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Case Study: B2B Intangibles

Case Study: B2B Intangibles

| On 06, Mar 2018

Darrell Mann

Everyone involved in the Business-to-Consumer world is at least beginning to understand the importance of designing for the unspoken intangible outcomes customers are looking for. A lot of times those in the B2B world still don’t get it. We’ll hear sentences like, ‘the contract manager is simply looking to get us to reduce our prices’, or ‘it’s all about legal compliance; so long as we’re compliant, that’s all they want’.

We thought a project with a B2C client with a number of adjacent B2B functions might be useful to let the B2B world see what they’re missing out on. The story started a couple of years ago. For what will probably soon become obvious reasons, the name of the client has been removed from the story. We have their permission to ‘adapt’ the story…

Which begins with their Patent Department. A significant number of the Customer-facing people within the organization understand the ABC-M model and its relationship to mapping customer outcomes. Here’s what they suggested to the Patent Department people as a way of rethinking their relationship with their ‘customer’ – the Patent Examiner at the Patent Office:

Figure 1: ABC-M Intangible Outcomes Model Inserted Into Outcome Map

It was the first time the Patent Department had seen the model. After getting used to the idea that the Patent Examiner was a ‘customer’, and even more strangely, a customer with human needs and wishes, they proceeded to use the ABC-M model as a way of mapping the outcomes that might drive the Examiner’s behavior.

As in the consumer world, the ABC-M model starts from the premise that we don’t need to directly go and talk to customers in order to understand what drives their emotional behavior. Figure 2 reproduces some of the thoughts written down by the Patent Department team when asked to think about the outcomes their Examiner ‘customers’ were looking for:

Figure 2: ABC-M Intangible Outcomes Map For Patent Application Submission

Suddenly the very transactional, anonymous relationship that the Department had previously assumed was inherent to their dealings with the Patent Office didn’t look quite as cut and dried as they’d previously assumed. The Examiner has ABC-M needs. And so does their boss.

How to make the Examiner into a ‘hero’ in the eyes of their boss? That became a question worthy of a good answer. This was already quite a turn-around. The Examiner up to this point had been seen as some kind of adversary. The guardian of officialdom. Now, it seemed, they were a friend in need. Albeit one that was somewhat remote and inaccessible.

This seemed like an intriguing conflict. We had a quick look at the Business Contradiction Matrix.

One of the Inventive Principles to unexpectedly turn up was number 9, ‘Prior Counter-Action.

And from there came the following idea: normally, we seek to write the best possible invention disclosure we can. No matter how good we make it, it always seems like the Examiner comes back with some kind of a query. How about if we write a ‘less good’ invention disclosure. One, for example, that contains a mistake or two. Not obvious mistakes, but ones that the Examiner will have to work to find?

This way, maybe, everyone gets to win: the Examiner gets to find a problem so they get a big tick from their boss, ‘well done, I can see how diligent you were’. The Examiner’s boss gets to feel that his team is working hard. The inventor, maybe, gets to avoid the problem of Examiners inventing things to challenge them on. The whole system works more smoothly. A contradiction is solved.