August 1 by Lin Shearer
What should you be striving for when it comes to customer experience in a world where your business customers’ buying and service expectations are set by their experience in their consumer lives?
Need a ride to the airport? A few taps on a smartphone and a few minutes later, one arrives. Spilled coffee on your shirt before a big meeting? “Hey, Alexa, I need a white medium men’s dress shirt.” “Where would you like it sent?” “The Grand Hyatt London, Room 417.” “When do you need it?” “Now.” Within minutes it’s on the way.
In the face of this, what is a reasonable goal, then, for your business buying experience? Thinking bigger, what could business buying – and selling – nirvana look like?
A Winning, Customer-centric Approach
Winning enterprises are putting their customers at the center of their strategy at every stage in the buying process. The goal: happy customers who see them ultimately as a valued business partner that helps them improve and grow their business. Here’s how they’re getting there.
Deliver What Your Customers Need: And do it on first contact at key points across the buying journey. Visiting your website for the first time, looking for some info on a product or solution they read or heard about, they quickly find the info they’re looking for, can download a datasheet, and read current customer reviews. When they’re ready to engage a sales person, they easily find your contact info, or better yet, can schedule a call online that suits their schedule. Once they’ve decided what to buy, the quoting and contracting process is fast and accurate. And after the initial purchase, they can place re-orders or renewals online at the push of a button – or agree to automate them as a subscription service.
Deliver How Your Customers Want It: When you string together enough of these fast, convenient experiences, your customers remain loyal to your business—not because of draconian terms or prohibitive switching costs—but because of your superior service and customers experience. Do this really well, and they become advocates and drive the best marketing money can’t buy: word of mouth.
Deliver Business Outcomes to Your Customers: You can help your customers achieve nirvana, by providing insights and experiences that help them maximize business outcomes—artificial-intelligence-driven guidance on pricing, products offers, and incentives combined with new voice- and chat-powered sales enablement and conversational commerce. Think: your very own Alexa for your sales team, channel partners, and end customers to buy and sell without ever opening an application or signing into a web store.
Meeting Buyer Expectations Leads to New Challenges
The driving force behind all of this, is that business buyers are empowered like never before—and they want to buy from you where, when, and how they choose. An increasing number want to research and buy online—and not just for simple goods and services, but increasingly for even complex configurable goods and complex annual orders for multiple regions and locations. At other times, they might have a few questions and want to call for more info and place an order. They may have a local distributor or dealer they prefer to work with and buy from. And for big, complex solutions requiring a combination of goods and services or big annual national account orders being shipped to hundreds of locations, they may want to engage with a consultative account executive—a trusted business advisor.
In a study Apttus did with Forrester, we found that—no surprise—97% of enterprise technology and business executives agree that delivering a high-quality, seamless experience across all of these sales touchpoints is essential.
If you’re struggling to deliver this experience yourself, you’re not alone. 98% of those same executives face significant challenges delivering those great experiences—ones that are as fast, convenient, consistent and compelling as those business buyers are experiencing in their personal consumer lives.
Probing further, the study found that key challenges stem from technical issues: the challenge of piecing together the technology to meet the needs of individual functions—Sales, Legal, Finance—leads to fragmented systems and data. Sales is using one system to configure solutions and present pricing and quotes. Deals get bogged down in Legal, who are using Miscrosoft Word and are lost in a labyrinth of redlines, impossible to manage with Word’s finicky track changes functionality. E-commerce has gained wider adoption by B2B enterprises but it is still operationally siloed and managed a stand-alone e-commerce platform. Once an order is booked and the contract is signed, it moves through another set of processes and systems for order orchestration, fulfillment, and ultimately billing and revenue recognition.
The result is an inconsistent, fragmented experience across channels—with e-commerce out of sync with direct and channel sales efforts, which in turn can lead to channel conflict. And the effort to stitch all these systems together and properly maintain them leads to unfavorable economics due to long time to market and ballooning maintenance costs, extending payback times and eroding return on investment.
Empower Sales, Partners, and Customers with a Full Spectrum Digital Commerce Solution
What if you could meet the high expectations of today’s business buyers and make your sales and channel sales more effective? And on top of that overcome the typical technical issues, channel conflict, and time to value challenges? All with a single solution?
The first step towards succeeding in this new world of digital business buying and selling is to stop approaching your sales channels in silos. Forrester has said that this requires a combination of a modern consumer-like e-commerce experience and digitally enhanced consultative selling. At Apttus, we call this full spectrum B2B commerce – and the foundation of this strategy is a unified buying and selling experience across customer self-service e-commerce and your direct and channel sales experience.
With this approach, your direct sales and channel partners benefit from the same fast, convenient digital commerce experience that your end customers have come to expect. The self-service e-commerce experience for your customers frees your sales team and partners to focus on larger, more strategic accounts. And that same digital experience empowers sales execs to put together orders large and small, simple to complex, working with the customer in real-time—dramatically condensing the sales cycle and eliminating human error.
The result is a complete transformation of your customer experience—which drives revenue growth, reduces costs, and improves customer satisfaction. You’ll drive greater selling success by delivering a modern, fast, convenient experience to your customers, sales, and channel partners. The outcome is faster sales cycles, lower cost to serve new and existing accounts, and ultimately greater sales effectiveness—yielding revenue and margin growth.
With a full spectrum B2B digital commerce strategy—and supporting technology platform—you’re able to overcome the key challenges outlined above: fragmented experiences, channel conflict, and prolonged time to value.
The single, unified buying and selling experience makes customers lives easier and sales and partners more effective with a fast, intuitive ordering and quoting experience. Having these capabilities on a single platform enables you to save time and money with advanced B2B digital commerce capabilities built-in that you otherwise have to piece together from multiple solutions—one for e-commerce, one for quoting, one for partner sales at a minimum—plus additional solutions to handle complex, digital, and subscription products.
And having these capabilities and the experience sitting on the foundation of a single data model ensures that you can align product offers, pricing, and promotions across sales channels—yielding a consistent, seamless experience and maximizing deal size and margins. A single data model is also the foundation for the end-to-end view of your customer and data required to drive intelligent insights for continuous improvement in sales effectiveness, pricing, and margins.
Putting It All Together
Selling to businesses has unique challenges—a full spectrum B2B commerce strategy and corresponding technology solution enables you to deliver a unified buying and selling experience through a consumer-like digital experience—and deliver the advanced capabilities required for B2B commerce. From being able to display standardized volume pricing tiers as well as negotiated contract pricing for individual accounts—to accommodating orders as well as requests for quotes. Other key capabilities include advanced product configuration, guided selling, and bulk order grids. And with the growth of the subscription economy, the ability to offer digital and physical goods and even services—or any combination of these—“as-a-service” is a growing trend that you can capitalize on with the right platform.
With this strategy and technology in place you’ll be well-positioned to overcome the customer experience, channel conflict, and time to value challenges that often plague B2B enterprise e-commerce programs. Having these advanced B2B commerce capabilities the underlying customer, price, product and promotions data all on one platform is the foundation for full spectrum B2B commerce and the high quality buying experience today’s business buyers have come to expect.