Experience is the basis of any business relationship and concerns all types of customers whether they are current or potential. Recent trends are impacting the role that customer experience has in many industries. Here are some of the main ones:
For years, B2B buyers have been classified as rational, independent and emotionless, while on the other hand B2C consumers are thought to be emotional, changeable, and influenced by factors which may not be based on economics or need.
Today we are witnessing a converging trend (in some cases even reversed) where it is the B2B buyers who become more emotional and changeable, while B2C consumers are becoming more rational, loyal and independent when purchasing.
We often think of B2B buyers as this different group of “business decision-makers”, cold, calculating, competent and able to make choices based on rationality and numbers but sometimes we forget that those same people are also B2C buyers in their personal lives.
It is precisely the experiences they have in their role as consumers that have the power to influence them as B2B buyers. After a day at the office, many of your B2B clients book a taxi via an app to get home. The app will know where to pick them up and where their home is located. Once home, they could order dinner on a food delivery app that will recommend restaurants based on their preferences and make it easy to repeat order sushi from their favorite place.
After dinner, they can watch a movie or a programme on a streaming service like Netflix or Amazon Prime, which will suggest recommendations and make it easier for them to pick up streaming exactly where they left off.
The technological sophistication available to consumer-oriented companies greatly facilitates purchasing processes and these experiences have a cultural effect on people as well as an impact on economic results. The ’ whenever, whereever, however’, which we are used to in our private life is part of that pervasive and widespread culture that can no longer remain confined to B2C, but also influences the behaviors of decision makers, when they walk into the office.
Customer Experience should not be seen as another ‘element’ which affects purchasing decisions, prices, promotions, quality, time to market, trasparency of offers are all examples of elements that are necessary but not enough to explain customers’ purchasing decisions. These elements are part of a larger area which regards Experience, which today is directly linked to business results.
The experience we offer our existing or potential customers can greatly influence sales budgets and have a huge impact on the results of our company. Just because we sell products or services to our suppliers (B2B) if these are not selling to their end consumers (B2C), it matters little.
With a potential customer, prospect or qualified lead, the experience we create has the main purpose of converting them into a buying customer. Similarly with an existing customer, the experience we offer has the main purpose of ensuring the continuity of your planned budgets, renewal of the numbers on an annual basis and increase them over time. If the experience perceived by potential and existing customers is positive, they will buy and buy again, which translates into sales budgets increasing or remaining constant over time, if it is negative the customer will look for a better experiences elsewhere.
But why has experience and not other factors such as price, quality or reputation become so important?
Today, for companies that want to confirm their leadership , grow or scale the business, the challenge has gone from “reaching as many customers as possible and selling as many products and services as possible” to “always offering an epic experience to every existing and potential customer”.
An explanation can be sought in the competitive landscape. Today it has become more difficult than ever to differentiate, whether on price, products or anything else. The markeing world has also become just as crowded, so telling new potential customers how much better your business is has become a big challenge.
Experience therefore has become the only factor where it is possible to stand out from others. It allows your company to make a difference in a crowded competitor landscape with something that really matters to your customers. Defending your competitive positioning based on uniqueness such as: “we are the only ones who know how to do it”, “the quality of our products is unbeatable”, “our reputation in the sector is the highest in Europe”, “our teams of technicians are the most competent and specialized”, today is becoming increasingly difficult.
- According to HubSpot, only “19% of buyers want to connect with a seller during the initial phase (awareness) of their buying process, that is, when they are first learning about the product.”
- However, 60% are interested in connecting later during the evaluation phase, i.e. once they have done research independently, evaluated the available market options and created a list of “candidates”.
- Gartner found that 33% of B2B buyers want a completely seller-free sales experience.
- By 2025, 80% of B2B sales interactions between suppliers and buyers will be through digital channels.
- Salesforce found that 68% of B2B customers say they are online most of the time, and 68% also say that the pandemic has raised their expectations about the digital capabilities of the companies they buy from.
This data provides a clear idea of how the B2B sales process is changing; purchases without sellers and sales through digital channels has increased, so the role of the seller also has changed.
In particular, interaction in the early stages has reduced, especially if the customer is getting to know the product or service for the first time, while in the later stages greater leadership skills, a more strategic role and more know-how are required, enabling customers to collect the final elements required in order to make their choice.
