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Aug 31, 2021

B2B communication in global markets

B2B communication in global markets

The impact of the pandemic, and its multiple consequences, made companies experience, and continue to live, countless challenges, forcing management to think differently.

This adaptation and redefinition goal has gone through, and will also go through, the full integration of the digital transformation, new forms of Communication as a survival factor and the commitment to a more effective Communication strategy, which enhances the relationship with stakeholders.

In a context of particular relevance of B2B exporting companies for economic growth, given the goals of Portuguese exports reaching 50 percent of GDP in 2027, it is important to understand how these companies look at the way they communicate, which trends are conditioning the market and what paths open up to a more competitive and successful management of Communication.

An unexpected reality

The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic declared in March 2020 by the World Health Organization (WHO) highlighted that the world we currently live in can be described under the acronym VUCA(H), considering those traits that best characterize it: the “Volatility”, the “Uncertainty” (Uncertainty), the “Complexity”, the “Ambiguity”, and even the “Hyperconnectivity”.

Companies were surprised by a scenario that few, if any, had considered in their strategic plans. This event, classified by many as unexpected and, by others, as predictable, but not resolved, forced nations, markets, organizations, families and individuals to have to redefine their routines and, at times, even rethink the its purpose.

In 2020 and already half of 2021, the words most heard in different contexts are dominated by the jargon of Public Health: "pandemic", "confinement" and "group immunity", but for companies, the engines of the national economy, the " concern” “resilience” and “adaptation” marked this year and a half, which was one of learning and transition.

Today, the priority of companies is the survival of the business, being necessary to ensure the sustainability of the operation, guaranteeing jobs, responding to commitments with suppliers and adapting to the new global environment. On the other hand, it is also necessary to look to the future, so that this scenario does not repeat itself without proactive response plans.

National exporting companies

The national economy has shown an export trend over the last five years, while the country had started a path of growth, which remained solid in early 2020. However, this pandemic brought a scenario of enormous uncertainty and heavily penalized the export sector .

Exports proved to be, in the first phase of the current crisis, the component of GDP that suffered the greatest fall, contributing significantly to the contraction of economic activity. Between 2019 and 2020, the value of exports dropped 20,9 percent.

The most optimistic view points out that, as soon as the effects of the pandemic subside, some gradual normality will return after 2021, and it is expected that in the area of ​​exports there will be growth above that of Europe and the world, confirming the continued competitiveness of the products and Portuguese services.

The objective is clear and has already been announced: to go from an export weight of 44 percent in 2019 to 50 percent in 2027 and 53 percent in 2030, increasing the number of exporting companies from 21.500 to 25 thousand at the end of the decade and the average number of foreign markets to which companies export from 4,3 in 2019 to 4,7 in 2030.

The challenges of B2B exporting companies

The role in society and business dynamics of B2B companies, specifically exporters, are unquestionably different from those we associate with companies with a focus on the final consumer.

The present moment presents new challenges, namely in terms of managing the relationship with customers and other stakeholders, as well as how organizations can contribute to helping society and the business fabric to look to the future with more confidence and capacity of implementation and focus. The feeling of resilience and transformation can thus spill over to companies, to help customers, consumers and society in general to overcome the current situation.

By specifically focusing on B2B companies with a focus on exports, we know that the phenomena of valuing the offer produced in Portugal are understood as a way of showing a level of quality and innovation that rivals that of other geographies. In some sectors of activity, or better, in some market niches, made in Portugal strategies have worked as a lever for promotion across borders. However, the pandemic has brought a more attentive public, which values ​​trends associated with local production and connected to the “land”, that is, it privileges an offer seen as more genuine and the dynamization of what it understands as “its own”. Consumers today value their country's brands more and may even be willing to pay more for the products
because they originate in its territory.

Given this scenario, the need arose to understand how the role of Communication is understood in managing the relationship with the stakeholders of national B2B companies with a focus on exports, which were forced to rethink a set of assumptions assumed until then as valid. If, in international terms, several studies have been carried out on the importance of Communication in the creation of trusting relationships, in extolling excellent products or in enhancing the optimization of production chains, we know little or nothing about the situation in Portugal.

New expectations and solutions

The last year has shown that Portuguese companies are highly resilient, having managed to adapt quickly when they came to the conclusion that they had to do something different to survive in a context of new challenges. But did they know how to communicate?

