Creating transparency in B2B

Creating transparency in B2B

Most marketers have some idea of what business ‘transparency’ should look like for the customer, but in practice, different sectors and sizes of business bring different challenges. Here we look at what a truly transparent business looks like for a B2B organisation.

For many B2B organisations, transparency and openness are becoming increasingly important components of, and a focus for, businesses. This is being driven by the growing demands – and expectations – from customers and partners throughout the supply chain.

While the need to meet consumer expectations of transparency, in terms of integrity, honesty, sustainability and openness, is familiar territory for marketers in the consumer space, what does this mean for B2B organisations?

Competitive advantage

Transparency not only helps an organisation meet customer expectations, it can also provide a B2B business with a competitive advantage, helping to foster trust and open communication, both internally and externally.

Abe Smith, president EMIA of Cision and formerly a VP at Oracle, believes this is essential: “We take transparency very seriously – employees, partners and suppliers all demand it. For the market, transparency is extremely beneficial because of the trust that's created between the client and the company. There has to be a sense that an organisation is being authentic with its clients, and open and real with them,” he says.

“You also get a happier and more engaged workforce. Employees, for example, crave information; they want the information [the organisation is sharing], they want to be a part of the good and the bad. They also value the fact that leadership has enough faith in them to include them in discussions, strategy formation, and other considerations.” That culture can also impact positively on an organisation’s ability to attract and retain talent in a competitive market, as well as encouraging internal advocacy.

So how is this transparent culture developed?

“Best-in-class B2B companies that believe in transparency build a core identity around values – and are steeped in the right values,” Smith explains. “They balance this by using the right tools and methods for delivering that transparency. They align with best-in-class marketing inside their organisations (which lives and breathes transparency themselves as a marketing organisation) and shape a strategy around internal and external communications. And they respect and consider the importance of regulatory compliance.”

Business attitude

The process of creating transparency in a B2B operation is, of course, likely to be easier in some organisations than others. For example, a firm operating within the start-up ecosystem may find transparency, collaboration and openness come more naturally than for a large, more mature legacy organisation. The latter may therefore have to be more deliberate and thoughtful in how it delivers transparency. For instance, a publicly-listed company may have to take into account more rigorous regulatory considerations, and exert greater vigilance when it comes to corporate compliance.

However, according to Smith, the first requirement is the want to be transparent. “Whether it’s a FTSE 350 company, a start-up, or a mid-sized company, the ethos, the philosophy, starts right at the top. That usually inspires and attracts a certain kind of employee and a certain kind of customer.”

Businesses that want to be transparent can leverage tools that encourage transparency, Smith says. Cision, for instance, uses enterprise social network tools such as Yammer that can help foster a transparent culture inside an organisation, while tools such as SharePoint can enable the company to broadcast and publish easily to “everybody, anywhere, anytime”. But at the same time, external-facing platforms can allow customers to not only communicate openly with the organisation, but also among themselves.

“Stimulating that kind of conversation among your employers internally, using social networks, or your client externally using tools like Cision City (an online community), clients can share information about how they benefit, how they use the system, how they interact, what they like, and what they don’t like.” This, alongside other open forums, can be used to bring together suppliers, clients and partners to share ideas and best practice in an open environment.

Smith cites examples from several next generation companies, such as Amazon and Google, as well as many smaller start-ups.

But, for traditional B2B enterprises – with an inherently larger client base, workforce and supply chain – this collaborative approach can offer huge opportunities for developing the business in a transparent way.

“Their willingness to inspire a shared philosophy and a transparent, open mentality would create wildfire inside of those groups – employees, customer or suppliers,” Smith says. “But that does have to be inspired; when you’re that size, you have to thoughtfully provoke it and you have to thoughtfully move that customer.”

Marketing’s role

The marketing department should be a catalyst for driving that change. Simon Theakston, co-founder and managing director of data-tech services provider, SBDS, also believes that transparency can be achieved through strong collaborative relationships with clients and partners – and this is something marketing should take the lead on building.

Marketing takes the lead on creating a platform for the leadership team to demonstrate expertise, and essentially builds a rapport with the wider industry in which the company operates,” Theakston says. “Having a trustworthy ‘face’ that talks confidently and openly about the organisation creates a solid level of transparency. This also encourages staff throughout the business to act in the same way.”

Marketing also leads on creating clear business messages and branding, making the purpose of the company completely transparent for current clients, new business and its own people.

What sometimes holds back some organisations is the time factor and the prioritisation of traditional goals, Smith concedes. “Marketers are sometimes faced with the day-to-day and can forget that their responsibilities – like all other parts of the organisation – are to think, live and breathe this type of openness and collaboration.”

Putting the right tools in place to promote and foster transparency will help accelerate this process, and make it easier to achieve it in an effective way. The marketer also has a critical role in collaborating with executives to bring these programmes of transparency into fruition.

Find out how social media could transform your B2B marketing.

Phil Lattimore Journalist and Editor
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