When it reports earnings on Tuesday, [Wal-Mart] is widely expected to post its second straight year of declining domestic same-store sales.

Wal-Mart’s struggles are the result of a misstep: To jump-start lethargic growth and counter the rise of competitors such as cheap-chic rival Target Corp., executives veered away from the winning formula of late founder Sam Walton to provide “every day low prices” to the American working class. Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer by sales, instead raised prices on some items while promoting deals on others.

Company executives acknowledge having miscalculated and are adjusting their strategy again. The big question is how quickly the mammoth chain can turn itself around.
“Wal-Mart Tries to Recapture Mr. Sam’s Winning Formula,” WSJ, February 22, 2011

That’s an expensive lesson for a B2C giant.  But one that applies just as well to the B2B marketplace.  It’s risky business to try to significantly change your image to capture a different end of the vertical you are in.  It usually takes a separate brand to do this.  You can’t just start charging more for the same stuff or putting fancier stuff in your stores and expect the same people to buy it.  Interestingly, in fixing their mistake, Wal-Mart risks losing more customers because it had started attracting a few higher-end customers.

The big lesson in this for you B2B big global firms is to know who your customers are and cater to them. A good place to start in this exercise is to develop personas.  Personas include those traits of a typical member of your target audience.  It is built as if it were one person – their title, age, sex, motivations, likes and dislikes.  A typical B2B company will develop 5-7 of these that are representative of about 80% of your audience.  You then use these every time to create content, develop new products, and generate new messages.  Everything should fit those personas and be personalized to them.

If you don’t have personas in place today, go have a chat with your sales team and get these started.  It will take a few hours to develop them but the payoff will be huge down the road.