Senior Writer: Writa Bhattacharjee
The B2B selling scenario is evolving. B2B companies are now facing tough competition and are being pushed to deliver more than just products. Adaptive selling is the way forward if they want to thrive in this competitive market. The COVID-19 pandemic has further complicated matters by altering how people and businesses function.
In this dynamic environment, B2B companies must change the way they have operated in the past. They need to shift their focus from products and pricing to customer experience. But what is B2B customer experience? And how do B2B companies guarantee a terrific experience for their customers? Read on to find out.
What is a B2B Customer Experience?
A business-to-business or B2B customer experience (also known as b2b cx) is the customer journey that your customer, a business rather than an individual, experiences. All businesses sell either to other companies or to retail customers.
Those that sell to businesses are known as B2B companies. While B2B selling is unique, you must ensure an outstanding customer experience. To do so, you can curate how your customers experience your products, brands, and services.
While B2B selling may sound simple, the truth is that delivering a good B2B customer experience is extremely complex. As the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we work, it has increased the number of times B2B companies interact with customers. According to the latest research, the average number of touchpoints in B2B customer experiences has risen from 17 to 27!
Yet, delivering a great customer experience is critical to business success and revenue growth. What this means for B2B companies is that they need to ensure a seamless experience for customers at each of those 27 touchpoints.
Difference Between B2C and B2B Customer Experience
Both B2B and B2C (Business to Consumer) businesses depend on high-quality customer experience to develop customer loyalty and generate repeat business. However, there are some marked differences between the two.
- Customer Profile – In B2B sales, one business sells to another. The target of marketing efforts is institutions. In B2C sales, businesses sell to consumers directly. The target of marketing efforts is individuals.
- Customer Numbers – B2C has a higher number of customers than B2B, but the target audience of B2B is more complex. The value and size of sales tickets are also much larger. More stakeholders are involved in decision making too.
- Customer Information – In B2C, companies need customer sales information to create a targeted marketing strategy. They can obtain this information from sales data. On the other hand, in B2B, companies need in-depth information about customers to build a sustainable relationship with them. This information has to be collected from multiple sources using thorough research.
- Customer Communication – In B2C, companies use mass communication tools like messaging and social media to reach customers. The messages are simple and are delivered via digital technology. In B2B, communication is 2-sided and complex. One-on-one conversations are crucial to understanding and resolving requirements and problems. It is a constant process that requires the human touch.
- Customer Touchpoints – In B2C, creating customer touchpoints requires segmentation—categorizing customers based on similarities in buying patterns. The touchpoints are tailored to the majority, and interactions are short and quick. In B2B, the touchpoints are tailored to the customer journey of individual customers. They are developed over time as the customer relationship evolves.
The 4 Stages of B2B Customer Experience
The B2B customer experience journey can be understood by systematically examining the flow of the B2B cx. From end to end, the customer journey can be divided into four stages. Here’s a discussion of what each step involves and how you can get the most out of it.
Exploration is the earliest stage of your potential customer’s B2B customer journey. At this stage, they learn about your company and your capability to solve their problems. Potential buyers interact with your website, B2B marketing campaigns, product pages, review sites, social media, and B2B influencers.
To understand the degree and quality of your potential buyers’ customer experience in b2b, you can keep an eye on metrics that show you their level of interest. Some of these metrics are.
- Website Traffic
- Average session duration on your website
- Pages per visit
- Marketing engagement
- Search engine ranking
These metrics provide primarily quantitative information. You might have to dig deeper into the reasons behind the behavior that they indicate to understand how to improve your B2B customer experience management. Some steps you can take to improve customer experiences at this stage are.
- Develop more engaging content
- Use SEO tools to generate organic traffic
- Find potential gaps in the customer experience by using a B2B customer journey map
- Create meaningful marketing and positioning using your USP
- Leverage reviews to understand and plug gaps in your B2B cx
- Incorporate exit intent feedback to learn why customers aren’t completing their journeys
This stage comprises the bulk of the B2B sales process and contains many touchpoints. Several relevant stakeholders are involved, including decision-makers, users, influencers, etc. As a result, the customer experience can become highly complicated, and ensuring a smooth buying process is critical.
Some of the most significant touchpoints of this stage are:
- Sales pitches and demos
- Contract negotiations
- Pricing plans and promotions
- Checkout process
Key metrics you should keep an eye on at this stage to ensure a smooth B2B customer experience include inbound leads, conversion rates, cart abandonment rates, demo requests, etc. If you can identify the factors causing sales to drop, you will be able to fix the gaps in the customer experience.
One of the most innovative ways to enhance the B2B customer experience at this stage is digital self-service. According to new insights from McKinsey & Co., 15% of buyers are willing to order for over $1 million via self-service. 12% are willing to spend between $500K and $1M, while 32% are willing to place orders for up to $500K.
