In case you hadn’t noticed, marketing has gone digital. Really, really digital. Most successful companies — of all sizes — are focusing their efforts on building well-planned, innovative, and high-quality digital customer experiences for their B2B customers. That experience looks a lot like a map — one that guides customers through all sorts of digital channels like mobile apps, websites, landing pages, social media platforms, and — most importantly — back again.
Customer experience (CX) is the entire sum of a customer’s interactions with your brand. While UX is designed for a single user, CX sees the bigger picture and revolves around the broader target audience, which is precisely what B2B is all about.
If your CX is tailor-made for digital customers, no matter your industry, it’s shown to increase customer satisfaction. As a result, we’ve seen increases in customer retention and greater brand loyalty (or, to use a more fun word, “stickiness”). Plus: word-of-mouth marketing is stronger than ever before, since we have so many “mouths” to choose from (likes, shares, retweets, etc.).
How does digitization improve customer experience?
When you’re presenting your customers with a digitized, omnichannel experience, they stay connected with your brand and your products and services no matter where they wander. If your user data is synced across a variety of channels, and you keep the journey front-of-mind, customers know exactly where to go next, and they’ll hang around.
What is unique about B2B customer experience?
While B2C speaks directly to an end user, your B2B customer isn’t just one person. You’re speaking to an entire group (sometimes a very large group) of stakeholders. That means going beyond a couple of highly-specific motivators and taking an approach that speaks to everyone from executives and accountants to designers and engineers.
Not every step in the B2B journey is equally important to those stakeholders (but each needs plenty of attention and strategizing from you). For high-stakes purchases — particularly for companies with lots of decision-makers at the table — the lead-nurturing stage becomes more of a many-branched tree than it is a straight line — which is the B2C model.
Decision makers will come and go at different steps in the journey — some are deep in the consideration phase while others have just heard about you. And you’re marketing to both of them at the same time. Plus: they’re having all sorts of interesting (and hopefully enthusiastic) conversations about your product with each other.
The value each stakeholder gives to each touch point can be drastically different from one another. And some are uniquely important in B2B. For example:
- Table stakes, which are the basic requirements for specifications, price, and standards.
- Functional value, which addresses the broader performance needs of the company.
- Individual value, which looks at the things that make each brand unique, like design, reputation, and perks. This includes those inspirational things like company ethos, vision, and responsibility.
We know, these are broad. And they look, at first glance, like they only apply to stakeholders up in the C-suite. But as stakeholders pass recommendations through their own channels, the influence on that final purchase could come from any department and pay grade. If the CFO is happy about the table stakes and the marketing VP is happy about the individual value — you might have sealed the deal.
Why is B2B customer experience important?
The short answer: B2B customers are worth more — at least financially. A highly digitally-engaged B2B customer can provide three times the annual value of the average customer.
So why is that? The research tells us that B2B customers are six times more likely to try new products and services from trusted brands, four times more likely to refer your brand to colleagues, and twice as likely to favor brand loyalty over product price — or even product quality. Trust carries a ton of weight.
The potential lifetime value of B2B customers is usually higher than B2C, so the retention and advocacy phases in the journey are critical. This also helps direct your budgeting. In general, the lifetime value of a B2B customer should be about 3 or 4 times the cost of getting that customer on board.
4 Steps to Digitizing Customer Experience
1. Map out the customer journey, complete with touch points.
You’ve got to visualize it. Think like a video game developer: where might my player go? What do they need available to them when they get there? And what might get in their way? Have plans in place to re-engage and redirect if they wander off your established course.
And keep the terrain debris-free and your paths clearly-marked with few forks in the road. Friction happens when CX presents irritating delays — usually caused by too many touch points, multiple paths to choose from (leading to “choice paralysis”), or high input requirements for the customer (use lead gen forms strategically and efficiently — they’re known for stopping users in their tracks if not well-optimized).
Direct customers smoothly between your social media channels and your landing pages, which, in turn, guide them easily into and around your (wonderfully optimized and customer-friendly) website. By the time they reach the purchasing point, they know everything they need to know about you and your products and services.
2. Anticipate needs and personalize solutions.
B2B customers might be clusters of people, but they’re still people. Buyer personas are key here, and personalization will ensure that you’re speaking to all of your stakeholders’ values.
A huge benefit to digitization is the ability to create a consistent, standardized experience that doesn’t require constant oversight. Intelligent personalization, an AI-aided strategy, boosts relevance and engagement during each customer interaction — they key to great CX. Use automation when it helps make your work better (not just easier).
If you’re using an in-app experience, be sure you’ve got plenty of data close at hand that leverages use cases (another place where well-developed personas can do lots of the heavy lifting).
3. Create an omnichannel experience
Multi-channel marketing has been the way of the world since before the internet was born. And it’s still the ultimate strategy for marketing and sales — driving your customer to various points of purchase. We put buyers in chutes that deliver them nicely to storefronts, websites, mobile apps, social pages, and phone lines.
But this can often lead to dead ends. They get to your website and don’t get what they need. So now what? They go somewhere else. So turn multi into omni. Don’t just have the channels hanging out there like tendrils — integrate and connect them. All channels should be available at all times, and users flow frictionlessly between them.
Some B2B customers are highly independent and juggling lots of potential products, so self-service resource pages are an effective way of providing flexibility. But some customers really want to dig in and have an interaction with you — getting those nitty-gritty questions answered and talking shop. So live chats are often needed. Be ready for that. But remember: it’s not one or the other — give them every possible channel.
4. Test, monitor, and optimize.
If you aren’t watching your customers’ behavior like a hawk, you’re missing a key piece of the marketing puzzle.
A standardized plan makes it easier to educate your staff and your clients about your offerings, create efficient systems and processes, and implement those incredible, inventive ideas that are going to determine the future of CX.
But there’s plenty of room for experimentation. While keeping your central omnichannel approach intact, find ways to test new technologies, designs, plugins, and strategies and — here’s the key — study the metrics closely to see what’s working and what needs fixing.
If you’re going mobile, tracking in-app user behavior is a useful way to identify any friction points on the customer journey. Every bit of irritation you can spot is another opportunity to develop more accurate use cases and further smooth the path.
Be sure to audit your competitors’ digitized B2B journeys closely. Find pitfalls that you can avoid and create a better journey for your potential customers. Offer them an even terrain to traverse and they’ll follow your path instead of climbing your competitor’s jagged rocks.
Creativity and testing doesn’t end with your marketing strategy and design — use it when gathering metrics also. Analyze the analysis. Are you getting the data you really need? Try satisfaction metrics, customer effort scores, net promoter scores, and qualitative surveys to keep track of trends that you might not see on an automated dashboard.
Late-stage metrics like churn can even make the customer cancellation process better optimized to keep them within your omnichannel universe — turning “goodbye” into “see you again soon.”
Work with an agency that understands the B2B customer experience
There are lots of steps in managing the B2B customer journey. With a clear, coordinated, and data-driven plan for your clients’ lifecycle, you can generate new leads, hold onto existing customers, and get your business out into the world.
Big Sea helps B2B clients position themselves as indispensable resources for their customers. We perform martech audits, manage digital go-to-market strategy, and spearhead lead-generation campaigns that earn new business while boosting ROI. Contact us today to take the next steps on your own B2B business journey.