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Katie Lawson

Mar 13, 2019

B2B Customer Experience: 4 Steps for Better Experience

The digitization of B2B is inevitable. Forrester estimates that B2B e-commerce will reach $1.2 trillion and account for 13.1% of all B2B sales in the US by 2021.

From manufacturing to high-tech to services to distribution, every business selling to another is facing the pressure to transform their digital experience.

The reason is simple, people want convenience.

After all, the Customer Experience forms the bridge between customer and business, no matter if it’s a private or a business transaction. B2B companies are starting to realize this and will undoubtedly invest heavily in optimizing their Customer Experience within the coming years. This means that the tools that are being used by B2C companies will find their way into the B2B market very soon.

I could harp on the idea that you aren’t just competing with others in your industry but with every B2B and B2C experience your customers face everyday.

However, I’m assuming if you are reading this you likely are a member of team B2B and have personal experience seeing how frustrating it can be to find the information you need when researching business purchases.

We are all consumers and our patience for a subpar digital experience is waning -  regardless of the industry. 


4 Advantages of B2B in Customer Experience [with examples]

Customers have grown accustomed to the perks of digital - 24/7 availability, simplified shopping, access to a full catalogue of products, up-to-date product information, and transparent pricing - and these expectations don’t discriminate between B2C and B2B experience.
 

 Piggy-back on B2C:
The best practices in digital experience have been already been laid out by B2C, meaning that B2B gets to bypass a large part of the trial and error phase of rising technologies and hit the ground running.

📌 Read this next: eCommerce Best Practices from Holiday Trends [blog]


 Opportunity for first movers:
B2B organisations are often more mature than B2C. They have established solid processes for running business which is a solid framework to build digital into - without having to start from scratch. This solid framework is a springboard for B2B. As John Klein, Vice President Customer Strategy at LiveArea, The PFS Agency puts it,

When these organisations add digital to their traditional processes - even simple digital initiatives - they are leapfrogging ahead. 

As an example, Klein pointed out a client who manufactured repair parts for golf carts. By adding a 24/7 available e-commerce option they were able to expand their reach to thousands of smaller courses around the USA that wouldn’t have been possible to target with classic field sales.


 Power in simplicity:
B2B thrives when it makes the lives of customers easier, and small changes can have a big impact. As Brian Beck of Guidance states,

What I’m blown away by is the power of simplicity of B2B. The simplest solutions seem to be the most effective.

As an example, Beck discussed a client that sells wholesale team apparel and launched a very simple B2B commerce site for self-service - which they now do half of their business on.

📌 Watch this next:  5 Secrets to B2B Commerce Success [webinar]
 


 Head start in personalization:
B2B organisations have a major head start when it comes to personalization - they know their customers inside and out. B2B organisations already have a deep understanding of personas and segmentation, even if they are unfamiliar with the terminology.

Take for instance a cleaning supply company, a client of LiveArea, that assigned sales representatives to each new market they wanted to break into - tailoring their message to hospitals, schools, building managers, etc to expand market by market.

Clearly the company had a history of success with targeted messaging, but when asked their plans for segmentation in digital - they didn’t realise they had already done all the difficult legwork.

📌 Read this next: 12 Steps to Perfect Personalization [whitepaper]
 


 

B2B Customer Experience Best Practices


1. Understand Who Has, and Needs, Control 

B2B sales cycles have a plethora of moving parts. Sales, Marketing, IT, Product Management, Legal, and more all control a specific part of the customer journey.

For digital to be a company-wide success all these departments need to be able to control their own piece of the experience.

Marketing should be able to update the mobile site without having to go through IT, and Sales should be able to see the latest product information without having to email Product Management. Connecting the internal experience removes these bottlenecks. 

📌 Read this next: A Marketer's Guide to CMS [whitepaper]

First up in connecting the experience is to map out exactly what information each department is currently in control of, and what tools they use to manage that content.

List out what data and collateral is used in the sales cycle, who is in control of this content, and who needs access to it to successfully meet their goals. 

Content 

Department

Tool

Who Needs It

Product Specifications   Product Management  PLM system Sales, Legal, Account Management, Marketing, Shipping, Customers
Customer History   Sales CRM system Legal, Marketing, Account Management
Site Analytics   IT Google Analytics Marketing, Sales
Up to Date Collateral   Marketing Google Docs Sales, Account Managers, Product Management, Customers
Inventory orders   Finance Google Sheets Product Management, Sales, Legal 
Direct Mailing Lists   Marketing An Excel sheet on Kathy’s computer  Sales, Account Managers, the rest of Marketing

So now you have a basic map of where key information lies, who is responsible for keeping it up to date, and who needs easy access to it. Next up…

 

2. Connecting The Moving Pieces

Now that the map has been made, it’s time to simplyfy it.

