A rare, crazy, and awesome way to grow your B2B business

A rare, crazy, and awesome way to grow your B2B business

Today we will talk about an unconventional way to grow your business. It is not an intuitive concept which is why it sounds crazy, but ironically, it’s just as effective as crazy always is… Our topic is, as you’d know from the title, how to grow your business by educating the customers of your customers. And the topic is much larger than you think.

Here’s your reminder that Debullshified is a place where we talk about marketing, business, and life. This podcast is for critical thinkers, savvy entrepreneurs and curious minds of all walks of life. Here, we worship no gods nor celebrities. We learn, we laugh, and we think independently.

Let’s dive into our topic for today!

The butterfly effect in business

I’m sure you already know what the butterfly effect is: the concept that a single flap of a butterfly’s wings in one part of the world could hypothetically cause a typhoon far, far away from it. The studies that deal with this are all truly fascinating.

I’m sure this doesn’t surprise you. As you’d know, there’s causality in everything in life. One thing happens, and it usually brings on a series of events. You have a bad night sleep one night, wake up cranky, pull a fight with a colleague the next day, it escalates and before you know it, you’re out of a job. Or you have a good night sleep, you wake up rested and full of creative energy, you do one thing great, and next thing you know you’re being praised for it and shortly after you get promoted. As you’d know the choices we make every day define our destiny like the grains of sand form a beach.

The most obvious case of causality in business is the concept of supply and demand. When there’s demand, a.k.a. when the consumers are searching for something, supply magically increases, and more and more organisations offer the product or service. But you know this, and you don’t need me to tell you.

What happens when there’s no demand?

I’m sure you also know that right now there seems to be more supply than demand of just about anything. There are billions of products out there for things most of us have never imagined needing. 

Some of those products exist because they solve a problem. Others, just because someone was able to make them. 

Today, we’ll focus on the first ones: products or services that solve an issue that most of the times we don’t even realise we have.

This is where the true challenge lies for most businesses, and I’ll start with a story from someone whom I once had the pleasure and honour of mentoring. Employed by a large pharma company, Lacy (let’s give her this name), was tasked with the promotion of a medical product with immense benefits for everyone who undergoes surgery. The product was antiadhesion – a medical product used before stiches in surgery are applied to ensure that internal tissue doesn’t heal by getting stuck where it shouldn’t. Incredible, right? According to Lacy, most patients who undergo surgery end up having adhesion issues later on in life and some of them even require an additionally surgery because of it. If you know enough people who have had surgery, at least one of them have shared that they feel a sensation of pulling in the area of the scar.

When I first learned about the product, I thought that surgeons would be all over it! After all, this meant that their patients’ long-term health was going to be hundreds time better on average. Boy, was I wrong. As it turned out, surgeons didn’t care much and even when they did, the cost of the product would increase the spend of the hospital and decrease profits, so guess what? Adoption of the product was slow… Clinics simply wouldn’t splurge for it.

To top this, the NHS doctors who got presented with the product and trained how to use it, didn’t believe it was needed. “My patients don’t suffer from adhesions”, they’d say. But was it true? Turns out that most NHS surgeons who would operate on a patient often never saw this patient again, simply because this is how the NHS works. And even when presented with statistical data about the number of additional surgeries that would be needed because of adhesions, they still wouldn’t believe. Their view was limited because the system was designed for that. And as many other professionals, they chose to not question themselves so they so no farther than they wanted to see.

The problem that this pharma company experienced is the issue that most businesses face: the decision makers who will buy or ignore their product often choose to bypass it. Yes, even when it’s for the better. And as you see here, even when it comes to human health.

If this is the situation in healthcare, what’s the chance that a construction company will invest in new concrete just because it’s better for the human health and the environment? What’s the chance that a beautician will choose a more expensive face mask just because it’s organic and chemicals-free? What’s the chance that a paint maker will choose more expensive supplies just because it makes their products less toxic or not toxic at all?

