Last week, I spoke at Social Business Atlanta. My talk was on the three P’s of avoiding social CRM failure (the article that started that train of thought rolling can be found here), so I served as the voice of caution and/or the source of comic relief for the event.
The other speakers were among the most notable voices in the CRM space and included organizer Brent Leary, Paul Greenberg, Esteban Kolsky, Denis Pombriant and Jon Ferrara (the whole list of impressive speakers can be found here).Add to that a really engaged bunch of audience members and you had a very energetic and exciting one-day event.
One of the ideas I heard that struck me most came from Brian Bell, the CMO of Zuora. The team at Zuora sees the world through the prism if the subscription economy – which is natural, considering that their product enables the management of small, recurring payments. There are many applications for this, but Zuora did not create them – they already existed in the business ecosystem. The advent of SaaS proved this was a do-able thing and now they’re busy advocating for the application of this concept to everything from fruit delivery to mass media.
The thing Brian said that was so interesting to me was that the subscription economy creates a potentially new kind of buyer-seller relationship. We all know B2B and B2C; Brian said that subscriptions could create a new category, B2Any.
A new category raises a lot of questions, especially since many businesses are still wrestling with what B2B really means. B2Any implies that the differences between B2B and B2C have eroded. That’s true to an extent, and I think social media has driven that (sorry, subscription economy). In fact, while working the B2C side with social media is challenging and fraught with potential for disaster gone viral, social media has made B2B easier. Knowing your existing customers in a B2B environment doesn’t mean casting a wide social net but instead communicating specifically with those customers via social media and noting the relevant data that comes from those conversations.
I believe Brian’s idea was that the subscription economy flattens the playing field and allows businesses of all sizes deliver value to customers of all sizes – and that’s a good thing. The subscription economy will take out the cost barriers for customers and allow smaller and more innovative companies to work niches of the market successfully, even those which until now were never really practical.
So, from Zuora’s perspective, “B2Any” makes sense. From a sales and marketing perspective, however, it initially sounds like a bit of a step back: by combining the B and the C, you’re back into “C” territory again and attempting to reach a broad audience with the same or similar messages. Instead of a personalized conversation, you’re having a “one-to-many” conversation again.
The answer here is what it’s always been: even if you’re working in a subscription economy, you need to tailor the way you communicate to customers and potential customers in a manner that makes sense to them and is based on the way they communicate. If they’re consumers, segment that audience and deliver the proper messages to the right people; if they’re business buyers, cultivate those individual relationships. Regardless of whether you view customers in B2B, B2C or B2Any terms, all customers want relevant conversation. When it comes to that interaction, we’ve always been in a B2Any environment.