Since the dawn of time, it seems we’ve approached customer experience from a B2C vantage point. They both have customer in the name—makes sense, right? That kind of traditional thinking was chronicled in Part 1 and Part 2 of our recent blog series. Yet, segmentation at this level no longer makes sense or is successful. The influence of B2B is highly relevant and surprisingly similar.
With Q1 in the bag, our team has noted many customer experience trends. What do you see in this list?
We don’t see anything overly new. Current marketers aren’t likely to do a double-take, as most have been trends for the past few years or are things we knew would happen eventually. What’s unique here is application. Generally regarded as B2C trends, they play a new and vital role when transposed to the B2B environment. Keep reading to learn how.
While at SXSW this year, I sat in on a session by Evernote CEO Chris O’Neill; it was titled B2B and B2C are Dead: Now What? The session’s overall theme was centered around companies needing to adapt to the rise of freelance/contract work and the decline of full-time jobs. One comment lingered with me:
“The reality is that we're used to thinking in terms of segments like B2B and B2C. So, we've been trained throughout our lives as marketers and designers and engineers to really think of these two things as completely distinct segments. I'm here to call them dead… It really has to do with end users demanding something better.”
I felt it instantly—a struck nerve. Not only was it a bold statement, but one I had been talking with fellow strategists about for the last few years. You can see it happening. Lines that divide the B2B and B2C customer experience are blurring, just as work-life balance is developing into a work-life blend. Why is this? Well, those behind the B2B industry are B2C customers outside of the office. From this, they have expectations about how brand interactions should be.
B2B companies are failing those expectations. They don’t see customers, but companies. Because of this, they can’t recognize that their customers are normal people who shop both emotionally and rationally. If B2B companies can start communicating in a way that spans the rational-emotional spectrum, they can create deeper, more rewarding experiences.
I’m sure everyone can recall the first campaign that pulled at their heartstrings, while also establishing a need to purchase from that brand. It was Apple’s Here’s to the Crazy Ones (1997) for me. For many reasons—some more subconscious than others—I feel its message of individuality and innovation is why I’m still a loyal Apple customer. Today, B2B brands must strive to create that same intense, enduring connection. The following trends are the first step to getting there and shunning the traditional.
Customers want to feel like they are being spoken to individually. This is easier in B2B marketing, because most of the buying relationships are with the same people. It can come in many forms, from customer service touchpoints to email marketing strategies, to something as simple as self-selection. Travelers does a fantastic job of allowing their visitors to select their industry and the website personalizes the information to that specific industry.
I know this sounds crazy, but invest the time and money in creating content for your customers! Not only will it leave a lasting impression, but it presents opportunities for interaction beyond the few times a year they visit your site to purchase from you. The Hartford does a near perfect job of this through their Small Biz Ahead content hub, where educational content and customer tools find ways to continually resurface their brand.
Here, we return to the notion of talking to your customers like they’re rational and emotional human beings. Appeal to both sides through storytelling within your content and channels. Share testimonials, make it personal. Remember that customers in the B2B space are bombarded with impersonal messaging. Giving them an authentic narrative to latch onto will cut through the clutter. Squarespace is a prime example of this, they’ve created a mixture of famous and regular user testimonials to help showcase their product. They even allow you to start your favorite person’s website template, that tells their story.
The new landscape for brand loyalty is tough; it’s not just about the product anymore, but about what your brand stands for and how it conducts itself. Showing community outreach, sustainability and other corporate initiatives help endear the customer to your brand. Nationwide does this through their volunteer work and sponsorships that they share on their Facebook page. This shows that they are active in the community that buys from them.
“Big data” has been a buzzword for some time, and it’s even more pervasive this year. Data is a beautiful thing that can help inform how customers are—or aren’t—using your channels and content. When gathered correctly, data can be used to create impactful strategies rooted in more than just assumption. Right now, per Customer Think, only 17% of companies have fully integrated customer data throughout their organizations.
Think with Google has been talking about micro-moments for a few years, and their importance in the B2B landscape shouldn’t be underestimated. Since users are increasingly more digital-friendly, the next generation of leadership roles will be filled by digital natives. What is a micro-moment? Any time a person looks at a digital device (to check the time, text a friend, read an email, etc.) Understanding your customer’s behaviors and keying into their micro-moments can help you leverage your brand in fresh ways.
Influencers have had their time in the sun; people connected the dots about who’s on your payroll. Honestly, the best influencers don’t need to have millions of followers—just authenticity. Testimonials and customer profiles are powerful things. B2B buyers experience purchasing stress, because they aren’t just buying for themselves. Showing them other relatable customers can help them gain comfort and confidence in you. American Express does this through their #amexambassadors hashtag that showcases wealthy, successful customers, that others emulate.
59% of B2B buyers prefer to do research online instead of interacting with a sales rep. They feel that sales reps only care about their personal selling agenda. The issue? Most B2B companies are behind when it comes to technology. It’s time to update your websites, because if they aren’t accessible, none of these trends will help you. Circling back to the rise of digital natives, your company needs to be always-on and always-updated. Outdated tech gives the impression of outdated product.
It’s plain to see: customer experience matters to B2B customers, and the spotlight will continue to shine on those expectations. Yet, we can’t neglect the distinctions that exist in B2B selling. The buying process is much more complex, the cycle is longer, the price tag is higher and the pressure to make the right decision is greater. Marketers also need to consider that final buying decisions might be affected by a committee vote, implementation of a business strategy or company politics. Most importantly, though, retention is the key to everything. B2B business should work toward retaining their customers for future investments. As suggested here, making a human connection is top priority. Shockingly, only 14% of B2B companies are customer-centric when it comes to experience.
If you can get the following things right, your customer experience is sure to shine: