B2B customer experience stateHow relevant are the trendiest customer experience management (CXM) practices in business-to-business (B2B) companies? After all, B2B account teams are usually quite involved with clients throughout a long sales cycle, interacting with various influencers of the buying decision and almost “living” the customer journey alongside their clients.

High-Touch in B2B Customer Experience

In our four-year study of B2B customer experience management, 91% of participating firms said they sell B2B products and services through a dedicated sales force1, with a typical sales cycle ranging from three to twelve months. B2B customer experience is much more person-to-person than many think because of numerous departments weighing in on most purchase decisions, several functional areas from both the buyer and supplier firms interfacing for long periods before and after purchase, and the high monetary value and risky business impact of many B2B purchases.

As such, many CXM practices formalized by business-to-consumer (B2C) firms may have a different label and may be less formal, taken for granted and less visible in B2B customer experience management. Therefore, surveys of B2B practices may understate the actual work being done.

Seeing the Full Picture

What’s missing in account team CXM is the ability for everyone to see the full picture as customers see things:

  1. Multiple Accounts: If customers purchase products from different business units, or in different regions, do both the account teams and the business units have an accurate single view of who’s who, and what’s important? And do they have an accurate view of how a change in processes, policies, business models, or offering impacts the customer?
    • 29% of B2B firms have established a single view of each customer across divisions and regions; 29% more are just starting this.
    • One in four B2B firms has established processes for connecting data across customers’ end-to-end experience with the company; 25% more are just starting this.
    • One in four B2B firms integrates customer feedback sources; 29% more are just starting this.
    • A third of B2B firms have established processes to coordinate multiple accounts within a customer company; a third more are just starting this.
  2. Multiple Influencers: If different groups2 in the customer company have different perspectives, how well are they understood and accommodated – not only by the account team per se, but also by other functional areas in the supplier company who could help if they were better informed?
    • Half of B2B firms identify all the influencers in the buying decision; 27% are just starting.
    • 38% of B2B firms collect voice-of-the-customer from all of the influencers on the buying decision; 36% more are just starting this.
    • A third of B2B firms consolidate input of buying decisions from multiple influencers; 24% more are just starting this.
  3. Multiple Interfaces: If various functional areas interface with one another prior to and after the purchase, how consistent is the customer experience? And how well is anecdotal feedback from these customer interactions collected for immediate resolution and proactive influence of re-purchase?
    • One in four B2B firms coordinates customer interaction activities of multiple functional areas; 37% are just starting this.
    • One in four B2B firms have established processes for coordinating customers’ ongoing post-purchase touch-points; 38% are just starting this.

The strength of the dedicated sales force, as shown from these statistics, may actually be standing in the way of B2B companies’ capability to see the full picture of the customer experience as customers see it. And opportunities that could be enabled by others outside the account team are likely being missed unless someone is facilitating integration, coordination and consistency.

B2B #CustomerExperience is more person-to-person than many think because of numerous departments weighing in on purchase decisions, several functional areas, and the high monetary value and risky business impact of #B2B purchases.

Trendy Customer Experience Management

In today’s array of CXM webinars, articles, and conference speeches, hot topics include predictive analytics, journey mapping, touch-points, user experience, communities, digital and content marketing, self-service and social media.

Indeed, B2B is late to the party in adopting technologies for predictive analytics, data mining, social collaboration and user-generated content; about one in four B2B firms is using such technologies. But in cases where there is almost daily conversation between account teams and the customer, how much of these trendy CXM efforts are needed? And how well do they compensate for what’s missing in seeing the full picture?

Customer touch-points, journey mapping, user experience and/or life cycle management are in practice among four out of five B2B firms. However, one in three of these firms has deployed these practices company-wide; half of the study participants are using these practices in one or more places in the company. This is a larger concern, as customers tend to see a company as a single entity rather than a series of silos.

Need for a Customer Experience Management Strategy Model

What’s happening in B2B customer experience management strategy is similar to what’s happening in B2C. A quick comparison of data in the new B2B report with Forrester’s 2013 State of Customer Experience survey (which is predominantly based on B2C firms), shows the figures are roughly the same for the top obstacles to CXM success:

  1. Lack of clear customer experience strategy
  2. Lack of cooperation across the organization
  3. Lack of budget
  4. Lack of executive involvement

The most widespread practices are voice-of-the-customer and customer engagement. These two areas are often more disruptive to the customer company than to the supplier company, and these areas represent two ends of the CXM spectrum: what’s important and going well for customers, and what can customers do to demonstrate importance of the supplier company. In either case, the overriding desire for immediate revenue uptick seems to be the reason for the huge emphasis in these two areas: if only enough low-rating customers could be turned around to raving fans, and if only enough customers could be saying nice things about the company, all would be well, in theory.

What’s missing is the middle: what is the supplier company doing with the customers’ precious investments in voice-of-the-customer to make things so nice that customers want to be engaged? It’s unlikely that loyalty (i.e. share of budget) or retention (i.e. duration of relationship) can be achieved with lasting financial impact without the middle component to the CXM puzzle.

B2B customer experience maturity

Our B2B customer experience study has tracked motivation for CXM, how we listen to customers, how we view customers, how we center employees on customers and how we center our business on customers. CXM effort on listening to and engaging customers far outweighs the CXM effort underway in ensuring an accurate view of customers, and even less in centering employees and business on customers’ well-being.

B2B Customer Experience Management Success Factors

With a robust CXM strategy model that ties together motivations, listening, viewing, and centering, firms tend to have stronger business results, regardless of whether they’re in B2B or B2C industries. B2B firms reported CXM results such as 200% increase in market share over the past four years, 30% increase in survey scores, 20% revenue lift, 20% increase in customer engagement and 15% reduction in churn over the past year. The B2B study indicates that the following basics are the keys to financial and customer experience success:

  1. Coordination among managers of CXM methods.
  2. Treating CXM as a determinant of corporate strategy.
  3. Presentation of customer survey results to all employees.
  4. Calculation of customer lifetime value.
  5. Action on survey results by owners of key CX drivers.
  6. Encouraging cross-organizational CXM collaboration.

No silver bullet has emerged as a breakthrough method for customer experience excellence, except for the following: tying it all together, what’s most relevant to CXM success is a coordinated effort in executing the basics:

  • Setting a firm foundation through customer-centered culture, customer voice and intelligence, and customer lifetime value as a motivator
  • Adapting the company to customers’ needs through improvement and innovation of customer experience
  • Promoting engagement of employees and customers alike, in accordance with the above

Neither the trendiest CXM practices nor the traditional account management strengths is enough to move the needle in B2B customer experience business results. Operational excellence within the context of what’s most important to customers, as shown by the success factors listed above, is the recipe for differentiating and excelling financially in customer experience.

1 91% of participating B2B firms sell via dedicated sales force, 39% sell via value-added resellers, 38% sell via the internet, and 29% sell via agents or brokers.
2 Initiators, approvers, users, gate-keepers, etc.; these roles may be conducted by groups such as Purchasing, Plant Manager, Safety, Facilities, Legal, IT, and so forth.

If you currently manage B2B customer experience, please join the new Business-to-Business Customer Experience Management LinkedIn Group!

With a robust #CustomerExperienceManagement #Strategy model that ties together motivations, listening, viewing, and centering, firms tend to have stronger business results, regardless of whether they’re in B2B or B2C industries.

Images purchased under license from Shutterstock.

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