For years, business-to-business (B2B) companies have been seen as laggards when it comes to customer experience. What can they learn from their business-to-consumer (B2C) counterparts to get it right?
1. Offer a seamless shopping experience
B2B buyers are also consumers who, like everyone else, have become accustomed to the consistently high-quality customer experience in consumer services. This has undoubtedly influenced their expectations when it comes to their work purchases, which means B2B companies are under pressure to offer the same seamless experience.
A study by McKinsey found in cases where companies have undertaken broad transformations of their customer-experience processes, the impact among B2B and B2C players has been similar, with higher client-satisfaction scores, lower costs, revenue growth of 10 to 15 per cent and an increase in employee satisfaction.
“This doesn’t just require self-service and full-service buying across online and offline touchpoints, but also a personalised digital commerce experience and innovative fulfilment options,” says Kevin Murray, managing director at Greenlight Commerce. “However, B2B is not simply a copy of B2C commerce. The focus of a B2B ecommerce site must be on functionality and making online purchasing easy.”
2. Harness the mobile analytics opportunity
The path to purchase is not linear anymore and the rise of mobile means B2B customers, just like B2C customers, are researching products through multiple sources. In this landscape, using mobile to build customer loyalty and streamline back-office processes is a key trait of successful B2B organisations.
B2B sites should be designed as sales tools that assist the buying process and trace the customer journey across multiple channels, particularly mobile. By applying the data that is accrued through this journey in a similar way as consumer brands do, companies can personalise content and share relevant offers directly with their clients.
“As part of the impact of consumer-oriented technology, B2B buyers are no longer just making decisions in their offices, but also in their spare time,” says Scott Clarke, chief digital officer at tech consultancy Cognizant. “Via analytics, suppliers can better engage with clients, increase the purchase volume, drive loyalty and ensure repeated custom.”
3. Find your content engine
Channels of communication previously reserved for B2C companies are now just as relevant and accepted for B2B audiences, who are equally adept at filtering out messages they don’t perceive to be relevant or exciting. And yet research by LinkedIn suggests that although 91 per cent of B2B organisations create content, only 37 per cent have a strategy in place. If B2B companies want to build dialogue, this has to change.
“By combining experiences, content, digital and creative, B2B businesses can speak to customers at different points of the journey,” says Jade French, PhD researcher and brand editor at brand experience agency Amplify. “From shooting documentaries for YouTube to making zines, strategising social media and redesigning retail experiences, it’s about finding the best way to connect and speak to your audience. Once a feeling of conversation has been created, people are far more likely to talk with and about you.”
4. Humanise your customers
The B2B buying journey is inevitably longer and more complex than most B2C journeys, which means emotion and humanisation are even more important. B2B businesses need to invest the time getting to know their customers beyond their job titles, adopting more of a business-to-human approach to their content and communications.
Understanding the interests, needs and wants of customers on an individual basis enables businesses in the B2B sphere to create a more personalised and empathetic customer experience, integrating humour, creativity and innovation into content, just as many B2C companies do successfully.
“By humanising your customers and understanding them on an emotional level, businesses can have a much more genuine, authentic conversation with their audiences,” says Bian Salins, Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) lead of content marketing consulting at LinkedIn. “By pushing themselves outside their comfort zone and showing the human side of their brand, B2B companies can create a more lasting and trustworthy experience.”
5. Place more emphasis on post-sales activity
While B2B firms tend to focus on the awareness and buying phases of the customer journey, the 2018 Buyer Preferences Study from CSO Insights found the implementation phase, or what happens after the purchase, is actually the most important step.
To succeed long-term, it is no longer enough to focus simply on convincing customers they have the best product or solution on the market. B2B companies must mimic the way their B2C counterparts garner loyalty and advocacy in the post-sales period.
“This is the deciding factor for many companies about whether they become a repeat purchaser and eventually a brand advocate, or choose to take their business elsewhere,” says Richard Hilton, managing director EMEA at Miller Heiman Group, a global provider of sales methodologies and skills. “Getting it right can have a huge impact on a company.”