By Chris Bucholtz
In the old days – like, all the way back in 2005 – sales and marketing existed in a very different world. The universe was just starting to tilt the balance of power away from the seller toward the buyer, but buyers hadn’t quite caught on to this. That meant sales and marketing could still focus on simple things, like stuffing customers through the funnel. Marketing collected leads, sales worked to close them, and if the numbers at the end of the process beat quotas and goals, then everyone was happy.
Well, everyone was happy except, perhaps, the customer – especially B2B customers. The selling process could leave customers a little bruised at times, and selling techniques weren’t particularly evolved. B2B customers may have been able to buy what they needed, but they may not have been very happy with the experience of buying.
Fast-forward to today. The phrase “customer experience” is all over business publications, but even today it’s still viewed as a B2C thing. That is a major mistake. Every buyer has an experience, and if you’re a seller it’s incumbent on you to make that experience a good one. Not only will it make the customer feel better about his purchasing, it’ll make you money in the long run.
What does a good B2B buying experience look like? Well, first you must provide the product and service mix the customer needs – if you can’t fulfill the very basic requirements of the relationship nothing else really matters. But beyond that, there are three “F’s” you need to incorporate into any B2B customer experience:
Frictionless: unless you’re the only player in your market, your customers have options. They tend to go with sellers that make the buying process as simple and uncomplicated as possible. Unfortunately, sellers frequently introduce points of friction into the selling process. That may come in the form of conflicting information in content, convoluted ordering processes, unnecessary registrations, unnavigable portals and other impediments to the customer achieving his or her goal of completing the sale as effortlessly as possible. Remember – every second the customer has to spend wrestling with your processes is a second taken away from completing the other parts of his or her job.
Actively hunt for these areas of sales friction and be ruthless in eliminating them. In many cases, they represent processes that can be automated through the smart use of technology. A good example of this is quote and proposal development. In an era when configure price quote (CPQ) software is readily available, there is no reason to have sales reps manually build quotes, a process fraught with the potential for expensive and aggravating errors. Turning this into a point-and-click exercise not only ensures that there are far fewer mistakes, but also reduces proposal creation time from hours and even days to minutes. Which leads to the second F:
Fast: B2B buyers want to get deals done, and products and serviced delivered on time – if not sooner. That means that your selling processes need to be integrated with your operational processes. Orders need to be fulfilled as fast as possible, and customers will want to know the status of their order in real time. Make sure that you can deliver this – again, automation through wisely-applied technology is the key. Delivering alerts to customers is great – but also deliver alerts to sales reps so they can be aware of how well the fulfillment part of their deals is going. If there’s an issue, be up-front about it, and make sure the sales rep knows what’s going on, too, so he or she can take action to preserve the sale. That idea plays right into the third F:
Friendly: Customers like to buy from people they like. When we talk about customer experience, we often get enamored of the technology that we’re providing our sales and marketing teams, but all that investment can be unraveled by a sales rep or point of contact in the company that alienates the buyer. This seems like the simplest part of the equation, but it’s not – as I have often joked, this technology would all work great if it weren’t for the silly humans.
To paraphrase CRM expert Brent Leary, the insight provided by technology needs to be complemented by the instincts of your sales and marketing teams. The information you develop about customers has to be used to build a relationship that results in faster and more frictionless sales now and in the future. That means that someone has to be given the information about the customer, process it, and turn it into a set of behaviors that help the customer get what he needs in the way he needs it.
This will differ from customer to customer – which is why human talent for relationship creation is a critical part of the customer experience puzzle. Empathy is a key component of this, and you can’t generate empathy from your CRM or SFA application – you have to actively look for it in potential members of your team.
It might seem easy to deliver on those three F’s – but if it were, every company would be delivering great experiences to their customers. In reality, mastery of these aspects of B2B selling is so rare that the businesses who have managed one or two of the F’s stand out – the customer experience they create is a true differentiator.
About the author
Chris Bucholtz is the content marketing manager at CallidusCloud and writes on a host of topics, including sales, marketing and customer experience. The former editor of InsideCRM, his weekly column has run in CRM Buyer since 2009. When he’s not pondering ways to acquire and keep customers,Chris is also an avid builder of scale model airplanes.
- On January 26, 2015