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by Gary InwoodMar 19, 2016

by Gary InwoodMar 19, 2016

Improving the Effectiveness of B2B Promotions in Overseas Markets

Your products have a strong market position at home, but the situation is very different overseas where local competitors are strongly entrenched with high market share, overwhelming brand presence, and control of channel partners. What kind of approach to promotion would be effective?

The First Barrier to Entry

You have now reached the first real barrier to entry in an overseas market. Securing those initial customers is not the problem. The real problem arises when you attempt to grow your sales but cannot reduce your customer acquisition cost (CAC). Doing the same things as competitors will not create sufficient promotional inertia to lower CAC within a reasonable timeframe.

So how can you push past this first barrier to entry and establish clear positioning with potential users, with a much smaller budget than your competitors? The answer is increase the effectiveness of your promotions.

Discovery in User Workflow

One cost-effective means of avoiding a ‘Me-too’ promotion starts with discovery of user behaviors shown when your products are implemented in the user’s workflow. Specifically, two short periods of behavior are of interest.

  • Firstly, when users switch their attention from an unrelated activity to your product (i.e. Preparatory tasks).
  • Secondly, when users are finished with the main tasks involved in applying your product and are about to turn their attention to another product (i.e. Finishing tasks).
Diagram 1: User Tasks to Implement a B2B Product
User tasks to implement a B2B product

Note: B is your product. Look for discoveries in Preparatory and Finishing tasks.

For example, if the product in question was something like a motor or sensor, then you should observe what a design engineer actually does prior to incorporating the unit into his or her drawing. Does the engineer look at the vendor’s catalog to confirm product performance and how does he or she obtain the necessary 3D CAD data? You should also observe any other users of the product, such as technicians in the assembly phase, and quality assurance engineers in the testing phase to understand what they do to interface with your product.

Diagram 2: Understanding Your Customer’s Workflow
Understanding your customer's workflow

Note: Identify the users involved with your product and how it affects them.

Focusing on the preparatory and finishing tasks directs your discovery effort toward the ‘soft part’ of your product offering, which may be changed in overseas markets without affecting the uniform global hardware specification.

User-based Logic for Promotional Strategy

Observation of user actions required to interface with your product will enable you to understand the context in which it is used and the benefits it may bring to customer workflows. This contrasts with a conventional question-and-answer approach which would require users to understand and articulate their latent needs for ‘soft’ value-added features within the confines of a meeting room.

Focusing on preparatory and finishing tasks required to implement your product will allow you to:

  • Identify unfulfilled user requirements and opportunities to differentiate your product in promotional activity.
  • Improve the quality of your promotional strategy by establishing bounds for creative ideation. Promotional strategy will be anchored in user-based logic understood by key stakeholders (viz. Sales managers, Brand managers, Key Account managers, Product managers, and Country managers).
  • Lighten the burden on customers cooperating with your research as observation is less intrusive than a question-and-answer format. Fewer questions are required to clarify user behavior.

Maximizing the Discovery Experience

The purpose of studying preparatory and finishing user tasks is not to document the process itself, but to identify anomalies between your understanding and the experience of the user. When examined by a cross-functional team, these anomalies may result in discoveries which can be used in ideation sessions to develop unique promotional ideas.

You can increase the chance of discovery by:

  1. Developing a hypothesis together with key stakeholders prior to visiting the user. This will identify points for confirmation on-site.
  2. Observing users with different roles and experience levels. For example, junior engineers may be a potentially richer source of discovery as they are more prone to question established practices.
  3. Catching changes in facial expressions, questioning actions you do not understand and probing comments made by users. These may disguise uncertainty or frustration.
  4. Making a video or still photographic record and reviewing it with product engineers to identify any scenes that spark their interest.
  5. Reviewing your observation notes within 24 hours with key stakeholders, adding to them as much as possible while the experience is still fresh in your mind.
Diagram 3: Observation Process
Observation process

Note: Complete internal observation review within 24 hours.


Observation of users interacting with your products and the discoveries made will enable you to develop a promotional strategy and creative elements that are acceptable to internal stakeholders and resonate with external audiences.

With your strategy anchored in customer benefits, the relevance and effectiveness of your promotional activity will increase, and you will avoid falling into the trap of pursuing a tactics-driven promotional approach.