Identify the main bottlenecks of sharing information and determine your priorities.

Decide which process and tools are core to the workflow, such as CRM and PLM systems, and which ones can be consolidated/replaced, such as the many google spreadsheets holding siloed information. 

Importantly, these decisions need to be made with direct input from each department. When speaking to our partners for our latest white paper on the B2B customer experience, they all emphasized that the most important part of B2B digital transformation was getting all departments on board.

The best laid plans only stick if everyone adopts the new way of working. Creating a cross-department steering team is a good way to go, especially one with an executive level member that can influence company-wide adoption. 

Once you’ve decided the priorities, it’s time to start connecting your experience. This is where an open Digital Experience Platform (DXP) comes into play. Using an open DXP lets you integrate your preferred blend of core tools and aggregate the content and data from these tools to inform both the internal and external experience. 

📌 Read this next: What is a Digital Experience Platform (DXP)? [blog]

And what a coincidence - Bloomreach has a radically open DXP than many B2B companies use to connect the experience. Our customers use our DXP to integrate CRM, Marketing Automation, PLM, e-Commerce, DAM and many other tools to drive a connected experience. 

Along with API integrations of business solutions, the strong advantage that Bloomreach DXP has when it comes to B2B is our Experience as a Service (EaaS) architecture.

Any form of content, whether that be product information, customer data, shipping information, digital forms, related product grids, and virtually any other element can be reused across any touchpoint.

It’s the edit-once-update-everywhere philosophy, but it goes far beyond webpages - to customer portals, sales apps, warehouse IoT devices, email automation, etc. All teams can control their own piece of the experience from one central platform, with APIs pulling in 3rd party data, to ensure the entire experience remains consistent. 

b2b digital transformation

Another major benefit of an open DXP is flexibility.

You don’t have to predict every tool and touchpoint you will need in the next ten years to set yourself up for success in the next decade. By building the foundation on microservices and APIs you make it easy to pop in and out new sources of data or new delivery channels as they come - without having to re-wire the entire tech stack every time.

📌 Read this next: How APIs and Microservices are Transforming the Shopping Experience [blog]

So you’re developers have dove right in and connected your systems with custom or prebuilt integrations, or you’ve used a partner with integration experience to help you get there, and now you’re ready for the fun part…

 

Step 3: Put The Connected Experience in The Hands of Your Team

When it comes to the complex sales cycles of B2B, a large part of a smooth process is getting the relevant information directly to your own team. 

A great example of this is a commercial paper company who, with the help of Guidance, created a field sales app that showed product compatibility and real-time inventory information. At just two years with this sales enablement app, the company is driving over $100 million a year in sales. 

Often the simplest things make the biggest impact. Enabling your entire team with the most up to date content makes cross-team collaboration efficient, instills confidence in those involved in the complex sales cycle, and makes everyone’s day-to-day jobs easier. 

The benefits of a consistent, connected experience aren’t limited to your internal teams either,  because up next in the road to digital transformation… 

 

Step 4: Put The Connected Experience in Front of Your Customer

So how does this all translate into an exceptional experience for your customers? Through consistency and relevance. 

Consistency for your customers runs in parallel with the consistency you built for your team. You can use that same updated information on the customer site, FAQs, mobile apps, portals, and any other touchpoint. Again, this is made possible with the EaaS architecture that lets you experiment with (and reuse content across) new channels easily. 

Making the whole experience consistent for your customers - from the apps they use to the people they talk to -  is already a major competitive advantage.

But to take one step further, and really jump ahead of the pack,  you can bring intelligent relevance into the mix. 

The major advantage B2B has here is that you already know your target customers in depth. Often, your target audienceis more of a niche than a typical B2C retailer would have. 

You know exactly who is in the conversation during the sales cycle and you are well aware of their pain points. This gives you a major leg up when it comes to personalization. 

Not only that, but the complexity of B2B naturally builds more trusting relationships with customers than typically seen in B2C. This trust means that customers are more willing to exchange data for a more personal experience -  such as re-order automation, customer portals, or a list of what supplementary products work with past purchases.

Providing this relevant, easily accessible content directly to customers offers incredibly convenience that drives resale, upsell, and overall share of wallet. 

 

Want to learn more about building a winning B2B customer experience?

We’ve sat with leading implementation partners for our latest white paper: The Rise of the B2B Customer Experience Imperative. Inside is: 

  • Successful digital tactics B2B companies have used to drive profits
  • The benefits B2B has over B2C in digital transformation
  • 4 steps to take now to win in B2B digital customer experience 

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