Last week, I came across Bridget Fletcher’s CMO.com article “B2B Is the New B2C.” Fletcher noted the parallels she saw in B2C and B2B when it comes to changing customer expectations--and suggested that B2B and enterprise marketers rethink the ways they engage their customers as a result.
That’s damn good advice. Whether B2B or B2C, if you don’t start rethinking customer experience, you’re sunk. Sooner or later, an Apple or Amazon-like organization--or some other nimble, innovative firm--will come at your industry from the side and totally change the rules you’ve been playing by for years. I made a similar point in my 2011 article “Did You Know You’re Competing with Apple?” Given the ongoing relevance and interest, revisiting this topic seems to be in order.
Time To Rethink Outdated Notions Of B2B Customer Experience
Last week, I was talking with a senior executive of a large technology company that’s trying to address the issue of B2B experience. He said that 10 years ago, business customers kind of expected the left hand to not know what the right hand was doing. That’s how big B2B companies (most big companies, in fact) had always operated.
Starting five years ago, its customers--primarily partners--weren’t totally surprised, but began expressing their disappointment when a clear lack of effective communication across silos and channels negatively affected their experience as B2B customers. They reasoned that with the digital innovation and technology available even then, industry leaders should be able to figure it out.
More recently, customers who run into these kinds of issues aren’t just expressing disappointment--they’re actively upset. That is one of the reasons this company recognizes the critical nature of improving the B2B experience. When the loyalty of channel partners is at risk, the competitive strength of the channel network is at risk as well.
This company is taking active steps to address what is now a clear risk to its competitive standing. That means while it may be late to the party, it’ll likely be able to turn things around before it’s too late--provided it’s able to effectively execute on its customer experience strategy.
Surprisingly, despite a long list of statistically projectable data to prove otherwise, many executives at B2B companies still don’t feel the concepts of customer experience improvement apply to their businesses. They’re wrong.
Attention, Doubters: The Evidence Is In
Through our work in customer experience strategy and design initiatives with several such companies--backed up by lots of customer research--we know the substantial value that customer experience transformation can drive for B2B firms.
If you’re a doubter, then you’d be well-advised to read these four statements and take them to heart. While the evidence-based list in support of B2B experience is much longer, I figure this is enough to get you thinking (for now):
- Customer Experience Drives Loyalty In B2B: Just as in the consumer market, a good customer experience directly correlates to increased purchase amounts, share of spend, likelihood to repurchase, and both willingness to recommend and actual recommendations. Each of these ties to significant revenue opportunities--or risk if you don’t deliver.
- B2B Customers Bring Their Consumer Expectations To Work: We’ve heard B2B customers complain about shipping costs (“After all, if Amazon can ship in 2 days for free, why can’t you?”), digital experience (“How hard could it possibly be to give us a single login across platforms?”), and more. If they’re getting it at home, then you’d better understand how to give it to them at work or find an alternative.
- B2B Customers Share Bad Experiences, Too: No, it’s not just Yelp for restaurants. In fact, business people appear to be two to three times more socially active than consumers. And when more than half of all B2B buyers use social media for vendor research and 91 percents say “word-of-mouth” is the most important factor influencing the buying process, you’d better pray there’s nothing negative to say about interacting with your firm.
- Bad Experiences Cause B2B Customers To Leave: In the consumer world, nearly 90 percent of customers have said they will switch after a single bad experience. In B2B, your customers--whether channel partners or end customers--have more options than ever. There’s a strong correlation between poor experiences and defectors, as well as customers who feel trapped due to licensing or contractual constraints. Hmm. Ever wonder what they’re saying about you?
In today’s digitally driven world, the notion that the complex, interpersonal relationships driving traditional B2B are all that matter is both outmoded and dangerous. In this world, sales, marketing, IT, and service must act as partners with a clear vision for delivering on the experiences their customers want, need, and will increasingly demand.
With such a huge revenue upside attached to an improved customer experience--to say nothing of the forces of change applying pressure to all industries--those B2B companies that grasp this reality first are those that have the best chances of survival in the fast-moving years ahead.