You can argue that the root of the problem is capitalism and you’d probably be right. To an extent. In the example of the pharma company, the hospitals would ignore the product because of the additional cost. Surgeons, however, would ignore it either because of an ego problem or due to pure, unfiltered stupidity.

So, even if capitalism is to blame, we can’t solve it on this podcast. We can, however, try to counteract the system design by bypassing the decision maker and placing them in a position where they have no choice. 

This is also what you can do, if the final beneficiary of your product is not your customer, but their customers. This would be valid for software systems used for schools, any type of certification, food ingredients, cosmetic procedures, and many, many others. 

The most obvious example from recent years of one such behaviour is Invisalign. When the brand appeared on the market it had two promotional campaigns running simultaneously. One targeted orthodontist and dental clinics, providing them with significant financial incentives to use the product. The other campaign targeted the end user, addressing an obvious pain many had: the lack of aesthetic appearance of traditional braces.

If you’re already intrigued, let’s see how this will work.

Should you educate your direct customers?

As with the pharma company, most businesses opt to educate their direct customers, a.k.a., the people who would pay them money. These companies see the benefits of their products or services and immediately think that there’s no way they would be ignored by their potential audience. Why would they – life can obviously be so much better with that product.

But there’s an issue. Today every business’s first goal is to make profits. If, and I’m serious about the “if”, there are some businesses out there that have a different goal, they are only around as the exceptions that we need to confirm the rule. And if you would like to change my mind, please, do it. I beg of you.

But let us not digress.

If every company out there is serving the almighty God of the currency sign, then what’s the only thing that will grab their attention? You guessed it! Something that makes them more money. You can educate them all you want about the benefits of a product. Some of them might even buy into a few of those benefits. Beyond that, you’re lost.

What’s the conclusion, then? That if you’ll be educating your direct customers, you can only truly do it when you step on a financial incentive. What I mean is simple: show them the Return on Investment of your product and they will love you forever.

If we recall the example of Invisalign, that’s exactly what they did. It wasn’t anything superb of a system, but it worked. 

Here’s how Invisalign did it

Every orthodontist who sold Invisalign got commission. The more they used the braces and effectively, the more they sold, the higher their commission got. The only thing that Invisalign needed to top this up with, was regular seminars and events during which exceptionally successful uses of the braces would be demonstrated to other orthodontists, and at the end of each of those sessions they’d be given a training certificate.

I make it sound quite easy, so before you think that any business can implement this in a second, let me explain a few key aspects of their offering.

Firstly, they had a flawless account system. Each orthodontist had 24/7 access to their own profile where they could record all their cases and patients, monitor their progress between commission bands, book their participation at various events and more. It was a truly well-made system that left dentists and orthodontists asking for nothing further.

Secondly, they had designed and implemented treatment software that was literally made for dummies. Orthodontic professionals would do a scan of a patient’s teeth and after treatment was designed, they would monitor the expected progress in the system, aligning what was planned to what is happening.

And finally, they had minimised the room for error. The Invisalign company had employed in-house orthodontists who worked with their software system to design the treatments alongside the doctor who was implementing it, so it was really difficult to get anything wrong.

All in all, they had prepared well before they began their campaign.

Surely, not every business has the financial means to follow in their footsteps and that’s understandable. But then, if you don’t have the big shoes, don’t expect to make the big steps, right?

Whilst this was a fabulous system, imagine if Invisalign had counted on the orthodontists to do the selling? You think it would have happened because they were financially incentivised?

You’re right, but only to an extent. What you forget is that they are medical professionals – not salespeople. They also had decades of experience with other brace systems and predictable results with those other braces whilst Invisalign was new and uncertain. And whilst you have the innovators in all industries that would jump on anything new, most people tend to avoid innovation until it simply is the only option. 

What I mean is that if Invisalign had not started advertising its braces to the end users creating demand, the brand would have needed triple or quadruple the time to establish itself.

They advertised to the people, people wanted the clear braces, orthodontists saw that there was no way around it, so they learned how to treat with Invisalign. Painfully simple, yet only a fraction of the businesses out there would consider this approach.

But how do you go about educating the customers of your customers?

