How to translate B2C best practice into the B2B world

The digital revolution has profoundly impacted B2C markets over the last two decades.  Digital technology is now ubiquitous, capability maturity is high and innovation is accelerating everywhere.  From micro-segmentation, to personalised marketing content, to seamless omni-channel experience, customers are demanding and receiving higher standards of engagement than ever. The B2B world, on the other hand, has moved at a more sedate – some would argue glacial – pace.  So what cues could B2B-land be taking from their B2C cousins in order to keep up?

B2B organisations are often hindered by legacy relationship-driven sales models, a lack of marketing capability, complex customer needs and product architectures, and siloed operating models.  However, the B2B customer and buyer are becoming increasing sophisticated, with greater digital literacy, improved access to information and higher expectations of their customer experience.

Ironically, some of the capabilities B2B organisations desperately need to excel at often already exist within the B2C operations of their own enterprise. For example, retail banks are already making great gains in customer experience to stay ahead of nimble fintech competitors. However, we often find business customers within the same company still trying to overcome challenges from the 1990s. A recent FMCG client of ours found that the largest hurdle to their transformation was not integrating sales and marketing functions, but in fact the disconnect between the consumer and customer marketing functions – which competed rather than worked with each other.

So how can B2B organisations benefit from the accumulated learnings of the B2C world to stay ahead of their customers? We think there are three areas worth considering.

Customer Insight

The B2C world has pushed hard in the customer strategy domain. We’ve seen organisations take customer strategy and execution to levels of precision that were impossible even a few years ago.  Interesting techniques involve using a mix of variables to design micro-segmentation models, responding in real time to behavioural cues – especially in digital channels – by providing personalised content and experiences, and using predictive analytics to generate bespoke offers.

At a gut level, a lot of this may feel inappropriate for business buyers – however the concepts actually translate particularly well. Businesses can be segmented in a more sophisticated way by understanding the complex web of personas within the organisation and their role in the customer journey. Each of these personas can then be treated as an ‘individual’ and can have content and campaigns personalised and applied to them at appropriate interaction points.
Channel strategy

The rise of digital channels has revolutionalised the way businesses interact with consumers.  Whether in sales, marketing or service, organisations are largely digital-first in their channel strategy.  Marketing automation, digital fulfilment and self-service portals allow consumers to choose their method of engagement, and businesses can engage a wide range of customers at scale.

However, for sophisticated business consumers, a lot of enterprises are still decidedly mono-channel; still dominated by face-to-face engagement and with rudimentary digital functionality. The opportunity for B2B businesses is therefore to supplement their existing face-to-face relationship models with digital engagement. Marketing automation and thought leadership-based content can be used to engage low value customers, or to supplement sales conversations. Digital fulfilment can then be used for responsive resolution of simple sales and service transactions, with more complicated interactions triaged to human channels.
Customer experience

One of the big areas of innovation over the last couple of years has been around seamless omni-channel experience. Technology innovators have made significant progress in removing friction from their customer-facing processes, and consumers have often been the real beneficiaries – to the point where they now expect ease and efficiency as the norm, rather than being ‘delighted’ when it is delivered.

In the world of business customers – featuring longer, more complex sales cycles – customer experience is routinely neglected. There lies a real opportunity to use the same streamlined digital backbone to support both digital, phone and face-to-face channels. This approach enables omni-channel consistency, removes friction from simple self-service transactions and uplifts employee experience. The latter then frees up capacity and improves functionality in higher touch channels. 
What’s next?

Using these three levers together to broaden customer engagement and simplify the path to purchase across the customer journey mapping can have serious results. When used well, this approach makes it easy for B2B customers to do business, enabling them to meet – and even exceed – the experience expectations driven by the B2C world.

by Grant Brokenshire

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