A graduate from Harvard's Law and Business schools, Adrian Slywotzky is a sought after business consultant, speaker, and writer.  Below, Adrian describes the qualities that make a business magnetic.

Curt: What does magnetism mean in the B2B world?

Adrian: Whenever I am speaking on the subject of magnetism, I always ask my audience, 'Does the term magnetic apply to the B2B world?'  Their answers are always fast and furious: 'You bet it does!' 

Something that's magnetic in B2B solves a cluster of problems.  How much money does the offer save the B2B customer? How much does the solution improve the customer's economics? Is it a low risk decision? Is it a career-enhancing decision? And most importantly for buyers in big companies, does the product or offer help the customer to effectively navigate through the politics of the decision-making process in their company?

In the B2C world, the critical aspect of being magnetic is the emotional resonance that the product has with the customer.  In the B2B world, being magnetic isn't just whether or not the solution radically improves the company's economics, either through lower capital, lower cost, or better sales. Rather, the critical aspect of being magnetic in the B2B world  means it applies to the whole relationship, including the political side that often dominates B2B decision making.

Curt: Let's look at this from a real world point of view. My company sells software.  How would a software product address the political structure of a company in order to enhance the chance of hitting a trigger point and becoming a magnetic product?

Adrian: It depends on whether it is a small or a large sale.  If the software product is sold into an IT organization and is implemented in a relatively small part of the organization, it very much depends on the relationship with the purchasing decision maker or the head of the IT department.  From their point of view, they see not only its functionality, but also the actual value it's providing to the company. They can report to their managers, 'This product saves us money, is easy to install, and is not disruptive in our business.'

If it's a large-ticket software product that requires layers of approval, then there's a whole set of techniques that must be considered, such as having prototypes that work or the product being tested in the company to ensure it's trouble-free.  That rounds out the other half of the equation.  It's not just functional and it not only saves the customer money, but also it's easy to acquire and implement, and there is very low risk around it.

Curt: It sounds like magnetism is a mirror of the hassle map.

Adrian: It definitely mirrors hassle map. You can always draw a hassle map for the end consumer, but the hassle map for the B2B customer is bigger, more complex, and richer in problems to be solved.  On top of this, of course, is a more complex purchasing process than is typical for a consumer. Being able to address not only the functionality, but also the purchasing process, will cause companies to be successful in the B2B world.

Curt: At my company, we sell time sheet software and our hassle map is long and extensive. To begin with, everybody hates timesheets!

Adrian: Correct, everybody.

Curt: Everybody!  How do I fix that?

Adrian: The point of departure for this research on demand was Vernon Hill (the founder of Commerce Bank). He recognized that everybody hated his bank.  Robin Chase recognized that everybody hated the hassles of car ownership and founded ZipCar.  London-based Julian Metcalfe recognized that everybody hated the soggy sandwiches that they had to eat and co-created Pret a Manger. 

The first thing to do is look around and see what exactly everybody hates and then turn that into a product that's ridiculously easy, painless and effortless to use.  Almost nobody gets it right on the first try.  Many great entrepreneurs have the right target in view, but then it still takes two or three years to go from good, to very good, to the kind of magnetic offer that makes the customer smile. At that point, in terms of economics and profitability, the customer can't stop talking about this wonderful, new product.

In fact, the answers to two simple questions can measure how magnetic an offer is relative to its competitors: 

  1. How many customers say I love this company or this product?  The best ones score 80-90% where their rivals score 20-30%. 
  2. The second question is even more important: how many times in the last month have you talked about this product in a positive way to others? 

I guarantee the answers will surprise you and will help you figure out how you stack up against your competitors.

As you can see from this interview, having a very good product is not enough.  The product has to be magnetic to get a customer's attention.  Stay tuned for the next installment of this interview series where Adrian describes what makes a customer actually buy your product rather than your competitor's.

Curt Finch is the CEO of Journyx.  Find more tips on how to make your business successful on his PM Blog.