One question in B-2-B market development is often overlooked: what actually is my market? Organizations try their best at defining an idea of their relevant market, usually based on a mix of two questions: Which market section for my existing products/services do I want to look at? What market need can I satisfy? However, these approaches have some flaws.
The standard response of organizations to putting out feelers into the market is one of these:
- Let’s send out some surveys and hope customers and market players will “like” our value propositions and will tell us their truths.
- Marketing will do some polishing on the messages.
- Sales will just need to get out there and pitch, pitch, pitch!
This might work in a B-2-C context. But a B-2-B market context needs a different approach. To explore what the relevant market of your own organization is, you must dig deep and bring to light what often remains hidden behind glossy brochures and vocative sales pitches: start with the assumptions, your own and those that drive the market players in their actions.
To ensure that these assumptions don’t remain merely superficial, it is imperative to scrutinize the reasons market players have for their actions. These often represent a blind spot for your organization, mainly because: It is not easy to understand the underlying forces that impact beliefs, needs, and priorities of market players. Organizations tend to fictionalize their customers need so that it is easier for them to position themselves.
How to overcome the blind spot
You must figure out the encrypted truths that drive decision-making processes within the organizations of these market players. Think of it as an attempt to decipher the inside of your outside world. Try to understand the inner workings of those organizations that are your clients, vendors, suppliers, you name it.
Why should you as an executive make this effort? Because every organization, even every department within one organization, has an internal logic that significantly determines the behavior of the individuals in their organization. This is quite natural for organizations, because one’s own partial focus helps to become and remain capable of acting for one’s area of interest and responsibility.
To really understand your market, you should put yourself in the position of your counterparts in that market and try to fathom the motives of their actions. These seldomly are the ones that are straightforwardly articulated. But through clever formats of observations and validation together with market players, you can shine a light on what happens behind the stage and learn to comprehend and anticipate to some extent the actions of others.
The role of organizational interfaces
But who does the job? In every organization, there are departments that are more inward, or outward focused. The latter are the interfaces to the external world. But outward-facing functions such as marketing and sales are caught in a dilemma: Their primary task is not insight generation, but to represent the organization to its outside, e.g. do the polishing or the pitching.
To put it bluntly, instead of bringing new information into the organization, the exact opposite is their task: they filter possibly disturbing irritations and thus help their organization to remain capable of acting steadily in an ever changing market environment.
Changing the perspective is easier said than done
If the task of these outward-facing functions is now to change towards a more inward-oriented one in order to bring insights into the organization, new structures are needed. Structures, that can mitigate the external view of the market players with the internal perspective from the organization.
When it comes to market development, understanding the market and adapting your organization to it, are two sides of the same coin. A deep understanding of the market requires your organization to put out feelers and a high level of curiosity for deciphering the market players’ organizations in terms of how they function and what their motives are. For executives, this means taking off the blinders of market exploration that inevitably come with the internal perspective.
Adapt to your findings
But what good is the new knowledge if there is no place in the organization to process it? Losing sight of the work of the organizational interfaces runs the risk of achieving the opposite effect: they close down, inwardly and outwardly, and the organization runs the risk of operating beyond their relevant market.
Executives need to apply the organizational perspective also to their own habitat. On the one hand, you must create the possibilities – aka structures – that interfaces are allowed to create new insights AND are also listened to internally. On the other hand, it needs your leadership to keep the interfaces on their toes, so they don’t settle too comfortably into their task of gaining insights from the outside, but also actively contribute to adapting those insights to optimize the outward oriented tasks and messages. If you can do that, you will enjoy the fun of seeing, creating and playing in the relevant market for your organization.