All analysts and experts in the market agree on this: there’s no room for complacency in business-to-business relationships. For companies who get it but don’t know where to start with their Digital Transformation, placing their Customer Experience at the center of their business is key. Let’s look at what this can mean.
There’s No Room for Complacency
All analysts and experts in the market agree on this: there’s no room for complacency in business-to-business relationships. For years, established Business-to-Business B2B companies have been largely conservative and resistant to change, be they manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors or service providers catering towards enterprises and businesses.
When consumer products and services have been totally transformed by the tsunami of the digital revolution, with the likes of Amazon, Netflix, Airbnb and Uber totally reshaping the market with vision and innovation but always keeping the customer at the heart of everything they do; existing B2B relationships have generally been left unchanged.
It’s not that B2B doesn’t change. New players have clearly started to disrupt the landscape and succeeded; but largely it’s been those players that already have experience on the consumer side: Amazon and Alibaba with their business market places, Airbnb with its pro offer, Uber, et al. Traditional players seem oblivious to the new normal and have yet to act accordingly. Far too many businesses haven’t fully appreciated the depth of the change needed, and tend to think it’s only about digitalizing part of their processes, sticking to the same mindset, sales approaches and models.
The B2B arm of Amazon.com is on track to surpass $31 billion in revenue on $52 billion in gross merchandise sales within three years, an RBC Capital Markets analyst projects.
No doubt, complacency will force the large majority of them to disappear, just like the dinosaurs got swept from the planet
But, for those companies who want to embrace change, how should they approach their much-needed transformation? They probably realize that they have to reconsider their sales approach and channels and be open to more diverse sales models as well as be better at leveraging digital channels. The unmissable success of Amazon and Alibaba on the B2B front is unprecedented and makes this requirement to change very evident: no manufacturer or seller can afford to ignore it any longer.
Beyond the important aspect of changes that relate to how they sell, they also must start thinking in a different way about their customers. They must put customer experience at the heart of the business.
Now that the Customer is in Control, his Experience is Key
As we all know by now, the way customers buy has changed beyond recognition over the past 30 years. The Customer is in control now, indeed, we are living the so-called “Age of the Customer” and as Forrester’s analyst James L. McQuivey says in his blog:”Customer Obsession is not an option anymore.” The customer buying process is much more important than the vendor selling.
Much has been written about this – explaining in detail why customer experiences and in particular, digital experiences, have become so crucial for companies to succeed. As we entered the age of the Experience Economy, traditional characteristics such as price and features are becoming less and less important and Experience has become the deciding factor that leads to a purchase.
What is a Great B2B Customer Experience?
For a start, it is way more complex than in B2C. It has to be approached at two levels: organizational and individual. What is an experience at the organizational level – and does it even mean something? And, what is the experience at the personal level, for each stakeholder involved. Both levels of experience will significantly impact how companies continue or cease buying from their providers.
In both cases, a good experience will first and foremost be one that removes friction, accelerates and simplifies all processes, from very early engagement to the use of a product or a service (beyond the sale), through the purchase of that product or service. Unlike in B2C, this is without a doubt the most important factor of experience.
A good experience will first and foremost be one that removes frictions and that accelerate and simplifies all journeys and processes
Other factors very important in B2C, such as an emotional connection with the brand, trends, company values and culture etc. are not to be ignored but are clearly secondary. The B2B purchase is rational and dispassionate. Furthermore in B2B, innovation is about removing unnecessary steps for customers to solve their problem and achieve their tasks.
Three Examples of B2B Experience Levers
Let's see what this looks like through some concrete examples where a company can build up its competitive edge through a better customer experience.
Speedy Online Journey to Replace Slow Offline and In-Person Business Processes
B2B relationships are not always about simply buying or selling. Some business processes are just as transactional but way more complex. An example is the process for a company to apply and get a financial loan. Kabbage’s proposition is that businesses can apply and be approved for a loan in a matter of minutes via a 100% online experience. It’s patently obvious that this removes friction compared to the multiple in-person meetings with a bank followed by a minimum 20 days wait...this is just one example of many in the financial industry.
Many inter-company business processes are similar to this scenario and can be dramatically improved by a smart digitalized process: think about a company applying for an account to become an affiliate reseller from a wholesaler in a regulated industry (healthcare, financial product, food...), or a company looking to become a certified partner and typically having to go through a long onboarding process etc. How much faster, easier and frictionless would it be for them to apply online?
Facilitating and Automating Re-purchase Through a Subscription Model
Many B2B relationships are for the long term, although more than often not it may involve a one-time process or purchase, the relationship is for a long duration, made of many repetitive journeys. Repetition that can be simplified and automated to streamline and accelerate operations.
Café Royal Pro provides enterprises with coffee solutions. Not only do they manufacture and provide the coffee machines that are installed at their customers’ premises, they also sell the coffee capsules for these machines and most important of all, provide after-sales services and logistics too.
By moving to a service subscription model, and enabling their customers to define and manage their needs simply through their website, tracking their orders and digitalizing the day-to-day tasks of ordering of restocking coffee supplies, trying out new flavors, setting delivery frequency, servicing machines, or expanding or shrinking their orders, Café Royal Pro simplifies the process for companies to manage their coffee supplies without ever having to worry about running out of coffee whether they are a small single office operation, or very large multi-premises distributed organization.
This example firmly puts the organization’s experience at the heart of the operation and the proven result is that it builds loyalty, increases sales, reduces churn and contributes to building a leading position when compared to traditional coffee machine and coffee suppliers.
Delivering Rich Branded, Informative and Educational Content Ahead of Immediately Actionable Buying Interaction
We all know modern buyers are self-sufficient, doing their homework by themselves – researching content about solutions and products so they can earn and make informed choices. That is the number one reason for investing in such content.
Some call this Content Marketing, others find that term a buzz word and even pejorative, many think it's actually a new concept, and one that only successfully applies to B2C. Well, if you are one of these critics, it is time to change your mind.
First, Content Marketing is anything but new. Indeed, it was pioneered a long time ago by the ‘not very new’ company John Deere, when it started to publish the magazine "The Furrow" more than 100 years ago, to help farmers educate themselves on modern practices and technology solutions to their problems.
Second, and again, as the example of John Deere demonstrates, it's just as valuable for B2B as it is for B2C. The novelty is that today, you can finally blend your Content Marketing efforts with extremely actionable purchasing interactions, blending content and commerce into one seamless journey and one experience by leveraging a technology that unifies both world of e-Commerce and Content Management, and accelerate the value of content marketing.
If Content Marketing proved valuable 100 years ago, it just got way more effective!
A cover of the Furrow from 1917
It's Time to Get Digital, and Not Just Go Digital
These are just three examples that highlight how important Experience has become for B2B buyers and how much it can make a difference and contribute to how B2B companies succeed with their Digital Transformation initiatives. There are many other tactics available to boost your customer experience. As demonstrated in the last case, such an approach is by no means reserved for startups, and can absolutely be used by traditional companies willing to change in order to remain relevant in their market. They need to get a move on,
to "Get digital", not just "Go digital".
If you are interested to learning more, we at Ibexa would love to help. We provide technology to enables you to build such experiences. Please feel free to reach out to us or to explore more by reading our latest e-Book on the topic (click on the banner below).