Your B2B Customers are also B2C Consumers
B2B commerce wasn’t designed with the customer experience in mind, but better quote-to-purchase workflows are a great place to start enhancing the overall experience.
Your customer is looking into custom packaging solutions for their upcoming new premium product launch. They know the various materials your company offers and off-the-shelf designs available, more or less, and the path to purchase on your business-to-business ( B2B) site is simple and straightforward. A transaction is completed.
Your customer didn’t have a negative experience, but nothing about it delighted them either. Your web site worked fine. No, it’s not a fully immersive, hyper-personalized experience that the same customer just had on their favorite retail site, but it got the job done.
B2B customer experiences aren’t business-to-consumer (B2C) customer experiences — and for good reason. The lengthy sales cycles, driven by custom pricing, extensive quotes, lengthy bid periods, and countless players involved, mean that B2B companies tend to compete exclusively on key areas like pricing, customer service, and delivery.
Until now, that had been the B2B customer experience. Until now, that had been enough.
“Most B2B companies don’t have anything in place to measure customer experience,” says Jessica Waters Davis, director of product marketing for Adobe Document Cloud. “There aren’t a lot of metrics around it.”
Creating B2B customer experience touchpoints
Our expectations have changed. While B2B brands have had their own ways of delivering positive customer experiences, customers now want more. And because we move between our “traditional” B2C experiences and B2B experiences quickly and seamlessly, our expectations have changed. We’ll hail a ride with our phone, hit the drive-thru for coffee on our way to work, and preorder an all-organic lunch to be delivered from our favorite restaurant right at noon. Easy-to-make transactions, getting what we want. Once we hit the office, the lines are no longer distinct. We don’t see two unique “purchase funnels.” Instead, we still expect similarly good customer experiences — easy-to-make transactions, getting what we want.
Creating delightful experiences could become a challenge for B2B brands that aren’t willing to adjust. B2B customer experience index ratings already lag behind B2C: B2B brands average less than 50 percent of retail customers, according to a recent McKinsey study, while B2C tends to land between 65 and 85 percent. And, as B2C brands get better at delivering personalized experiences, the wider that divide will become.
That said, many B2B leaders are recognizing this divide and taking steps to refocus on customer experience. Ninety-five percent of B2B leaders say customer experience is their “gateway to growth,” while 90 percent see customer experiences as critical to meeting their strategic priorities.
While this is a move in the right direction, Jessica explains how B2B companies should resist the urge to make immediate, wholesale changes to existing customer experiences. “It’s an unrealistic expectation to transform the whole customer journey at once,” she says. “It doesn’t work with B2C customers, and it doesn’t work with business customers.” The goal is to start small, keep it manageable, and meaningful.
“Instead, focus on identifying moments within that journey where you can deliver those ‘delightful’ consumer-like experiences,” says Jessica. “That will boost customer satisfaction.” Start with these four strategies which, together, have the power to deliver not just greater customer satisfaction in the short term but, also, increased conversions, added revenue, and long-term loyalty.
1. Map against stakeholder expectations, with an eye on customer satisfaction
In B2B sales there’s rarely one decision-maker, which can make personalizing experiences challenging. As you’re considering your experience delivery and value add, be sure to take into account — and map — each individual stakeholder or influencer and their touchpoints with your brand. By mapping each of these journeys from start to finish, you’ll be better able to spot trends, identify areas for improvement, and identify meaningful ways to improve satisfaction on one or even all segments.
“So much of B2B has been working to increase revenue, reduce costs, and reduce risks,” Jessica says. “How do you instead look at it from that IT person’s perspective, or at the CFO or CMO’s perspective. They have different goals, even if they’re working toward the same overarching objective.”
2. Create unique tracks for your diverse customer segments
While 94 percent of marketers are focusing on data, analytics, technology, and customer profiles to deliver personalized experiences, many B2B brands haven’t shifted to a customer-first mindset. Once customers are mapped, though, it’s easier to find opportunities for personalization and optimization.
“There’s an opportunity to give a more human touch in B2B experiences,” Jessica says, “and I think we’re heading in that direction. I see B2B shifting that concept of experiences and bringing them into the customer journey.”
These experiences, though, don’t need to mimic B2C in their one-to-one personalization. Instead, B2B brands can optimize experiences using general features, drilling down on what they know about a customer — small businesses versus big, fellow B2B buyers versus B2C, and industry-specific use cases.
B2B journeys often grow complex because they need to accommodate the special needs of small percentages of customers, as cited in McKinsey’s report on improving the business-to-business customer experience. By splitting the journey into “standard” and “specialty” tracks, companies can minimize this complexity for most of their customers, resulting in easier customer journeys and significantly lower costs.
Even basic targeting levels can help brands deliver on customer wants, needs, and expectations. For example, a small business owner customer of yours may need a lower cost, higher touch experience than a marketer customer at a global enterprise. Delivering on those expectations can be the difference between a compelling B2B customer experience and one that falls short.
3. Build greater transparency into the purchase process
When spec conversations or contract negotiations happen on the phone or via email, it’s common for vague comments or conflicting input from different customers and stakeholders to derail the purchase process.
“B2B has some unique hurdles B2C doesn’t have,” Jessica says. “There are often more requirements around B2B, more documentation, and more regulations.”
By moving conversations into a collaboration-friendly document format, the entire process becomes more transparent and effective. With documents in your cloud solution or digital asset management (DAM) solution, it’s easy for customers to view information, provide real-time feedback, and review comments and contract updates instantly. A simplified document process reduces friction and helps the sales process move faster and more efficiently.
A solution such as Adobe Document Cloud keeps tabs on those documents as they move from one stakeholder to the next. During lengthy sales processes, it’s common for docs to go missing or get lost in an approver’s inbox — sometimes for weeks or even months. In other cases, documents are sent to the wrong people or routed in the wrong order. These scenarios create double the damage for B2B companies — they generate longer sales cycles and can jeopardize a seller’s reputation as a reliable and secure partner.
4. Layer in the best of B2C
Though B2B brands have a very different path to purchase than B2C brands, there are some key processes and workflows B2B brands can borrow from their customer-facing counterparts. For starters, B2B brands need to focus on being increasingly omnichannel. The average B2B customer moves through six unique channels as they make a purchase decision. These touchpoints need to be consistent and cohesive, just like they would for a B2C customer moving from social to mobile to in-store.
B2B retailers can also integrate technology like self-service and chatbots to streamline the customer experience. These technologies can be leveraged to provide increased efficiency in everything from product searches, to help requests, to recommendations, streamlining the path to purchase and ensuring B2B customers get what they need when they need it.
Meeting the B2B customer experience challenge
B2B customer experience improvement opportunities extend beyond the purchase process — and so do the benefits. B2B brands leading the customer experience charge are experiencing higher margins, higher client satisfaction scores, 10–20 percent decreases in costs to serve, 10–15 percent revenue growth, and greater employee satisfaction.
That said, it’s not as simple as mimicking B2C websites and digital touchpoints — the industries are just too different. Instead, business leaders should focus on where they can and should adjust or enhance customer experiences based on their customers’ needs.
“Focus on areas where it makes sense,” Jessica says. “Don’t get overwhelmed thinking, ‘It’s so complex, there’s no way it can happen.’ Figure out where you can change customer experiences in a logical way — where you can bring those delightful consumer-like experiences to your business.”