as banking— guided new positioning, and a clear focus on delivering high-risk, high security projects for financial industries.   

Ensure your messaging is on point.

An effective value proposition should be built on customer insights, not just product features and benefits. You want to speak to your strengths—assuming the customer actually cares about them. There’s where VOC comes in yet again.   

One manufacturing client we worked with offered technically advanced products. They justified their premium price with the science behind the product, using technical language to convey product superiority. But in interviewing current and prospective customers, we discovered they didn’t care as much about the science as the extreme durability this science produced—performing better vs all other competitors over the long haul.

This insight helped to reframe the narrative from a concern around initial cost to an understanding of savings over time. This overlapped nicely with sustainability efforts and messaging, producing an impact so significant that it lead to a complete rebrand, transforming everything from the product suite to the brand’s identity, marketing, and sales training. 

Uncover surprising new sources of revenue.

Having deep conversations with customers and making them feel heard is a benefit in itself. The connection that comes from that level of engagement can increase retention, and therefore, revenue. But sometimes we hear something that leads to new and unexpected revenue sources.  

 For example, another company we worked with learned through VOC research how valuable their creative and planning services were to customers. These services were typically loss leaders, given away in an effort to gain lucrative and lengthy production projects. 

Upon hearing customers mention (over and over again) how much they valued these services, the company started packaging creative and planning as a standalone service offering—a surprisingly easy new revenue source that also helped their sales team get a foot in the door. 

What will you discover with Voice of the Customer research?

The business-building insights gained from listening closely to customers aren’t limited to these few examples. They can guide you through critical inflection points, such as mergers and acquisitions. Hone your current offerings. Optimize your messaging (and the marketing spend behind it). And validate current plans and programs. 

And although it’s important you clearly lay out what you hope to learn in advance, the beauty of VOC is in the unpredictable nuggets of information that are pure gold. Prepare to be surprised!

When you listen directly to your customers, you come to really know them. And that kind of knowledge always pays.


Written by Charlene Gervais.
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Charlene Gervais
Charlene Gervais is a Partner and Consultant with Bluegreen Branding. She specializes in brand strategy consulting for B2B brands in the tech and financial space, especially those at critical inflection points such as rebranding during M&A, or launching new products and services.


Charlene Gervais is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with her through LinkedIn.