Six elements of value that drive strategic B2B relationships

Do you know your customers’ deeper aspirations behind their purchasing decisions? Six elements of value are especially important to companies during times of uncertainty. Being aware of – and delivering on them – can translate into business value, grow stronger customer relationships and enhance loyalty.

In B2B relations, purchasing decisions are highly complex, driven by a broad spectrum of both functional and emotional values. Even values of a personal nature can play an important role in business purchases. Can you recognise how your customers perceive the value you deliver, or intend to deliver, beyond just weighing the price?

Once you recognise what truly propels customers to buy your products or services, you can use this information to enhance your core value proposition, either by improving or adding new elements to the existing offering.

Companies that master this will benefit from greater competitive advantages, stronger B2B relationships and more loyal customers. In fact, there is nearly a one-to-one statistical relationship between performance on the elements of value that are most important to customers and customer loyalty!

However, value is difficult to pin down. There is usually a big gap between a company’s self-assessment of its value offering and the actual customer experience. To quantify which elements customers truly value, Bain & Company has created a model, Elements of Value, to guide companies in delivering value combinations that best answer customer needs.

The 40 Elements of Value

The Elements of Value are based on customer studies conducted by Bain & Company over three decades, examining what matters most to buyers. Based on this research, 40 fundamental elements of value were identified for the B2B sector and sorted into five categories in a structure based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; table stakes, functional, ease of doing business, individual and inspirational

Creating value in uncertain times

It’s important to take into account that the elements of value most important to customers are not static, and can shift overnight. They can also vary throughout the customer journey and depending on what journey phase the customer is in. 

Also, when faced with highly unusual circumstances, such as the one we are currently in, clients’ focus, behaviour and attitudes naturally shift. This requires companies to adapt and rethink how they deliver value to customers. 

So, what are the most significant values for companies in the B2B sector at the moment? To help guide companies, Bain & Company has identified the current six most important elements of value that drive strategic B2B relationships when your customers are facing challenging times:

  • Social responsibility: helps the customer be more socially responsible
  • Reduced anxiety: helps buyers and others in the organisation feel more secure
  • Availability: ensures the good or service is available when and where needed
  • Stability: is a stable company for the foreseeable future
  • Risk reduction: protects the customer against loss or unnecessary risk
  • Flexibility: moves beyond standard goods or services to allow customisation

Converting the Elements of Value to Business Value 

There are many opportunities in converting these six elements of value to concrete actions and business value. What is most essential is to find an approach that suits your market and customers optimally, and that supports your value proposition.  

Social responsibility: Healthy environment, healthy people

  • Help customers go green by offering digital invoices and encourage clients to do the same.
  • Facilitate virtual challenges for clients to encourage them to stay healthy while working from home. What about arranging a step competition, or attending an online yoga class together?

Reduce anxiety: Be a strategic partner

  • Some of your customers are struggling to make ends meet at the moment ask them how you can help!
  • Go beyond just delivering a product or service, and follow up, give advice and demonstrate that you understand their challenges and business needs.
  • Focus on keeping a human touch with customers in the digital space.

Availability: Virtual communication

  • Look into creating virtual training, e-learning and online webinars. If you already have virtual material, make sure to enlighten customers about it.
  • Offer more flexible opening hours for support, and look into creating new and accessible communication channels such as chat solutions. 

Stability: Demonstrate by show and tell

  • Information is key. Be transparent and honest about the situation.
  • Demonstrate how your company operates to stay open for business for your customers with concrete examples.

Risk reduction: Support those in need

  • Reach out to your customers and ask how they are doing with the global situation as a person, not just as a customer.
  • Provide your customers with relevant industry statistics that can enable them to make adjustments in their current business according to their local market situation.

Flexibility: Go the extra mile to make your offering flexible

  • Check the possibilities to provide the customer with a feature especially valuable at this time as a trial. 
  • Are your customers fully utilising your product or are they paying for features they aren’t using? Offering only essential features, providing in-person services remotely or reducing the number of users on a short-term basis can help customers save money and continue to run core processes.

4 tips to get started with the Elements of Value

In Visma, we use the elements of value as a strategic tool when mapping the customer journey to better understand our customers’ underlying motivation for buying and using our software and services. Here are our top tips on how to get started using the Elements of Value model:

1. Talk to customers in person

Going out and talking to customers in person is key to understanding their experience and to learn which values matter most to them across the different phases in the customer journey. When conducting customer interviews, we find that customers appreciate being able to open up and share the satisfactions and frustrations when using our products and services. 

This insight is extremely valuable in providing a deeper understanding of their underlying motivation and values. We commonly interview between 5-10 customers per product, depending on varieties in segments and locations. 

2. Use gamification

We turn parts of the interviews into a game. The customers receive elements of value cards and are asked to pick the values that are important and not important to them before prioritisation. 

On the back of the cards, we write a description of the value to ensure that it is clear what the value means. The customers are then asked to place the value in which phase of the customer journey it is most relevant, and select the three most important values and least important values to them. 

This exercise is highly interesting as the customers openly reflect upon how the different values matter to them, as well as how they experience Visma delivering on them. 

3. Ideation on how we deliver on the values

Furthermore, we look into what the most common elements of values the customers listed are and look further into how this fits into our current value proposition, where there are gaps and where we can adjust and improve our offering. 

Involving various stakeholders in the organisation, often present in different stages in the customer journey, is key to progress and implement the findings throughout the organisation. 

4. Get customer feedback

Brainstorming innovation ideas with customers using the elements of value is a great way of turning ideas into concrete improvement suggestions. As each of the elements of value have associations attached, it makes it easier to evaluate which idea will bring more added value in return.

Learn more about how Visma uses technology to support businesses, organisations and the society through challenging events in the video.

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