Some other steps besides implementing self-service that you can take are:
- Take continuous feedback from potential buyers regardless of whether they purchase or not
- Make your sales reps available for regular contact, and guidance
- Create a buying guide for customers
- Simplify processes such as demo requests, order tracking, and checkout
- Ensure that information about products, prices, and servicing are readily available to customers
3. Product support
This is the stage after your customers have purchased your product, and you should aim to ensure that they have a positive experience with your brand. It is essential to help customers use your product or service, and resolving any queries or issues is vital to ensure a successful customer experience.
Here are some actions that will help you make this stage success in your B2B customer journey:
- Creating and sharing educational content like product guides, demo videos, FAQs, timelines, or SOPs
- Staying in touch through helpful emails and follow-up calls
- Developing robust customer support channels focused on building relationships
- Ensuring an efficient and fast response to customer requests and complaints
- Obtaining and utilizing customer feedback about products and support
Some metrics that will help you to understand the success of this stage of your B2B cx are support requests, customer effort scores, product experience insights, feedback tools, widgets, etc.
This stage in the customer experience feeds into your firm’s next cycle of sales and revenues. Customers will renew their relationship with you only if you have managed all the touchpoints in the customer journey smoothly from the beginning.
Repeat sales and repeat customers are critical for business success. Customer acquisition costs are much higher than customer retention costs. Some tools that will tell you how well you have done include repeat customer rate, customer lifetime value, and customer retention rate. You can use appropriate survey tools to obtain this information.
Some actions you can take to improve the customer journey at this stage include:
- Implement a comprehensive Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) survey
- Run a B2B customer churn survey to understand why some customers are leaving
- Make changes to your products and services based on feedback for future customer experience
B2B Customer Experience Best Practices
In the world of sales, customer experience is everything. A study says customers are willing to pay up to 16% extra for a rich customer experience. B2B companies are no exception to the need to enhance customer experiences. More than product or price, B2B organizations must focus on delivering an excellent customer journey. Here are some B2B cx best practices to help you.
1. Know Your Customers
B2B buyers are responsible for making the best use of their company’s funds. Therefore, they are under much pressure before, during, and after the procurement process. They also mistrust sales reps and businesses they see as pushing their agendas. So, to build a strong relationship, you must overcome their mistrust through a great customer experience.
You can do so by assuring your prospective customers that your goal is to help them find a solution to their problems. This process begins by learning about them. You can research the company, the industry it operates in, the challenges it faces, its financial status, etc. The more you understand them, the better your solution will fit their needs and their B2B customer experience.
2. Have a Customer-Centric Vision
Customer-centricity has to be top-down and permeate through your company. You have to start with a vision of making the customer the center of your business. Every activity will then revolve around this vision. Everyone in the organization will work with the understanding that they must help customers solve their problems. Every customer interaction should make them feel valued.
A positive customer experience has to be carefully cultivated. Customers can gauge when a company is genuinely trying to help them or trying to make a profit off of them. Therefore, approaching every outreach with sincere customer-centricity is essential, from a call to an advertisement to your website. And you can set that tone by creating a customer-centric culture.
3. Offer Personalized Experiences
No customer likes to be handed a one-size-fits-all answer. This is as true for B2B customers as for B2C customers. In the clutter of options in today’s competitive business environment, you can stand out by personalizing your solutions. You can tailor your offering to customers’ specific needs and help them to implement it too.
Doing so will make your customer feel valued and appreciated. But to add value to your customer’s experiences, you must know them well. You must also establish strong communication lines and personalize every step of the customer journey. Treating the process as selling a customized solution rather than products is the key to delivering meaningful customer experiences.
4. Use Customer Service Technology
Technology can be a B2B company’s best friend when providing a seamless customer experience. Companies already use the internet to find information. You can go a step ahead to harness the power of the digital revolution. You can build a database to help tailor solutions for your customers. Or automate small routine tasks so your sales reps can focus on relationship building.
You can use machine learning and AI to build a communication system that lets you always connect with your customers. Technology can even help you predict when customers need to renew orders and be proactive. Using technology to achieve high efficiency will ensure a quality customer experience and give you a competitive edge.
5. Educate and Advise Customers
One of the biggest concerns of B2B buyers is that sales representatives often push their products instead of considering their needs. This concern leads them to avoid sales reps and look for information from other sources. If you can focus on educating and advising your customers instead of pushing your products, you can win their trust and deliver a strong customer experience.
To give your customers the correct information and advice, you can start by asking the right questions. After understanding their business, goals, and needs, you can educate yourself on their options. If you provide insights into what will resolve their problems instead of telling them what they already know, you will build a strong business case for your company.
6. Offer Post-Purchase Support
Post-purchase support is crucial in building a solid relationship with new customers. It involves helping customers use the products they have already purchased more efficiently. It also involves ensuring that they are happy with their purchases. Interestingly, it can also include proactively finding solutions to meet their future requirements.
Continued communication with customers can tell you about their changing requirements. You can work with them as they grow and develop to find new solutions, educate them, and provide troubleshooting assistance. Post-purchase service makes your customers value their relationship with you, bringing in repeat sales.
