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“Help us to get more out of what we know!”

Knowledge-intensive B2B companies are a special breed. Unlike many simple consumer products that perform a straightforward function, their product offerings are often experts who can solve a wide variety of problems and take on greenfield challenges. Clearly communicating what the company can do, therefore, is difficult at best.

I’ve just returned from a very interesting meeting with a company that, measured in the ratio of subject matter experts to other types of employees, is at the far end of the knowledge-intensive scale. It comprises some 1200 staff, of which around 1000 are qualified experts in a wide variety of fields ranging from offshore energy to the monitoring of flexible pipes. In reality, the company is an umbrella for a multiple teams and individual subsidiaries and associate companies, all hard at work applying ideas and technologies to technically oriented challenges and opportunities.

I met with a divisional vice president and the division’s sales manager. The purpose was to share the experience and learnings from a 16 month-old Return on Knowhow project for a major food ingredients manufacturer. This is a project my team has conducted, providing both strategic analysis and planning as well as software-based platforms for knowledge sharing. The results have been astounding (in a positive way) and it’s an exciting case to consider from a variety of angles.

With so many in-house experts, and a long history of cases where this particular company’s expertise has been applied in the field, communicating what the company is actually capable of doing is no small task.  And the message from the vice president was clear: “We can bring a ton of value to all sorts of important projects, but our No. 1 business challenge is how to get more out of the knowhow that’s spread throughout the organization.”

Today, the company is typical of many knowledge-intensive B2B companies: in addition to the usual (to some degree) propaganda-based messagit runs a number of essentially offline newsletters. Staff attend trade shows, seminars, webinars and the like. Naturally, the company needs to continue with such activities – after all, these are essential meeting points for much of what drives the business. But I also suggested the company should consider establishing a pilot project that either took a Voice of Industry approach or a hybrid Voice of Company/Voice of Industry starting point.

The ideas were well received, and the task is now for the vice president and his team to work out which business areas might stand to gain from marketing the company’s knowhow via such a platform, and to gain a quick understanding of the potential business upsides if effort and resources were to be spent in this area. If this all looks promising, experience tells us there are good things in store for helping the company to generate a better return on its knowhow.

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Jonathan Winch

I’m Jonathan Winch, partner at cylindr and BBN International and a B2B marketing enthusiast. I've participated as a strategic and creative resource in the marketing and communication sphere for over 25 years, making contributions to the strategies and communications of companies of all sizes, the best known of which include Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, Danisco, GN ReSound, Hempel, Nokia Siemens Networks, LEGO, Coloplast, and Johnson & Johnson. My mission? To help B2B companies make the most of the value they create for the world. My hobby: Nutritional science, particularly sports nutrition.

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