As we have already said, B2B and B2C are converging; therefore, just like with consumer products, it is easier for companies nowadays to find any type of product or service via digital channels.
Your B2B customers, therefore, are not choosing their suppliers bases soley because they supply what they need, if anything, they want to do business with suppliers who make their purchasing and ongoing experience easy, effortless and enjoyable.
We live in what has been called a “self-service economy” where even B2B decision makers want to decide on purchasing once they have sufficient information and then expect to get the best possible experience when they do decide to interact with someone in your company to conclude the acquisition.
Effectively managing the B2B experience means finding the balance between all of the factors involved: the sales network, customer care, marketing, IT and research and development in order to distinguish ourselves from the competition by offering a better experience.
Each of these areas must balance efforts and guide choices correctly to ensure that existing and potential customers are managed without waste, maximizing satisfaction and balancing the overall net result.
Without B2B experience management, Sales could be aiming towards the wrong goals. Operations and even R&D may begin to follow product roadmaps that diverge from those needed to satisfy both customers and the market. These gap in correct resource management usually leads to a reduction of resources in the areas of customer experience where they are needed, often from categories of customers which have a high profitability. So what is the answer?
1. Ask your Customers
Before validating or implementing a business development plan, it is important to answer some simple questions such as: “what would be the cost of making a mistake and losing even just 5%, 10% or 20% of the existing business due to misalignment with my B2B customers?”
To avoid such a repercussion, the first action requires investigating your customers experience by interviewing them. This allows you to obtain an objective and neutral reference point from which to start the analysis. Qualitative and quantitative research can also be gathered however, for the interviewing phase, an external and impartial party should be used.
Some may say that they already know everything there is to know about their customers opinion of them, which is what is often heard, however, the surveys carried out and organized directly by the sales or marketing department will find it difficult to assure that they have gathered objective and above all impartial insights.
Also, it is critical that the phase involving customer interviewing is planned correctly. This is the area in which the information that is gathered will be used to generate actionable Insights, therefore, identification of the interviewees, correct mix of seniority and function etc.. will all lead to a timely and effective execution of the project.
2. Data gathering for all areas of the Business
In order to create the most accurate representation of the experience which customers receive, it is fundamental that the right methodology is used and quality applied so that the end result of the survey is a set of reports which not only illustrate the findings but also suggest an action plan that has the objective of improving the customer experience.
What is learnt from existing customers allows you to improve their experience and serves also to create the best possible experience to potential customers. Knowing what the purchasing manager with whom your contract was negotiated thinks and what his priorities are not only helps you better manage the customer but, repeating the process at given intervals, enables you to continuously analyse and update the data previously collected with the new data which can be used to support all areas of business, via your BI system, such as strategic planning, marketing, sales or R&D.
With this know-how, Sales and Marketing departments have the information needed and a reference point from which a combined effective customer experience can be developed and executed.
3. Involve your Sales network
We’ve said that B2B customers want less frequent and more strategic interactions with sales, however, this doesn’t mean sales staff are not needed, instead, sales need to engage more strategically using the information gathered from interviews to understand the type of experience they need to offer. By focusing on the quality of the interactions and processes they manage and can influence (sales, customer care, production, marketing, finance), they can make certain that the customer has the highest possible experience.
The implications for marketers are also clear. Because buyers make use of multiple digital assets (your business website, competitor sites, user review platforms, and social media, to name a few), it’s important to create experiences that resonate, motivate, and are remembered by potential customers.
In fact for many, epic experience with a supplier is the one that offers the best convenience, speed, understanding of needs, quality of communication and timing.
4. Invest in the Future
Knowing the experience of your customers today is not enough to guarantee the best experience ongoing. Over time, dynamics and preferences change, company policies change, people move from role to role or from company to company. For the B2B market, a good rule is to do a survey every six months or at least annually.
Consistent investigation of the experience allows in a short time to increase the knowledge of your customers allowing you to use this information to enrich other analysis or objectives.
By monitoring the quality of the experience you offer, you are managing the quality of the most valuable business asset you have: your B2B customer portfolio. This can strengthen your position in other business “areas” such as the evaluation of financial loans, the drafting of budgets, the introduction of new partners, Investment Funds or extraordinary operations such as M&A.