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How many firms throw open their doors to the business community, essentially offering access to trade secrets so other companies can learn and grow? Zappos does this-in fact, the online shoe retailer has created an entire division devoted to the effort, called Zappos Insights. Based on the company's core value of open and honest communication, Zappos conducts business-to-business marketing in an unusual way: giving away information for free. Zappos, an Amazon company, is well known among other businesses for two things it does extremely well: providing top-notch customer service and building a culture that spreads happiness. Zappos' focus on customer service was born of necessity. When it started in the late 1990s, the company didn't have any money to market the novel idea of online shoe selling. So its founders sank everything they had into customer service, including the idea of free shipping both ways. As the company built its business and its reputation, it also created a culture in which people liked to work. "It's an environment where people are in service to each other," explains Robert Richman, product manager for Zappos Insights. Zappos' expertise in customer service has become a product itself, as Zappos Insights offers training to other firms in how to do what it does so well.
Access to the Zappos culture starts for free, with a tour of the company and information available to everyone online. From there, businesses can join Zappos Insights and pay for various levels of training, such as a two-day onsite boot camp at Zappos or a customized program conducted at an individual company's location. Membership benefits include training modules on leadership development, techniques for keeping team members engaged and empowered, and strategies for delivering Zappos' signature "WOW" service to customers. At a one-day seminar, a business owner or executive learns applications for tenets such as "culture drives success," "getting the culture right," "getting the right people on board," "creating a fun physical environment creates energy," and "communication is everything, and everything is communication." These aren't just taglines. They are organizational values that Zappos has proved to be successful.
Zappos segments its B2B customers by sifting through the data it has collected on companies that request the free portion of its program and determining what kind of business they do (customer type) as well as how they might use Zappos training to further their business (end-use application). In essence, explains Richman, it's about "offering a lot of free value and then seeing who wants to go deeper." In fact, Zappos Insights doesn't advertise or send direct email; for the most part, companies come to them. They may be as varied as Google, Eli Lilly, and Intuit-but they all want one thing: a culture driven by customer service. Why isn't Zappos worried about sharing its methods? "Culture can't be duplicated because it's based on people," says Richman. "So because of that, it's completely different when transferred from company to company."
The decision for an organization to pay for an in-depth membership to Zappos Insights requires consideration of certain factors, such as price (there are several levels) and availability (businesses can attend workshops and seminars at Zappos, or have Zappos come to them). The buying situation itself varies as well. As a client enters into a new relationship with Zappos Insights, it's a newtask purchase. Managers are involved not only in the purchase but probably in the experience itself. If a company continues its membership, adding services, upgrading, or renewing, it becomes a modified rebuy. Reciprocity also occurs, as some of Zappos' vendors are enrolled in the Zappos Insights program.
When you think about strategies for businesses marketing to each other, you might not necessarily consider the strategy of delivering happiness. But Zappos Insights places the concept of happiness in the business environment at the top of its list. The training programs offered by Zappos Insights "play into the larger vision of delivering happiness, because we are essentially training the people who are responsible for hundreds of thousands of other people," says Richman. "We've seen the trickle effect." As Zappos trains companies to build places where employees like to work, all those employees deliver better experiences to their customers. "It's a rising tide that raises all boats," Richman muses. "If we create stronger cultures, everybody in business will have better relationships."
Questions For Critical Thinking
1. Describe the buyer-seller relationship between Zappos Insights and its business clients.
2. How would you classify the business market demand for Zappos Insights training? Explain your answer.