If you have been paying attention so far, you would have noticed that in our example with Invisalign those who were truly educated (and I am referring to actual medical education) were the dental professionals. And it makes sense – after all, they’re the only ones who carry any legal responsibility. The end client, although equally responsible for the success of the treatment (if not more), has just one requirement that can have a few angles. They want the Hollywood smile, and the angle of each customer will be different. For some comfort might be the most important thing, for others it would be cost, and for third, it would be the duration of treatment.

So, what did Invisalign do? They simply created a mass advertising campaign, where each piece of advertising addressed one, two, or all three of these elements. But they didn’t try to give the public the ins and outs. Instead, they gave average Joe a never-ending stream of perfectly posed smiles with perfect white teeth. It was everywhere – social media, videos, TV, the tube, billboards – anywhere and everywhere we were bombarded with perfect teeth. And of course, it did the trick – people became self-conscious of their own expectations, influencers pushed them even further, and voila. Demand was there and the rest is history.

Now you may be thinking that it worked with Invisalign because it’s about personal appearance, because it’s kind of a beauty product, or because of some other reason.

Let me prove you wrong.

Dyson’s Approach

Dyson is a company known internationally, but it is originally a British technology company known for its innovative vacuum cleaners and other household appliances. They are the company that launched the Airblade hand dryer as a solution to the inefficiencies and hygiene concerns of traditional hand dryers. Rather than solely targeting businesses and facility managers, who would be their obvious audience, Dyson also directed its marketing efforts toward end users, particularly highlighting the benefits of faster drying times and improved hygiene. It’s a different story that their claims of better hygiene were disproved later on.

Dyson’s campaign included advertising in public spaces like airports, train stations, and shopping centres, where end users would directly interact with the product. They also provided educational materials and demonstrations to businesses and facility managers, showcasing the Airblade’s innovative technology and cost-saving potential.

And just like that, by educating both end users and decision-makers in facilities management about the benefits of the Airblade hand dryer, Dyson created demand from both sides of the market. End users appreciated the superior performance and hygiene of the Airblade, leading them to seek out establishments equipped with the product. Meanwhile, businesses and facilities saw the potential cost savings and improved user experience as compelling reasons to adopt the Airblade in their restrooms.

You think this is the only example? No, no, hold on. I’ve got more.

It has happened in software, too: Salesforce did it!

Before we begin, you have to remember that when CRM first launched, businesses didn’t feel about it the way they do today. Some 10-12 years ago everyone in the workforce was absolutely comfortable with having and storing client details on spreadsheets, and some smaller companies didn’t even bother with that. 

CRMs were certainly not seen as the essential piece of software that they are today and most commonly, office personnel didn’t choose to use them – they were practically forced on them by an IT department or an ambitious, innovative business leader. And this is when Salesforce started changing the game.

Instead of selling the product to the decision makers – IT departments and business leaders – they started advertising their products to their end audience – everyone. Naturally, it all came packed with a well-executed system that was intuitive and easy to use and Salesforce focused on exactly this. They showed Wendy and Barbara how much easier their life could be if they had this piece of software and ended up creating demand from the bottom up. IT teams no longer needed to twist your arm, so you’d take their suggestion. Salesforce? Yes! – Wendy and Barbara would say – bring it in.

The company offered free trials and demos of the software directly to sales representatives, completely bypassing the decision makers, demonstrating how it made life easier for the average sales rep. They emphasised benefits like ease of use, mobility, and real-time updates, which resonated with end users. And finally, when it comes to decision makers, Salesforce focused on what businesses really cared about – ROI. Remember when we mentioned in earlier on? Often your decision maker doesn’t care if you sell software, wood, consultancy, or whatever, so long as it brings in more cash.

By targeting the actual users and demonstrating the value of their product directly to them, Salesforce created demand that eventually influenced the purchasing decisions of businesses. This approach allowed them to rapidly grow their customer base and establish themselves as a leader in the CRM market.

So, much like Invisalign, Salesforce successfully educated the customers of their customers by directly appealing to end users and providing incentives and benefits that ultimately drove adoption and market growth.