7. Connect with Clients in Real-Time
Speed can make or break a company’s B2B customer experience. In a B2B relationship, customers expect the seller to be available in real time. In fact, 80% of B2B buyers expect that. If you cannot be available, you won’t be able to build a lasting relationship. However, sales reps can’t always be personally available in real time.
This area is where Live Chat can come in handy. Customers can reach out through your website’s Live Chat and connect to your team. Someone will be available to assist if they have questions or need help. You can also build an integrated communication network, including your email, messages, social media accounts, etc., to always know when customers try to reach you.
8. Adopt Customer Self-Service
As mentioned in the previous section, a significant number of B2B buyers prefer remote contact or self-service for ordering. Self-service extends to customer support as well in the form of knowledge banks, chatbots, and community help forums. These self-service resources improve response times and free up bandwidth to address customer issues that require human intervention.
Having such knowledge banks and relevant information as self-service resources also saves your customers’ time. Instead of trying to reach your team, they can quickly troubleshoot the issue independently. It makes your solution more user-friendly and improves the buyer’s customer experience.
9. Provide Proactive Customer Service
Don’t wait for problems to arise to solve them. You must anticipate pain points for your customers and help them deal with potential roadblocks. You can identify these likely issues based on your customer health scores. Where your customer is in their customer journey can also indicate possible challenges that you can address before customers realize they are there.
This is typically the role of the customer success team. The health of your customers’ accounts will show you who is your loyal customers are and who your unhappy customers are. You can use this information to provide a high-quality customer experience or prevent churn, as the case may be.
10. Optimize Your Website’s Accessibility and Usability
Now is the time to take your business online. E-commerce is booming for B2B businesses. B2B companies are generating twice as much e-commerce sales as B2C companies. An online presence also makes you more noticeable to your potential customers. They can check out your products, demos, solutions you offer, and other critical details conveniently.
However, it is vital to ensure the accessibility of your website. Accessibility implies that anyone should be able to use your website, even those who are differently abled. If you follow web accessibility guidelines to create an e-commerce platform that includes everyone, you can create an excellent customer experience for all customers.
11. Collect Customer Feedback
Ultimately, your customers are the ones who can genuinely confirm what their customer experience has been. Since each customer relationship in a B2B setting is unique, the best way to find out is to ask your customer for feedback. You can collect feedback at the end of the B2B sales cycle or at different stages for continuous analysis and actionable customer insights.
Whether the feedback is negative or positive, you can use it for improvement. You can finetune your offerings, processes, approach, and service to stand apart from your competitors. The feedback loop can help you constantly upgrade your customer experience in b2b.
Delivering a superior B2B customer experience can be challenging. However, this is the only way forward. We have discussed what delivering spectacular B2B cx means at every customer journey stage. We have also discussed some best practices to delight your customers. You can use this Guide as a starting point to exceed customer expectations of a positive customer experience.
B2B Customer Experience FAQ's
Customer experience in B2B is crucial in today’s highly competitivescenario. By its very nature, B2B sales depend on developing strong customer relationships. It is also a large-volume business that takes months to complete one sale cycle. A positive customer experience can ensure a company retains customers and gets repeat sales.
There are three steps to measure customer experience in B2B:
- Identify the customers whose experience you want to measure and analyze.
- Identify the key touchpoints where you want the experience to be measured, like customer renewals, lost deals, product returns, closed support tickets, etc.
- Collect customer feedback through tools like Customer Satisfaction Survey, Customer Effort Score, and Milestone Surveys.
The importance of customer experience is increasingly gaining attention. Yet, there are several challenges to understanding the B2B customer experience. Some of these are:
- Unavailability of accurate and structured B2B data.
- Cold calling and emails have become redundant and can irritate potential customers.
- Most B2B companies have zero or poor omnichannel cx.
- Inability to create accurate customer journey maps for clients.
- Not having quantifiable measures to evaluate improvements in customer experience.
- Not using the latest technology to stay on top of customer interactions.
A B2B cx strategy is the organization's roadmap to delivering a perfect customer experience. It accounts for every step in the customer's journey, from lead generation to closing deals to post-sales follow-up.
Its goal is to ensure a consistent customer experience that surpasses customer expectations. The steps in developing a robust B2B cx strategy include:
- Finding out your customer health score
- Collecting customer feedback on their experiences
- Understanding their customer journeys
- Creating a strategy based on analyzing this customer data
There are several interesting B2B customer experience trends:
- Companies who are cx leaders prioritize customer experience over other business goals
- CX leaders prefer time-tested methods of personal contact, doing market research, and having the best talent working for them to deliver customer experience.
- Successful customer experience develoackpment is highly dependent on customer feedback
- Employee ignorance and lack of training are the biggest obstacles to achieving excellent customer experience.
- Customers' most significant pain point in the customer journey has to wait for a response from the seller.