B2B CX presents unique challenges
While Voice of the Customer, Journey Mapping and other key techniques used by Customer Experience professionals can be equally useful in both Business to Business (B2B) and Business to Consumer (B2C) scenarios, anyone who has worked in a B2B business for more than a few months knows that B2B presents unique challenges. Rarely can you cut and paste a B2C strategy into a B2B business.
Here are 4 key factors that make B2B CX different:
- In B2B scenarios, there is rarely one buyer. The average B2B transaction involves over 5 buyers. The customer experience for each of these people can affect their likelihood to promote or block a sale, greatly increasing complexity in the overall relationship. Some B2C transactions can involve multiple buyers, for example the purchase of a family home or car, but these types of transactions are usually seen as the exception, not the norm.
- The B2B buyer and end user are usually different people. The procurement officer is rarely the end user of the products and services they procure. More often than not, the buyer and the user have very little personal connection, beyond organized feedback about the product and service. This is in stark contrast to most B2C transactions where most products and services are purchased by the user themselves or someone very close to them.
- B2B Customer Journeys tend to be even less linear than in B2C. In the rare B2C cases where more than one buyer is involved, the experience is usually considered as shared between the buyers. (In the example above, when a couple purchases a home, the buyer’s journey is usually seen as being roughly the same for both people.) But in B2B the group of buyers usually has specific roles assigned to each person in the group. Accounting may control budget, operations may control fulfilment, integration sits with IT and the final decision maker might be up in the C-suite. The whole process can take months for a complex transaction, with each role coming into play at different times. In addition, B2B relationships tend to exist across channels that are specific to individual functional areas. The challenge for the supplier company is to present a holistic brand across all these touchpoints and channels – but to do it in a way that is relevant for each player. For these reasons, B2B customer journeys tend to look like several parallel streams connecting for key decisions or use cases, rather than a simple path to purchase.
- A B2B customer experience typically extends well beyond the time of purchase. Many B2B relationships involve long-term service arrangements, subscription services, upgrades or continuous supply of consumables. Even when there are no longer-term services associated with the initial purchase, there are strong motivations for B2B customers to be seen as accounts to be nurtured, rather than (heaven forbid) one-time, anonymous buyers of a simple product. While B2C brands should (and often do) consider their customer’s experience beyond the initial purchase, it is absolutely critical in the B2B space. In some cases a good overall experience can overcome a mediocre product and a poor experience can erode the advantage of a superior product.
So how do B2B CX pros go beyond the standard toolkit to deliver great experiences? A few approaches we’ve seen work are ecosystem mapping, customer-centric implementation approaches and shifting from account management to customer success management. We will discuss some of these in future posts and in the upcoming second edition of The Art and Science of Customer Experience.