The importance of an elite B2B customer experience

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Customer experience (CX) has long been a strategic focus for business-to-consumer (B2C) retailers who understand its role as a key driver of customer acquisition, conversion, and retention. Over the years, business-to-business (B2B) retailers have begun to understand that their customers increasingly expect the same quality experiences they get from their B2C interactions with digital consumer brands such as Uber, Netflix, and Amazon. CX platform Lumoa states that 80 per cent of B2B buyers expec

expect the same purchasing experience as B2C consumers, while Salesforce’s State of the Connected Customer report reveals that nine-in-ten B2B customers consider experience to be as critical as the product, itself, in deciding whether or not to buy from a company.

Despite this understanding, many retailers still under-invest in their B2B customer experience. Instead, investment is prioritised in cost-reduction strategies, process efficiencies, IT modernisation, support, and back-office initiatives. As a result, these retailers often offer less-than-optimal experiences to B2B customers.

The need to re-evaluate B2B strategies

With a greater proportion of the workforce than ever being represented by digital-natives (brand agnostic, experience and values driven, mobile first) and this proportion only expected to grow in coming years, it is more important than ever for retailers to re-evaluate their B2B experience strategies to put the customer at the forefront.

An Adobe report found that B2B businesses leading in CX were three times more likely to have succeeded in their expectations and goals. Global leaders in B2B retailing, like Amazon and Alibaba, understand this. Amazon uses data to understand customer needs and personalise journeys across all touchpoints. Alibaba seeks to have a full understanding of its target markets and their specific purchasing habits.

But you don’t need to be a multibillion-dollar market leader to master your B2B customer experience.

Rather than treating each B2B consumer as just another customer, retailers should be recognising their unique buying journeys and optimising the experience for these journeys. For instance, B2B customers typically use up to six different channels to make a purchase, making an omnichannel experience critically important. 

The B2B journey, as Gartner illustrates, tends to involve ‘looping’, rather than a linear process. It ranges from stages such as problem identification and solution exploration to requirements building, supplier selection, and validation. A TrustRadius report found that 100 per cent of B2B buyers want self-serve as part or all of the buying journey, compared with just 13 per cent in 2021.

Additionally, whereas retailers can use mass marketing to reach large numbers of consumers, the pool of potential business customers is much smaller. Targeting and personalisation are critical, as well as investing even more in individual relationships. With people changing jobs at much higher rates, this is all the more important. LinkedIn found that 81 per cent of sellers suffered lost or stalled deals in the past 12 months due to a key stakeholder leaving a client or prospect company.

Optimising the B2B experience

There are key differences between the B2B and B2C path to purchase. The B2B chain of command is much longer, typically involving more parties for purchase approvals, such as procurement and accounting departments, and senior management. As such, the B2B purchasing journey is often longer, involving more lead nurturing. One survey by MarketingCharts found that 75 per cent of B2B sales to new customers take at least four months to close, with 46 per cent taking seven months or more.

Retailers should consider how the unique functional requirements of a B2B customer’s journey can be optimised. For example, B2B customers will often require the functionality to search by product code/SKU and have unique payment options such as account or invoice.

Customer accounts provide retailers with opportunities for personalisation beyond simply price and catalogue. Retailers will often have much more detailed information on their B2B customers and their purchase habits, which can be leveraged to improve customer satisfaction and metrics such as basket size and conversion rate.

Retailers should also consider some of the basics of sales funnel optimisation for the perceived captive audience of B2B. While commonplace in B2C retail, guest checkout is rarely provided in the B2B retail space. This is a missed opportunity, especially for ad hoc or infrequent purchases, where setting up an account may be a barrier to purchase or, worse, drive someone to another retailer.

With CX now one of the primary drivers of brand loyalty, it’s more important than ever that retailers recognise this and invest in their business customers the same way they do for retail.

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