The B2B/C convergence – vendors must consider sentiment in an experience-driven world

Adobe has published the findings of a marketing and B2B buying survey conducted by Marketo in the UK, France and Germany. The report reveals that business buyers expect vendors to display traits traditionally associated with consumer brands, demonstrating B2B and B2C landscapes are no longer distinct.

This article is sponsored by Marketo, an Adobe company, to let readers know about its new report ‘Creating Epic Customer Experiences’ »

The ‘Creating Epic Customer Experiences report shows how the B2B buying experience is more similar to B2C, giving rise to a ‘Business To Everyone’ (B2E) world. With 70% of B2B marketers saying they can’t differentiate, B2E poses a new challenge for all business in an already competitive environment.

The report highlights three areas of convergence:

Desire For security, protection and transparency align B2B and B2C

It’s safe to assume that all buyers – both B2C and B2B – are looking for a great product at a reasonable price. Other buyer ‘must haves’ – security, protection and ease of business – are important to both consumers and business buyers. Marketers won’t be surprised to learn that the vast majority of buyers say it’s vital a supplier is serious about protecting both their organisation’s and their own personal data; 85% want to be treated fairly as a customer and 78% want a brand to be transparent about how it works.

The rise of altruistic brand purpose in B2B

B2B buyers are increasingly motivated by other factors. Sustainability is an essential area of consideration, with 67% of buyers seeking to work with companies that are striving to lower their impact on the environment. Of course, a focus on green credentials is hardly a nascent trend. Being eco-friendly has been a hot topic for years, and marketers are well aware of the value of this. What’s interesting is the emerging importance of brands showing their stance on people, ethics and the ‘big social issues’ of the day. In short: altruistic purpose and brand values.

B2C and B2B buyer sentiments are converging. For example, just as many consumers will no longer shop with retailers whose ethics they disagree with, 30% of B2B buyers will disengage from a brand whose values don’t match their own – 68% of B2B buyers place a high importance on how a company treats its employees.

A similar number (64%) seek to do business with brands that ensure their operations are fair to people throughout the supply chain – and 63% expect suppliers to demonstrate authentic ethical values. Meanwhile, three in five want the brands they work with to take real action to support human rights at home and abroad.

These are big changes that stand to drastically alter the way marketers work, the campaigns they create and the messages they deliver. In fact, many have already been impacted, with almost half (48%) of marketers agreeing they have lost sales in the last two years because they haven’t demonstrated a strong enough sense of brand purpose. For B2B organisations, purpose might not be the only thing that sets your brand apart, a lack of it could even stop you from winning new customers.

All buyers crave a personal experience

Consumer brands are increasingly turning to technology to help deliver personal experiences across all digital touchpoints, and solve business challenges like driving first to second purchase, notifying visitors when products are back-in-stock and deploying relevant messaging based on behavioural data. This report indicates personalisation is crucial to keep B2B buyers too, with 49% saying tailored offers and communications will encourage them to stick with a provider.

Accounting for the generational divide

B2B marketers face an additional challenge in that not all buyers feel the same way. The study shows younger buyers are more likely to feel passionately about working with a company with a brand purpose that aligns with their own values and beliefs. But for older buyers and board members, the landscape changes significantly.

Just 42% of board members are looking for suppliers to stand up for something bigger than their own product and services, in comparison to 64% at the sub-board levels. Meanwhile, only 34% of board members expect a brand to invest in and engage with cultural issues, next to 57% of sub-board employees. Finally, the board is 20% less likely to think it’s important that a company shows genuine engagement with diversity and inclusion for employees. However, board-level buyers are more likely to be concerned about being treated fairly as a customer and having both their organisation’s and their personal data protected.

It’s a complex situation. There’s no point pushing this messaging on a big-ticket investment that will require board approval, when factors like security, privacy and the promise of efficiency savings are more likely to be appealing. But if they don’t include brand purpose in ‘top of the funnel’ marketing sent to younger/sub-board buyers, they may risk being passed over for RFPs. Marketers must have a nuanced understanding of when to bring out purpose-based messaging – and they have to find a way to create a customer experience that factors all of this in.

CXM and the importance of lifecycle engagement

According to the report, 39% of B2B buyers won’t switch providers if they’re doing a good job, so vendors need to adopt a robust full lifecycle engagement strategy and focus on customer experience, not just in marketing but across the organisation. Whether it’s analysing data to provide funnel-tailored messages, creating engaging experiences across different platforms or delivering multichannel customer communications, marketers need to ensure they’re providing the end-to-end experiences that customers seek.

With all these challenges, it’s little wonder that marketers are finding their task harder across the funnel. To survive and thrive, all businesses should be looking at creating the same engaging emotional connections already prevalent in B2C – because in a B2E world, vendors can’t afford not to. Marketers in all arenas must adopt a robust customer experience management (CXM) strategy and focus on engagement and experience to build trusted, long-lasting relationships.

Peter Bell is marketing director at Adobe

Delve deeper into understanding the shifting buyer hierarchy in B2B and B2C, how buyer needs are evolving in a new landscape and how the generational shift is impacting the buying process in Marketo’s latest report, ‘Creating Epic Customer Experiences’ »

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