The big difference between B2B customer experience and B2C

Creating great customer experiences in B2B is not the same as it is in B2B, writes Michael Haynes.

Recently Forrester Research released the results of its study, ‘The State of Customer Experience Maturity in 2015’. This study states that despite customer experience being deemed a top strategic priority in many Australian organisations, more than 70% of large Australian companies are failing to align customer experience strategies with their overall business strategies.

If companies operating in business to consumer (B2C) markets are experiencing mediocre to dismal results from their CX endeavours, business to business (B2B) companies are likely to do no better – if not worse with their CX initiatives.

There are two key reasons why B2B CX initiatives are proving not to be the Holy Grail that business owners and senior leaders are looking for.

‘Copying and pasting’ doesn’t work for B2B

One of the primary reasons why B2B CX initiatives are having limited impact on both customers and company performance is that in many cases they are simply replicating B2C CX approaches to B2B companies.

This approach is highly problematic and doomed for failure as B2C approaches do not recognise and account for the unique aspects of B2B markets that we often see cited in textbooks and thought leadership pieces. The characteristics include:

  • Transactions involving big dollars and/or big risks,
  • complex products and services,
  • lengthy contracts,
  • smaller number of customers, and
  • the 80/20 rule (20% of your customers account for 80% of your revenue).

The combined effects of these characteristics can have huge implications on the success and potentially the survival of the company. They also can have significant impact on the careers of management. As a result, relationships are everything in B2B!

This is where the problem lies with many B2B CX programs. They focus on the relationship and catering to the needs of the users of the products and services. Doing so ignores another key characteristic of B2B which is that buyers and users are often not the same.  In order to get business customers (and prospects) to buy, you have to develop and cultivate a relationship with the true buyers. To do this, you must also deliver a buyer customer experience that will require you engaging with them differently, also satisfying a different set of priorities and expectations. These often focus around topics such as strategic imperatives, market positioning, thought leadership and industry engagement. Satisfying buyer needs and delivering an optimal buyer experience can be quite a daunting and challenging given the increasing number of multiple and diverse participants in the buying process.

Pontificating instead of ‘getting down and dirty’

If navigating the minefield of B2B is not challenging enough, the manner in which many organisations approach CX further undermines their own efforts. Another reason why B2B CX initiatives often produce underwhelming results is because there is insufficient focus made on actually taking action. Many organisations, once they have decided to embark on the journey to improve CX, spend the majority of their time undertaking lots of pontificating and undertaking exercises such as journey mapping and design thinking, which usually result in creating massive strategic documents such as PowerPoint decks. While these activities are valuable and often necessary, by themselves they are not sufficient to impact business performance.

Driving improvements and producing results through delivering a B2B CX is difficult and requires hard work. Results are only achieved by truly taking action. This requires organisations going beyond ‘blue sky’ strategic thinking, rolling up their sleeves ‘getting dirty’ and ‘getting into the detail’. This is achieved by:

  • Prioritising and determining exactly what initiatives will be undertaken,
  • detailing action plans that specify by whom, how and when,
  • mobilising and managing the resources required.

It’s painful, it’s tough, but that is where the focus needs to be to create and deliver the B2B CX which will drive a company’s performance.

The silver bullet to winning in B2B

So how can B2B organisations deliver a CX that will generate benefits for their customers and most importantly improve their bottom line?

Unfortunately there is no easy quick, silver bullet that will enable B2B organisations to deliver a CX that will deliver. Instead companies must deliver a total B2B customer experience. Doing so means that companies must address all aspects of the relationship in terms of both what they deliver to customers and how they deliver. The silver bullet is that companies must ultimately provide their customers with dual customer experiences that are buyer driven. In other words, they have to create and deliver two customer experiences; one that caters to the needs and priorities of buyers and another that caters to the needs and priorities of users.

 

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It is only by taking a two pronged approach, organisations will attain the tangible, measurable benefits they seek.