Each company is unique and so is the experience it creates for its customers. When we talk about experience, this also includes the experience created by companies for their distributor or concessions channel or other forms of ‘intermediary’ used to create their sales and distribution network.
Knowing what kind of experience customers gain when interacting with a product has always been of strategic importance for B2B companies, however the tools to analyse the effectiveness of this experience are different and it is important to use the right one for your specific dimension and setup. When talking about the B2B market, we can divide experience survey tools into two macro categories:
- BASIC SURVEYS: actions that gather informal feedback (ie via a key account manager) or standard satisfaction surveys conducted directly by the company or third-party companies, make up a part of this category. They are characterized by low customization, limited interaction, and high risk of bias during the feedback gathering process.
- STRATEGIC SURVEYS: these surveys have an extensive level of customization, generate a high level of interaction, elevated quality of information and total impartiality during the feedback collection process, as it is usually conducted by an specialized third-party
When a B2B company decides to implement an analysis into the experience their ‘buyers’ receive, the tool used needs to take into consideration the characteristics of the company, its business model and, therefore, the experience it creates for its customers.
Basic surveys are often also used in B2C and apply to certain types of B2B companies. Strategic surveys, on the other hand, apply to most B2B companies where interaction and the duration of the experience is higher and customer relationships are more complex. These surveys are fully customized and require an initial set-up phase in which various characteristics of the company and its customers are carefully examined, to define aspects that will defined by the objectives of the survey, the customer panel, the participants, their role and seniority and the timing and type of interaction.
The model below, consists of nine aspects that define the profile of a B2B company and the relationship and the type of experience it creates for its customers.
By maintaining the distinction between the two macro categories (basic surveys and strategic surveys), each company can identify its profile and verify which tool should be used.
1. COMPLEXITY OF INTERACTIONS
The type of business, services, and products offered will determine how complex customer interactions are. A B2B company committed to installing dozens of devices in multiple geographies on behalf of the customer has a higher number of interactions than a company that, for example, produces plastics for the industry, or is a bread supplier for restaurants and hotels. As the complexity of the interaction with your customers increases, so will your need to use structured and personalized surveys to measure the experience you create.2. CUSTOMER PORTFOLIO
When managing a small number of customers, the company has more opportunities to “listen”. Situations like this, however, are typical of very local or small businesses, start-ups or products which have an elevated cost and little maintenance thereby a low frequency of acquisition perhaps with no associated after sales services (which would increase interaction).
When the number of customers is greater than fifteen/twenty, it becomes difficult to accurately document the experience the customers receive, therefore it becomes important to conduct a custom strategic survey.3. CUSTOMIZATION AND VALUE OF THE PURCHASE
A company that offers products, services or design solutions that require high customization and frequent interactions due to custom change requests, must equally use strategic surveys to ensure that the relationship with the customer is on track.
Companies that customize their offer frequently, are used to listening however may nevertheless, find themselves without complete and adequate feedback that defines an accurate picture. In these cases, a strategic survey also offers the advantage of impartiality. An interview conducted by a neutral third party, allows for objective information to emerge.
There is a correlation between the level of customization and the purchase price. In general, as the latter grows, the complexity of the product or service increases, therefore so does the complexity of the B2B experience.4. GEOGRAPHICAL DISPERSION
When customers are located over a wide geographic area, it is difficult to have a clear understanding of their experience and at the same time, identify correlations between the geographical areas. In addition, the presence of multiple languages and varying cultures can reduce the fluidity of communication making it difficult to fully comprehend the feedback with which to adapt your strategy. Identifying a need for a specific region could have a significant impact on sales.5. SIZE OF CUSTOMERS AND NUMBER OF PEOPLE INVOLVED
The dimension of a B2B customer is an important aspect to consider when analysing their experience during the purchase and aftersales of your products or services. When interacting with B2B customers such as small retail businesses, restaurants, craftsmen etc, the relationship usually is maintained with the owner or family members.
However, when the customer has an organizational chart with several managers for various business functions across several product lines, it becomes important to understand the experience through strategic surveys that provide adequate management of the different roles and different hierarchical levels. Although there may be a solid sales relationship, customer dissatisfaction with the Sales/KAM team is not always communicated.6. COEXISTENCE OF MULTIPLE CHANNELS, PARTNERS AND RETAILERS
Some companies use multiple sales channels, so a clothing and accessories manufacturer may have direct customers who buy online (B2C), however at the same time, have outlets belonging to their own retail network as well as concession contracts with local partners (e.g. GDO, Chains with clothing stores) or franchise contracts.
If these partners and distributors are also medium/large companies and agreements are signed for the provision of services, it is fundamental to understand not only their experience with your brand (B2B) but also the experience they create for your customers ( B2B2C). Therefore, by understanding and reinforcing their experience with your product, you can at the same time assure a satisfactory B2B2C experience for your end customers. This complexity of partners experience can solely be measured by using a strategic survey service.
When a Company is going through a reorganization and internal changes are underway that have a significant impact on the structure such as a merger and acquisition, a change in its strategic positioning, investment in new technologies, it is highly recommended, if not done beforehand, to verify its alignment with its customers once the changes have been implemented.
When gathering feedback during these moments that require a strategic review, correct interpretation of the data is crucial to its successful application. In addition, in most cases, the people interviewed have a higher level of hierarchy, therefore one2one interviews with a high level of interaction and participation, assures that as much detailed information is gathered in order to define clearly what impact the experience you create has on your customers.8. PEOPLE OR TEAMS DEDICATED TO THE CUSTOMER
Some companies that have as products ‘projects’, require that a team of staff support the customer during the sales cycle. Because of the complexity of the project, the definition and therefore the duration of the sales cycle and the number of people involved, there are a number of interactions between varying levels and skills sets. If you were to use a basic survey, you would only be able to gather relatively superficial responses and not the detailed information required to understand the complexity of the experience the customer experiences.9. FREQUENCY OF REPURCHASE
There are businesses that, due to the product line, operate with a high turnover of customers and a low frequency of repurchase , for example washing machines that (we hope) will have a life cycle of 5 years approximately or another example an automobile.
In these cases, it can be difficult to invite customers to participate in a strategic survey once the sales cycle has completed. When the ability to invite key customers for a structured comparison is not possible, to verify the customer experience in this case, you may have no choice but to resort to basic surveys.
We have gone through these 9 aspects to help in identifying your position and which tool will give you results you are looking for. To sum up, measuring experience through strategic surveys is most often the key to aligning your strategy with your customers and with the market.
This requires working on two levels:
- Launch an initial strategic experience survey designed with an elevated level of customization and interaction enabling the gathering of unbiased feedback during the process.
- Regular relaunching of the survey to capture changes that may have occurred in your B2B customer experience (annually)