6 ways in which B2B companies can become better at CX

“We love your examples, Steven, but what works in B2C does not work in B2B”

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December 16, 2022

I have quite a few B2B customers and one of things that they always like to tell me is this: “We love your examples, Steven, but what works in B2C does not work in B2B”. Well, that may be true in some situations, but I truly believe that this should not be an excuse to neglect the customer experience if you are in B2B. Especially now that all companies – and thus all B2B customers – are under a lot of pressure with customer spending going down and energy and raw material prices going up.

So here’s an inspiration list of 6 approaches that B2B companies have used to create better CX.

Have a dedicated customer (di)vision

A lot of B2B companies are still very product or service driven. They think inside out: “what could be the best features?” or “how can our services be more efficient?”. They lack the outside-in reflex that characterizes the most successful B2C companies. If you, as a B2B company, want to offer a better customer experience than your competitors, you just need to start with the customer: what are their hopes, dream, fears and needs? How can you help them offer a better service to their customers.

One of the most radical ways of shifting your company towards a customer-obsessed mindset, is by giving this a structural and dedicated place inside your company. Don’t treat CX as an afterthought. Make it a priority. One of my favorite B2B examples in the matter is Workday, a provider of enterprise cloud applications for finance, HR, and planning. Each of their customers are allocated a dedicated customer success manager who helps them achieve their objectives by providing training, support, and further resources.

Digital convenience first

B2B prospect and customer relations used to be notoriously maintained IRL (in real life). And then millennials hit the work floor. And the pandemic hit. And now we see a growing number of B2B customers preferring fast and online channels now, even for relatively high priced purchases. According to McKinsey, 70% of B2B decision-makers are willing to make new purchases over $50,000 through self-service or online channels. 27% of buyers will even spend more than $500,000 online. And apparently, 100% of buyers want self-serve options for at least part of the buying process, up 13% from 2021. (TrustRadius)

Good Start Packaging, for instance, really excels at offering digital convenience to its customers. It sells sustainable packaging and compostable products to businesses but its website gives B2B buyers a B2C-like shopping experience: live chat, product videos, easy-to-use filters and even a button that links to Google Customer Reviews to boost social proof. And Tesla, which will also offer a B2B product like the Tesla Semi Truck as of next year, will no doubt have a wonderfully smooth e-commerce experience around that, which will become the standard for all other trucking companies.

Even if you’ve always been used to have a showcase website only and no e-commerce, maybe it’s time to change that, especially of you realize that customers are even willing to buy the more expensive items and services online. Of course, I do understand that this depends on what they exactly want to buy. Not one large and complex company will buy an off the shelf ERP online.

Make your customers smarter

One of the best ways to make your company more valuable to its customers, is to make your customers more valuable. Let me explain. In a fast changing world, being able to learn and adapt to your surroundings is definitely an advantage. Well, an increased number of B2B customers is helping their customers to know more, make better (data-driven) decisions and become “smarter”.

American multinational financial services company Wells Fargo is a great example. Its B2B customers are small businesses, facing a lot of challenges in these turbulent times. So Wells Fargo provides numerous training resources on how to build and strengthen their businesses on topics ranging from marketing to payroll. Another is Farmers Business Network (FBN), a platform backed by Google Ventures. In the agribusiness industry, where farmers traditionally had little access to data about seeds, fertilizers, and nutrients, the platform FBN provides transparent agronomic data to farmers, helping them make more-informed decisions.

Unburden your customers

One of the best ways to boost your CX is by offering peace of mind to your customers, and unburdening them from tasks that have little added value to their own employees or customers. One of the most efficient ways to go about that is with a subscription service, where the B2B company does not need to spend repetitive actions on purchasing things.

For example: Signify, formerly Philips Lighting, is a multinational lighting corporation that produces and sells electric lights and lighting fixtures. It also offers ‘lighting-as-a-service’ (LaaS) to its commercial and public sector customers. Under an LaaS contract, Signify installs, operates and maintains the lighting systems while the customers pay a monthly service fee for light. The products that Signify uses under the LaaS contract, are specifically designed for easy repair and replacement while in operation. They can be easily reused or recycled once each use phase is over.

The system is not just more efficient and simple for Signify customers, but the way it leads to significant energy savings also makes it more environmentally friendly. For instance, in Schiphol airport, LaaS reduced energy consumption by 50% compared to the previous system.

Show, don’t tell

Sometimes, customers don’t want you to tell them what the benefits will be. They want to feel them. While B2B used to be more about sales reps going to companies with snazzy PowerPoint presentations, we see things changing here too.

GE, for instance, built 2 Customer Experience Centers in Pittsburgh and Munich, offering an inside look at its manufacturing capabilities. During a visit, customers get to see the value of working with GE, familiarize themselves with the manufacturing process, and discuss tailored solutions. The buildings aren’t just showcases, they are fully-operating manufacturing facilities that contribute to the company’s workflow.

Create an emotional connection

People do not associate B2B environments with emotions. We tend to think that decision making there is all about rationality and very careful planning. And though it’s true that B2B purchasers crunch more numbers, weigh more options, gather more data and take more time to think about their decisions, at the end of the day they are still people, with emotions.

In fact, research by Google (it was a while ago, in 2013 but I think it still makes a lot of sense) showed that B2B customers are significantly more emotionally connected with their vendors and service providers than B2C consumers. And this makes a lot of sense, when you think about it. B2B purchases are usually complex, expensive and risky. Making the wrong choice, could result in being fired. IBM summed this up nicely with their very effective slogan ‘Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM’.

Most B2B vendors tend to focus too much on products and features. They want to impress procurement teams with facts. But the truth is that very often, even in complex industries, what the competition offers is very similar. So the only effective way to create meaningful differentiation is by building an emotional bond.

This article first appeared on Steven's blog. Read that and more here.

Steven Van Belleghem
Steven Van Belleghem
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December 16, 2022