What can B2B companies learn from the B2C world? Do B2B businesspeople need to change their mindset to drive growth in a digital age? Award-winning marketer Julie Roehm discussed these questions and more on a recent episode of the ValuClarity podcast with Mark Boundy.
Julie Roehm is an award-winning marketing executive known for her forward-thinking leadership style and her ability to execute transformational turnarounds. She has held roles such as Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), Chief Experience Officer (CXO), Board Director, and Chief Storyteller over the past 30 years, and she’s worked in executive positions at major companies like Ford Motor Company, DaimlerChrysler, SAP and Party City.
Roehm learned early in her career that many B2B businesses lacked an understanding of the end customer—their customer’s customer. She developed this into a customer-centric style of leadership that led to a career of successful digital transformations and business movements.
The following article contains key takeaways from the enlightening conversation between Julie Roehm and Mark Boundy.
Julie Roehm: What B2B Companies Often Forget
Julie Roehm began the conversation on the ValuClarity podcast by speaking about a weakness common in B2B strategies.
She mentioned that B2Bs often forget that they must appeal to the needs of an individual decision-maker—or potentially many individuals who are part of a company—if they want to offer the best possible service and find new customers.
“In a consumer-based business, your customer is still a customer, even if they’re a business person,” she says. “It’s still an individual, and I think people forget that when they’re in B2B. They think company to company.”
In order to convince individuals to buy, salespeople must understand what motivates them. In Roehm’s experience, the major motivator of most businesses lies in their ability to drive sales to their customers—the end customers.
Roehm learned this early in her career at Ford Motor Company, where she was in charge of selling vehicles to dealerships. The lessons learned at Ford led Roehm to develop B2B2C strategies—and entire B2B2C divisions—dedicated to understanding the needs of end customers to drive B2B sales.
Julie Roehm’s B2B2C Origins at Ford
At Ford, Julie Roehm was thrust into her first B2B role after business school as a vehicle wholesaler.
Every month, she was expected to meet a sales quota, but she could only accomplish that if the dealers (her customers) were able to make sales. Her success relied completely on the success of her customer, which relied on converting the end consumer. In her words, this helped her develop a B2B2C mindset “very, very quickly.”
“I was the salesperson, but I was the advocate helping my dealers be successful because once they were successful, I could then wholesale them a whole bunch more cars, which made me successful,” she explains. “So, it was already a B2B2C mindset, even though my true business in that particular job was B2B.”
This approach to B2B sales had a major impact on the rest of Roehm’s career.
“That [approach]is exactly what has carried me through in terms of my thinking, without really realizing it all the way through,” she says.
The Importance of Customer-centric Leadership
“Customer-centric” is a term that Julie Roehm has used to define most of her career. For B2B businesses, customer-centric means being aware of your customer’s motivations—or the customer’s customer. This growth mindset must be shared by the company’s leadership, and it often requires a shift in strategy to a more B2C perspective.
Roehm learned during her time as Chief Storyteller at the global software firm SAP. In this position, she helped shift SAP from a “company-oriented” brand to a customer-centric one by transforming the way that salespeople interact with clients.
She speaks about one client, Harley Davidson, as an example.
SAP was not successful in pitching software only to IT departments and executives. It needed to appeal to Harley Davidson’s entire C-suite in order to explain how SAP could improve the company’s ability to appeal to its customers and sell more bikes.
“What are we going to do for Harley Davidson that’s actually going to allow them to be more successful for their customer?” she asks. “That’s the way into the entire C-suite because now you’re helping…. You’re now in the mindset of every executive at Harley Davidson, who is thinking about what they need to do to evolve and sell more and become more relevant to Harley Davidson motorcycle buyers.”
Roehm reminds listeners of how important unified leadership is when taking this customer-centric approach. It’s not just a sales tactic. It’s a strategy that builds enduring relationships with customers.
“If you’re doing it right, that [strategy]never ends because their business never ends. And the cycles that they’re going through are always changing,” she says. “And so, if we’re with them, we can stay with them in lockstep and maybe even ahead of them.”
How Customer-centric Strategies Drive B2B Digital Transformations
Understanding the needs of end customers is the key to uncovering new revenue streams and opportunities for B2B companies. And in a digital world, B2Bs can operate with much more agility to create solutions that solve their customer’s problems.
But, this agility can only be achieved when employing a B2B2C (customer-centric) strategy—a strategy that takes into account a company’s mission and end customers instead of a single department or buyer.
Julie Roehm encourages B2Bs to study the needs of their customers’ customers and use this information to build new digital solutions and products.
For example, during Roehm’s time as Chief Experience Officer (CXO) for a major B2B/B2C retailer, Party City, she discovered a new opportunity while researching the end customer. In this case, these customers were birthday-goers at popular birthday destinations, such as Sky Zone.
“Those poor people have to come to [a party store], and a bakery, and God knows where else, to buy the stuff to schlep it to Sky Zone to host their party,” Roehm says of the typical end customer’s experience. “Well, why wouldn’t we just API our solution to Sky Zone? So, we curated an assortment of different birthdays… Spider-Man, princess, unicorn, whatever it is. And when the customer goes to book their party, there’s a link immediately. You don’t even have to leave the page.”
The success of this digital solution spurred the creation of a new B2B2C division, spearheaded by Julie Roehm, which would catalyze several other customer-centric digital transformations at the company.
“We built another division of the company by just looking at that customer experience and the insight,” she says. “So again, it was all in a B2B mindset, but because we understand the end user better than anybody, we can actually help create B2B businesses.”
More from Julie Roehm
As Julie Roehm and Mark Boundy wrapped up the ValuClarity podcast, Roehm gave a few hints regarding her future.
“I’m looking beyond the CMO, beyond the CXO, something a bit broader because the things I’ve done are broader in scope,” she says. “So, we’ll see. There’s a lot of interesting prospects out there.”
In particular, she mentioned a desire to work in private equity, as PE acquisitions are in need of the transformational changes that Roehm is known for.
In the meantime, you can learn more about Julie Roehm on her podcast, The Conversational, where she hosts top business and thought leaders to discuss transformative moments in their lives.