March 29 by Debra Calvert

customer experience critical in b2b selling

The following is a guest post by Deb Calvert from People First Productivity Solutions.

B2B selling is lagging behind. There’s a disconnect between what buyers want and what they’re getting.

B2B buyers are also consumers who buy from B2C sellers. As such, they are inundated with B2C marketing. They’re exposed, over and over again, to the work being done by retailers and other B2Cs to create memorable and meaningful customer experiences.

This conditions them, as buyers, to expect something different even in the B2B space. Once delighted by a B2C experience, the bar has been raised.

That’s why B2Bs are shifting from price-focused to value-based marketing that emphasizes the customer experience.

But this should not be the work of marketing alone.

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Frontline B2B sellers have the greatest opportunity to deliver memorable and meaningful customer experiences. Other parts of the organization, in tandem with sales and marketing, can support and drive customer experiences.

Forbes defines the customer experience as the “cumulative impact of multiple touchpoints” over the entire duration of a customer’s interaction with an organization. Clearly, then, no department can be divorced from the responsibility for creating the customer experience.

Only 14% of B2B companies routinely deliver on customer experience (according to survey of 250 B2Bs conducted by market research firm B2B International). For these organizations, the customer experience is embedded in the marketing and sales functions, and supporting responsibilities extend to other divisions.

However, 54% of B2Bs agree that the customer experience has become the primary driver of sales. So, this is the disconnect that warrants immediate attention.

The shift to provide a memorable and meaningful customer experience need not be long, laborious or costly. It all begins with a shift in mindset.

Wharton marketing professor Barbara Kahn says the customer experience is based on recognizing the importance of providing an emotionally positive experience to customers.

Therein lies the difficulty.

What goes into providing an emotionally positive experience? According to Fast Company, there are six disciplines for a great customer experience: strategy, customer understanding, design, measurement, governance and culture.

Sales and marketing own the “customer understanding” discipline, the one where emotion will be triggered, person-by-person, to make experiences unique and relevant.

This includes both getting an understanding of the customer and responding in a way that demonstrates genuine understanding of that particular customer.

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In this context, sellers must think about their prospect intelligence gathering, initial contact, needs assessment, and proposal delivery differently. These are more than steps in the sales process. These are opportunities for hosting a cherished guest. These are intersections where the seller can stand out because their actions are memorable and meaningful, personalized, and even emotionally evocative.

In the buyer/seller portion of a customer experience, there are two new essentials.

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First, in a departure from the prototypical sales process, today’s buyers need to be enabled as full participants. This means, for example, that sellers don’t unilaterally develop and deliver insights. Instead, sellers ask higher order questions and engage in dialogue to co-create insights. Sellers facilitate buyer discoveries and innovate with the buyer.

Second, because each and every engagement with a buyer is unique – not a scripted process or one-sided pitch – there’s an authenticity and human-to-human connection that can now occur. That connection is a part of the customer experience. It’s the emotional component.

NOTE: this connection transcends the mild emotion that stems from being polite or friendly or knowledgeable. Those superficial basics no longer differentiate a seller. The emotion in a meaningful and memorable customer experience comes from working side-by-side, authentically and openly, with the buyer.

The experience of being challenged to think differently, of stretching to consider new possibilities, of pausing to weigh alternatives…. That’s the kind of experience buyers want. Sellers must create experiences that stir something within the buyer because they are actively thinking or feeling, not passively answering the canned diagnostic questions in the standard needs assessment interview.

When a buyer participates, co-creates, thinks and feels, the results are powerful. Sellers who create a memorable and meaningful customer experience are instantly differentiated. They are value creators. They accelerate sales.

Buyers commoditize and focus primarily on price unless a seller gives them a reason not to. Differentiation based on the customer experience is a seller’s best shot at moving beyond the transactional and price-focused conversation.

Price is always trumped by value. The memorable and meaningful customer experience is what modern buyers value.

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How can other divisions in your organization support sellers and enable buyers? Attend Apttus Accelerate 2016 on April 12-14 to learn more. Author, researcher and Top 50 Sales Influencer Deb Calvert will present recent findings and map specific ways you can make this shift.

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