By Scott Armstrong

It seems like everyone is buzzing about the customer experience (CX) in the business-to-business (B2B) space right now. And just so we’re all on the same page, by CX I mean having a true understanding of what customers need, want or are looking for and delivering it in a highly relevant and timely fashion at each stage of those relationships. In other words, the awareness, consideration, purchasing and post-purchase stages.

While there’s a definite hunger to embrace the CX, there are still some hurdles B2B companies are bumping up against when it comes to putting the theory of CX into practice. Here are five of the biggest challenges that are creating a gap between CX objectives, execution and results, along with some tips on how to overcome them.

1. Strategy alignment.
Many B2B companies struggle with aligning their CX strategies to the tools, topics and data they have available to them. As a result, the digital experience lacks substantial customization towards a client’s interest or need. It’s not that they don’t have the technology or capability to provide a more personalized and customized web experience: many of them do! They’re simply not making it a priority. Business-to-consumer (B2C) companies such as Amazon and Spotify, on the other hand, do a great job of creating personalized experiences using existing data. Therefore, and before anything else, B2B companies need to update their strategies to say, “we want to provide more customized buyer journeys, driven by customer data prospects and customer data.”

2. Systems complexity.
New and improved solutions are constantly making headlines, so it might seem like your tech stack is always in need of an update. Because of this, companies are increasingly struggling with complexity in the systems that they’re building, which means the execution is falling short of the capability. As you try to build a better CX, it’s key to implement a strategy over a length of time that encourages a holistic understanding. Plan to scale that initiative to deliver it cost-effectively, execute against it cleanly and then measure its impact.

3. Operationalizing seamless CX.
Running your sales/marketing/service customer relationship management (CRM) on three separate systems won’t paint a holistic picture of a customer. Data gets even more fragmented when there are different brands and product areas. There’s a huge opportunity to improve the CX through using predictive data models. In order to make those tools work powerfully, give them access to the broadest set of customer data. The solution is hard work, but it starts with making platform decisions around the technology that you’re going to use and continuing to build within the scope of that platform.

4. Trying to manage everything in-house.
While smaller businesses can be nimbler and are more customer-facing, they also have less powerful tools, smaller budgets and limited resources to execute enabling a successful CX programme in-house. On the flip side, although larger businesses have more money to invest in tools to deliver a better CX they also have more complex environments and customer relationships, thus there’s a longer learning curve and a bigger time investment. Anytime you’re in a new area of learning, reach out to service partners that are executing more projects faster than you are. Chances are, service partners are working with 20 other companies trying to improve their CX, so they’ve got 20 times the use cases. It’s more effective to learn with a partner and then, over time, you can bring the service in-house.

5. How to value and prioritize the CX.
When you’re a business selling to another business, it can be easy to forget that B2B buyers are consumers, too. There are obvious differences when looking at the B2B versus the B2C workspace, but the value of the CX shouldn’t be treated any differently. Its emphasis should really be relative to the complexity of the relationship. Say you’re buying a can of soda. The CX factors that matter here are 1) the service is friendly, 2) the soda is cold and 3) the purchase takes less than 30 seconds. But if you’re buying software or manufacturing equipment that can be a multimillion-dollar decision. You’re not just making a simple purchase. Employees must be trained on its components, which must be integrated with the other systems. In this case, the CX obviously matters much, much more. When it comes to the value of CX, there should be a direct relationship with the amount of time, money and decisions needed to complete a purchase.

So where do you go from here?
If your goal is to transform your overall CX over the next three years, what should you be doing in the next three months? All teams are accountable for CX delivery, but how can it be tasked effectively?

Get the ball rolling by focusing on marketing: how customer-centric are your marketing activities and communications? How can messaging be segmented to the interest area of the customer? Build a better CX over the full buyer journey and evaluate how to capture more relevant data to support it. By architecting the different stages of the marketing section of the buyer journey, other parts of the organization can leverage their components to transform the CX overall.

Scott Armstrong is a partner at Brainrider (www.brainrider.com) where he helps companies create better B2B marketing including better web sites, content and lead generation and nurturing programmes.

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