From boring to brilliant? B2B customer experiences just need to be better

A better customer experience (CX) is a top strategic priority for nine out of ten business-to-business (B2B) leaders, yet only a handful of organisations excel at delivering it.

That’s one of the main conclusions of a recent study from Accenture, which makes it clear that the majority of B2B organisations have some catching up to do – or else they may find themselves at a distinct competitive disadvantage in a year or two’s time.[1]

“By 2020, digital customer experience and digital sales channels will become the primary points of differentiation for B2B companies. Brands that adapt to the changing expectations and behaviours stand to benefit, while those that ignore the trend will risk losing significant market share and see their businesses disrupted,” the report cautions.

As a pre-emptive measure, B2B organisations should take a closer look at the leading-edge CX strategies of B2C firms. Why? Because B2B companies – while they are selling to businesses – are still selling to people. Even in their professional lives, B2B buyers are consumers who enjoy a fast, convenient, compelling, and friction-free brand experience as much as anyone.

The best consumer-centric experiences make the typical B2B transaction seem boring, bothersome, and bewildering by comparison. Think of how slow, frustrating, and overly complex it can be to order office supplies, raw materials for manufacturing, or some new piece of machinery for the factory floor, compared to the ease of shopping for a book or a new outfit, hailing a car service, or settling down for an evening’s entertainment at home with a vast selection of on-demand movies and TV shows at your fingertips.

The difference is digital

A big point of difference, of course, is that many B2B transactions continue to be conducted via paperwork, phone conversations, and manual processing of information. And while many companies are working hard to shift these interactions to digital channels, that in turn opens the floodgates to a deluge of data about prospects, customers, orders, and deliveries that needs to be managed.

But more than that, this wealth of data, often residing on different systems used by various sales, service, support, and product teams across the organisation, also needs to be integrated, to provide a complete 360-degree view of each customer and their history with the company, and analysed, to identify what and when a customer is most likely to buy.

This calls for a holistic approach to data management that sees sales, marketing, and customer support staff working closely with their colleagues in IT to make data a strategic asset for the company and better support the customer experience. Intelligent data management helps ensure that product and customer information is complete, accurate, and trusted, providing the foundation for new ways to serve customers. For example, this might include:

Using data-driven personalisation to fuel marketing automation, so that the messages that customers receive are personal, timely, and relevant
Equipping sales reps with in-depth information about a B2B customer’s procurement team, its purchase history, and its market challenges, in order to identify and target new opportunities to cross-sell and upsell
Ensuring service personnel understand exactly which products or services a customer has bought, so that any post-sales issues or requests are tackled swiftly

A proactive approach to data management is especially important for B2B organisations, in light of the particular complexities they face, such as longer buying cycles. While B2C purchases may be spur-of-the-moment impulse buys, the B2B buying journey can take months. Data can be a valuable tool not just to get the ball rolling, but also to monitor the progress of a transaction and keep it moving forward.

There’s also the number of stakeholders involved to consider. B2B transactions often involve multiple decision makers and diverse hierarchies of approval on both the seller and buyer sides. Data is vital to understanding the identity of different players in a transaction and their various concerns and priorities.

It’s just as necessary to understand the different subsidiaries and geographic locations that may exist in single B2B organisation, in terms of knowing the products/services they’ve bought and where cross-sell/upsell opportunities might exist.

Smart data for smart business

One B2B company already reaping big rewards with a data-centric approach is JLL, a multi-billion-dollar global commercial real estate service provider operating in more than 80 countries.

Real estate is all about having the right information available at the right time, according to JLL. Whether it’s research for a client planning a new purchase or the latest data from “smart” automation systems for their facilities managers, JLL needed a data-driven environment that delivers information and insights where and when they’re needed.

To capitalise on an evolving real estate market and create a strong competitive advantage, JLL transformed from reactive data delivery to proactive, data-driven customer service – one that emphasised faster delivery of and easier access to robust, insightful property data. Real estate customers today are accustomed to relying on common public sources such as Zillow or Redfin. JLL’s new approach has empowered sellers and customers with up-to-the-minute information about its global property portfolio that covers billions of square feet.

In the past everything was done with hard copy pieces of paper, visual aids, and standard presentation techniques. Now JLL is able to rapidly incorporate interactive maps, videos from unmanned drones, and aerial images to bring real meaning and value to facts and figures. Empowering clients, building managers, and revenue-producing partners to paint a picture or tell a story with information has been the biggest and most important change JLL has made.

As JLL and other innovators recognise, exceptional B2B customer experiences rely on trusted data, managed well.

A customer-centric approach, anchored by intelligent data management, can transform the B2B customer experience from boring to brilliant.

[1] “On the Verge: B2B Digital Commerce is at an Inflection Point,” Accenture, September 2018.

About the Author

Suresh Menon, SVP & GM, Master Data Management, Informatica. Specialties: product management and strategy, product development, business development, alliances, Big Data, Master Data Management, Data Quality