Why you can’t afford to ignore customer networks

Every publisher selling content to institutions or companies will have encountered the complex topic of customer networks: the relationships between organisations and their parent and subsidiary parts. While difficult to understand and exploit, it’s important to get to grips with this area if you really want to understand your customers and make the most of your selling opportunities.

Defining a customer. As a fictitious example, let’s take the University of Life, which has various faculties including the Department of Hard Knocks, which itself contains the Urchin Library. It’s quite possible that you may sell at any or all of those different levels. And if you do, it’s important to understand how each relates to the others, and how sales at one level my affect your ability to sell at other levels.

Inherited rights. So, let’s assume that you have sold content to the University of Life. Does that then confer ‘inherited’ rights down to the Department of Hard Knocks? And do those rights continue on downwards to the Urchin Library? This is defined by the terms of each particular agreement, and a lack of clarity here can cast into doubt whether large numbers of faculties and libraries should be seen as existing sold-to customers, or potential new prospects.

Identifying prospects. When identifying potential new prospects to sell to, these ‘network effects’ are critical. Consider another scenario, whereby the Department of Hard Knocks and the Urchin Library are existing customers, but the main University of Life which sits above them isn’t. In that context, it’s probably a weaker prospect than another university with no pre-existing sales to any of its subsidiary parts. So, not only do we need to work hard to differentiate customers and prospects, there’s also the grey area of ‘strong’ vs ‘weak’ prospects.

Big deals. One final topic which often causes further headaches is the issue of big deals: special consortia or multi-site sales, grouping many institutions or companies under a single deal. Because these don’t fit neatly into some subscriptions systems, publishers often record these deals separately. While pragmatic, that can often mean that the highest-value and widest-ranging sales are sometimes the least visible, casting further doubt on the accuracy of any customer analysis.

So what’s the answer? The most important first step is to recognise that these challenges exist, and that they are fundamental to any sales and renewals strategy. There are tools and resources out there which can bring clarity to this tricky area, and many publishers are achieving great results with a combination of Ringgold’s Identify database and (yes, you guessed it) our own MasterVision product. MasterVision already supports hierarchy searching and visualisation, and we’ll be announcing a major new feature next month to bring even more clarity to this difficult area.