The pressure placed on the need to sell and to guarantee the operation forced us to look for different formulas, when those used until then could not be used – events, networking, meetings and fairs could no longer happen. Traditional contact points were lost and obstacles to the relationship, which are fundamental to B2B Communication, emerged.

This was the moment when many companies started to worry about Communication and try to understand which path they could take. They then turned to what they could do, whether it was the use of a website, social media platforms or the creation of a newsletter, and considered how to continue to communicate, whether through commercial, technical or corporate communication.

With this attempt at an answer, a phenomenon of enormous proliferation of contents happened. But content, like any other tool, requires planning. In a digital context where audiences are increasingly saturated, less is more and it is important to have a coherent message and keep the relevant brand in a true “sea” of information and noise.

The relevant role of Communication

The basis for getting the message across is in history. To enter, or be in, a particular market, telling a compelling, exciting, and compelling story is as important today as it ever was. A good and very well told story
continues to make a difference, whatever the nature of the brand.

If it is true that B2B companies ultimately depend on the sale of their products or services, and that in this typology of organizations in particular, Knowledge Communication, or Technical Communication, is a fundamental element, which adds value to the entire process of negotiation and allows distinguishing companies, institutional communication, or identity, is the one that transmits trust and originality. And it is trust that is at the base of the relationship.

This is where it matters to talk about Communication. There is sometimes the understanding that Communication is a mere transmission of information between a sender and a receiver. Managing Communication is, in reality, managing interaction and seeking negotiation and cooperation with a particular objective. Communication allows companies to give meaning and add value to their activity. That is why it is so relevant to think about it when we are talking about managing the relationship with stakeholders. Communication supports a set of processes that are the basis of the B2B environment: trust, credibility, cooperation, clarity and knowledge.

If in B2B Communication relationships are everything, it is the brand and reputation that will help to consolidate this relationship. For a company, it is more important than ever to think in the long term, enhancing resilience and connection with the market. Here, the value of trust and reputation takes pride of place as a crucial element in a Communication strategy
broadened that makes the brand recognized and legitimizes it with those for whom it is addressed, with clear effects in all dimensions of the business.

Relationships continue and will continue to be the foundation of the business. There are now more opportunities to work in partnership and holistically, with contacts established with different stakeholders, across multiple sectors, geographies and platforms. Communication emerges as a function with growing importance, assuming a priority position in the strategic thinking of several companies.

We have entered a “golden age” to really understand the importance of strategically communicating and managing an organization's stakeholders and understanding that only with highly planned actions will we be able to achieve the goals we set ourselves.

Companies are required, today and in the future, to be able to globally address the communication process, demonstrating, at every moment, coherence, cadence and continuity, having a strategic approach, mapping and managing all stakeholders and, through these different areas of specialization, reach them all.

The answer to a post-pandemic world

The post-pandemic world will demand more transparency and trust. It will be essential for companies to increase their reputation and build and consolidate their relationship with all agents in the value chain, from the basic raw material supplier to the end customer, passing through all other relevant stakeholders, such as employees, partners , regulatory bodies or government. It is crucial to make innovation known, build synergies and cooperate in a space for dialogue.

Yes, it is possible for a company to survive without communicating. But it will be more efficient and profitable if it manages the Communication processes in a planned and intentional way and ensures a productive connection with the stakeholders that are essential to its activity. We live in a period of rethought relationships, but the need to establish relationships, and to do so through Communication, has not been lost. We can even argue that these are now more relevant than ever.

Communication is now emerging as a function with growing importance, assuming a new priority position in the strategic thinking of several companies. Considered as the “voice” of brands, Communication is, at a time when the relationship between organizations and their stakeholders is even more important, an anchor to inspire confidence and undertake the successful transition to a post-pandemic world.

4 QUESTIONS ABOUT COMMUNICATION

1. What is the role of Communication in building and managing relationships with stakeholders in Portuguese companies with a B2B focus and export?

The scenario we have been living with for the last year and a half, which few could have considered in their strategic planning, surprised companies and forced them to adapt in order to ensure their survival. Faced with this scenario of current and future challenges, Communication also has a role in the transformation to be carried out, and it is now being considered by companies and integrated into a global business strategy.

