The events of the first half of 2020 have impacted customer behaviour overnight. Businesses operating in the B2B sector have had to shift their attention internally in order to manage the impact on organizational and financial dynamics with serious consequences for projects, customer orders and order approval times.
Now one of the main challenges is to determine which of the new trends will remain and which will disappear. Businesses need to quickly understand what skills they need to invest in. A delay in identifying the new trends could cost a high price.
As the market reduces, new opportunities become difficult to find. On the one hand, Marketing and Sales need to continue searching for new customers, on the other, it becomes imperative that a solid channel of communication is put in place with existing customers in order to keep track of the changes taking place.
Only once you have a clear idea of the direction in which the market is moving, can you plan your next steps. Some businesses have already started down this path by finding the right compromise between new and old customer expectations.
The businesses which manage to adapt the company structure and offer so that it is in line with the new needs will be able to offer the best B2B customer experience and consolidate their competitive advantage.
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There are 3 priorities to consider:
The changing customer behaviour caused by COVID-19 will continue to evolve and form the foundation of the next normal. The most successful companies to date, are those that have understood which behaviour and trends are emerging and, as a result, are adapting strategy and investments to accommodate them.
Achieving this is far from easy: companies must simultaneously monitor customer trends, adapt their business models, plan business continuity, and ensure that their employees are safe and productive, all while managing the chaos and ambiguity of the crisis. In this context, leaders need to have the skills to prioritize what is most important and make the best choices despite the continuing pitfalls that the environment places on leadership.
During this analysis it is important to identify the prevailing trends so that they can be excluded and focus on the less obvious ones. Among the macro-trends, there will be other needs, less obvious but equally important.
Companies that, for example, work with contracts, produce machinery or deal with industrial automation, may be faced with customers demanding faster execution times to make up for lost time. At the same time, the same customers may hide concerns about the quality of the finished products; they know that they will not be able to get both from their supplier.
Knowing these aspects, will allow you to intervene in advance. For example, you can decide to make available more data regarding factory performance, consider introducing additional guarantees in the offer, or devote staff to the management of orders affected by the increased risk of default. When the customer sees solutions that address their evolving or hidden needs, their satisfaction and loyalty will increase considerably.
In general, where the sales network is the natural focus-point for collecting feedback from the market and customers, traditional channels are the preferred choice. Now more than ever, in order to gather relevant and accurate information, this process needs to be strengthened.
The current climate has meant that customers are not necessarily receiving adequate responses to their new needs. The main problem may be the lack of flexibility in rolling out new service levels. Some companies are experiencing a decline in their relationship with their customers; this threatens one of the most valuable resources needed to kickstart a business.
Currently in the EU only Finland is showing some tentative signs of recovery while the other countries have begun a long recession. While the difficult market dynamics push towards a worsening of the economic environment, those who are trying to create new ways to listen to customers and adapt their strategy are navigating the new normal with less uncertainty.
Action is required on multiple levels in order to assure that there is adequate communication with customers and the market. For the B2B sector there is a 3-step approach.
Using this approach is the first step. To create a complete, accurate and relevant information flow that can support various aspects of business decision-making, new dialogue strategies need to be activated.
Dedicating some of your resources to these activities is a strategic choice that has a direct impact on the future of the company.
Researching the internal data gathered over the recent months gives you access to some of the information that is needed to adapt your approach and offer.
Creating structured sessions of exchange between management and the sales team allows you to gain feedback regarding the internal view of the business scenario.
Collecting information in the field allows you to have a clear position of the company with regards to customers, competitors and the market. It is important at this stage to also assess the relevance of the information and its authenticity in representing trends and needs.
The main obstacles companies face when gathering feedback from customers or the market are misunderstandings during interpretation of data and distorting effects of feedback.
In order to interpret data correctly, a neutral point of view is required. However, this is difficult when analyzing one’s own data on market and customer performance. When it comes to customer experience, it’s critical to summarize objectively and go beyond specific customer relationship dynamics.
Formulating objective interpretations: In times of crisis, laying out the company’s difficulties in black and white can be difficult for employees, the sales team or management. When conducting the analysis, in an effort to achieve greater accuracy and reliability of the data what could end up happening is an increase in auditing and verification activities, especially when negative numbers emerge. For those working with yearly goals, these activities may conflict with professional performance. Top management may find themselves having to question the results several times before reaching an optimum level of relevance and authenticity of the information.
Going beyond existing relationship dynamics: In order to obtain honest feedback of how the offer is perceived and what is the real level of satisfaction, the business needs to relate to its customers. This has several implications:
- The companies role limits flexibility in interaction. Management could gather better feedback if they could speak openly with the customer’s various internal contacts. However, these actions are often not justifiable because they are inconsistent with the corporate role.
- The sales team, the natural channel used as a contact point with customers, could find themselves gathering biased feedback due to the professional relationship and sales history.
- If the appropriate conditions and parameters are not used, the feedback or information supplied by the customers contacts may be inaccurate or not relevant to the goal of the analysis.
The dynamics with which industrial sectors are responding to this problem have extreme characteristics. In order to elevate the customer experience, the specific impact on the industry in which you operate needs to be taken into account. While large-scale distributors recorded an average growth in turnover of +25%, aviation and tourism had a reduction in demand of up to -80%.
The main critical success factor of the sharing economy, for example, has been hit hard: the cost benefits of sharing. Also the production of niche items such as masks, plexigass and disinfectant gels has been affected by complicated speculation, due also to the fact that they were not fully integrated into large-scale distribution.
Understanding the evolving dynamics of your industry means thinking about your products and services and the value they can generate in the near future. In the industrial sector this could mean increasing customization of the production process. For some trade products, trade may not grow for several months to come. In this case, focus needs to be on innovation plans, marketing choices and purchasing strategy.
The rise of digital, for example, has also affected traditional sectors. This has meant not only smart working, but also the availability of a huge amount of extra data.
This is a crucial time to evaluate investments in the areas of data, technology, and systems, prioritizing projects that can help anticipate and predict the value perceived of the customer. In some cases it may be necessary to modify the configuration of existing systems or conduct ad hoc analysis of the data already available. Developments in these areas are able to provide customers with the best possible experience.
When it comes to the B2B channel, predictive information from systems can provide valuable help in completing field surveys in order to refine the customer’s offer and approach. These initiatives put the customer at the center of corporate attention, facilitating a combined and swift response from each function within the company.
For those who produce industrial machinery, for example, it’s time to put yourself in the customer’s shoes to understand how their market environment is evolving. The technology provided could need rethinking and suffer from a reduction in terms of economic return. It is therefore necessary that customers see that you are engaged and active by trying to understand the developments in the industry. In the current market environment, a short-sighted view looking only at the evolution of one’s own demand is counterproductive. In order to see a significant increase in revenue, we need to refocus on the value of what is offered in the light of changes in the entire production chain.
Companies that gain access to all customer data, in addition to what is collected during field surveys, will gain a more accurate view of customer needs and expectations. With this information, it becomes easier to implement meaningful actions that support and strengthen customer trust, thereby increasing value and lifecycle.