It also worked with a thermostat…

Let me give you another example from across the pond, a.k.a., the United States of America. I’m referring to the Nest Learning Thermostat.

When Nest Labs introduced their smart thermostat back in 2011, they didn’t rely on traditional channels to reach HVAC professionals or home builders. Instead, they targeted end users directly with a compelling value proposition: a thermostat that learns your preferences and adjusts the temperature accordingly to save energy and increase comfort.

Nest launched a marketing campaign that emphasised the benefits of their product to homeowners, highlighting features like energy savings, convenience, and the ability to control the thermostat remotely via smartphone. Their website and social media channels focused solely on explaining how the thermostat works and why it’s superior to traditional thermostats.

If you don’t realise what they did there, let me tell you: they broke the “unknown” barrier. They made the end user familiar with the product, so builders and HVAC professionals didn’t have to do the educating – they could only focus on providing the installation. What I mean is that they made a technical product familiar to end users, removing the usual fear that comes together with anything new and slightly different than what people are used with.

By targeting end users directly, Nest generated demand for their product from the bottom up. Homeowners became aware of the benefits of a smart thermostat and started asking HVAC professionals and home builders about Nest specifically. This created pull-through demand, prompting professionals to recommend and install Nest thermostats for their clients.

Naturally, Nest also offered incentives to HVAC professionals, such as training programs and certification, to encourage them to recommend and install Nest products by making them feel that they’re valued certified professionals.

The aftermath? Fast and widespread adoption and success in the market.

And finally: toys

I was initially going to start this episode with toy advertising because I thought that’s the most obvious example, but I figured I’d make it somehow more grown-up talk before we come to this.

Nevertheless, let me ask you this: have you ever seen a doll, Lego, or any other toy advertising done for adults explaining to them how happy they’ll make their children if they bought that toy? No, you haven’t. And you’re unlikely to see one, because if that was the path, all toy advertising would look and sound absolutely the same – make your child happy, entertain them for hours, educate them, yada yada… 

If nothing else brought my point home, then I hope this example does.

Now it’s your turn.

If your business is in any way, shape, or form similar to these businesses and the people who truly take advantage of your product are not the people who pay the money, what are you waiting for?

Why would you not be advertising to your end user instead of your direct customer?

You know what’s the beauty of the advertising campaigns for end-users? They don’t have to be too complicated. You don’t even need to be exceptionally creative. All you need to be is consistent and present on the right channels.

If you look at Invisalign, orthodontic and dental professionals wouldn’t expect to consume medical content on social media, via billboards, or TV advertising. But the customers of their customers do.

Facility managers and companies are unlikely to be easily found just walking around train stations so they can stumble upon a demo of an Airblade dryer. But the general public will be.

HVAC professionals and builders are also not likely to be on Facebook looking for new types of thermostats. But their clients might be intrigued.

Parents are unlikely to be watching children TV shows and ads. But their kids are.

In all these examples some of the direct customers will also view the content via general advertising media which is absolutely perfect. You want this, because when they see something directed at their customers, they’re far more likely to be interested.

Why? Because if there’s going to be demand, they can clearly expand their business, make more profit, make their kids happy, whatever. This way you bypass the simple internal resistance that all of us experience when someone is trying to sell us something. You’re not selling to them, even though ironically, you rely on them quite a lot.

Are you ready now? If yes, then look at the customer of your customers, pinpoint the few (preferably up to three) most prominent pains they have and craft your advertising campaign.

You don’t need the most innovative, out-of-the-box advertising. All you need is clear message, easy-to-understand solution to their problems, and a call for action simple enough for them to follow through.

“Find an Invisalign provider near you”

“Available in your local toy store”

“Book a Salesforce demo”

“Talk to your heating provider about Nest smart thermostat”

Easy, right?

My name is Nina Alexander, and I hope you loved reading this as much as I loved writing it. Remember, the world is full of mysteries, and so is your potential. Keep exploring, stay curious, and as always, thanks for debullshifying one more topic with me.

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