With the restrictions imposed on the movement of people, proximity to the customer becomes an added obstacle, and apparently most of the contact points for establishing relationships and building trust seem to have almost disappeared. In order to maintain communication channels of a personalized, genuine nature and sustained in proximity, companies had to reinvent themselves in different relationship management formats that were different from those they were used to.

Communication thus emerges as an increasingly important function, now assuming a priority position in the strategic thinking of several companies. Considered as the “voice” of brands, Communication is, at a time when the relationship between organizations and their stakeholders takes on even more importance, an anchor to undertake the transition to a post-pandemic world in order to reach the market and establishes commercial partnerships.

2. In your opinion, what is the importance of Communication for the business success of Portuguese B2B companies focused on exports?

The need and importance for companies to intentionally build and manage relationships with different stakeholders in their value chain is now more evident. The communication process, understood as a strategic function
comprehensive, allows companies not only to sell products and services, but also to gain notoriety and cement reputation, making them more successful in achieving their business goals.

When betting on new markets, brand recognition is a determining factor for accelerating business success. In foreign markets, where space is often still sought after, it is essential to work on reputation and reputation with Communication actions that contribute to development
commercial and operational.

In the logic of the B2B business, the customer must be seen as a partner with whom it is necessary to build and manage a relationship of trust in a medium/long-term perspective. Therefore, it will make sense to understand Communication as the
relationship management with key partners and stakeholders for the development of a successful business activity.

It is possible for a company to survive without communicating, but it will be more efficient if it intentionally and strategically manages the Communication processes with different stakeholders. In the current context, investment in building this relationship is decisive and promises to be a fundamental advantage in the post-pandemic world.

3. Do you consider that exporting B2B companies are now more dedicated to investing in communication issues?

It appears that, in a large number of companies, the absence of an organized and transversal Communication structure, which is merely referred to the concepts of sales and marketing support. A Communication
only operational tailored to the interlocutor or even without any relation to the strategic objectives seems to be the reality in the vast majority of our business fabric.

More than 1/4 of the companies surveyed in the "InterComm Report" study do not believe that Communication has a strategic relevance and/or do not yet give it a prominent place in the paths to be traced, and although customers and employees are obviously at the top of mind of these organizations, more than 20 percent do not have a continuous and assiduous relationship with other stakeholders, namely their suppliers and partners.

There are few companies that are truly awake and aware of the benefits of giving space so that Communication, understood in a broad sense and that is not limited to the Communication of a product/service under the responsibility of the commercial departments, can contribute to the competitiveness of organizations.

Only a small percentage, with a different size and maturity, understands and manages in a different way the matters associated with its Communication, making investments in terms of institutional communication and exploring other communication channels - for example the media or social networks – and establishing relationships with industry associations and other strategic partners. Perhaps we can infer that companies that accepted the challenge of participating in this project have good practices to share or, not having them, are aware of the importance of investing in a different way in Communication in the short/medium-term.

4. What advice can you provide to a B2B exporting company that intends to strengthen its investment in Communication?

Today, companies are required to be able to globally address Internal Communication, Digital Communication, reputation issues - which are the structuring bases to guide all other areas of intervention of the
Communication –, the relationship with the media, sustainability, risk management and crisis communication, event management, and all other actions that can be streamlined with the objective of creating leads. It is essential to always seek to demonstrate coherence, cadence and continuity, with a strategic approach, mapping and managing all stakeholders and, through these different areas of specialization, reaching them all.

Faced with various dimensions of Communication and the growing importance of new channels, the most important thing is to learn to be coherent and to work Communication in a truly integrated way. Reaching not only new customers, but all stakeholders is the big challenge.

We need to work the brand in a way that explains who we are and why they should trust us. The value proposition has to be creative and disruptive. It is important to reassess the relationships with all stakeholders and the channels where there are more results. The way we relate to each other has changed with the recent scenario. Communication, as well as the perception of this dimension and its application, must accompany this transformation.

 

BY ANA RAPOSO, TEACHER AT THE SUPERIOR SCHOOL OF SOCIAL COMMUNICATION AND PRO-PRESIDENT FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATION OF THE LISBON POLYTECHNIC, AND MARTA GONÇALVES, MANAGING PARTNER DA SAYU CONSULTING

 

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