A B2B firm involved in a sexual harassment scandal, a data security breach or other “high stakes” issue is at risk of losing eight out of 10 customers, according to a survey conducted by Hotwire Communications.
In its report, High-Stakes Leadership In A Post-B2B World, the New York-based firm makes a statistical connection between the values and attitudes of consumers and the extent to which it mirrors their outlook while making purchasing decisions on the job. High stakes issues — in other words, a public relations crisis of some kind — can range from a lack of pay equity and gender diversity to criminal offences. If B2B firms didn’t handle such crises well, 82 per cent of consumers surveyed said they would consider ending their relationship with a brand as a supplier or vendor.
Though a communications firm like Hotwire obviously wants to draw attention to the need for its services, the research sample was extensive. The company hired a third party to conduct three different surveys across eight countries, including the U.S., the U.K. and Australia. The respondents included more than 650 CMOs, about the same number of other business executives and more than 6,000 consumers.
The data reflected some regional differences in which issues are more high-stakes than others. On a global level, for example, environmental problems came ahead of crises involving sexual harassment, while in the U.S. immigration and wage gaps were lightning rods. More than three-quarters of consumers said their personal beliefs inform their purchasing decisions, and 50 per cent said they had stopped working with a vendor who acted in a way contrary to their values.
Although 70 per cent of business leaders say they worry about facing a PR scandal, meanwhile, only 31 per cent of B2B marketers said their firm’s core values would help guide them through one.
“It’s not only consumer brands that risk damage from a backlash. The consequences of a misstep may likely be even more severe for players in B2B markets. Business decision makers are harsher judges and quicker to pull the plug than a typical consumer,” the report said, noting the expectation was to respond to a high-stakes incident within a maximum of two to three days. “Sitting on your hands and waiting for the problem to blow over seldom works.”
The Hotwire report noted that only a third of the firms surveyed, of 33 per cent, work with a PR firm that handles crisis communications.
If a B2B brand isn’t directly experiencing a high-stakes issue, it may be best to stay silent, according to another study from analyst firm Clutch. Although its consumer sample was much smaller with 450 respondents, 63 per cent said they are likely to continue shopping at businesses that stays silent on issues they care about, while 58 per cent said they would continue shopping at businesses that take stances on issues with which they disagree.