B2B Relationships Are Evolving Rapidly. Are You Ready?
I recently heard an interview with Daniel Hay, the Customer Experience (CX) and Digital Transformation Leader at Dow Chemical. Dow is a global company with a 125-year history that sells plastics, chemicals, and agricultural products. It’s a good example of a global Business to Business (B2B) company with thousands of different products in different categories.
In the interview Daniel talked about how they learned many of the lessons seen in the Business to Consumer (B2C) environment when designing their current customer interface. The traditional account managers are still there, with all their personal relationships with specific customers. Service can continue to be managed by calls being placed between account managers that know each other, but there is also an e-commerce platform with over 10,000 items that allows business customers to buy products without any personal contact – as if they are ordering products from Amazon.
This flexibility is what really struck me. In a fairly traditional B2B organisation, with a global network of account managers, there is also the option to buy online without any of the traditional personal interaction of a B2B purchase.
This is reflected in a recent report from Accenture that states over 90% of B2B leaders believe that the quality of their customer experience is the key to success. The Accenture report also features some other striking findings:
- 90% of B2B decision makers never respond to cold outreach
- Most B2B buyers are 57% through a buying process before ever meeting the company they want to buy from
- 61% of B2B transactions now start online
- 75% of B2B leaders believe that CX will be even more important in two years
This really connects back to the strategy at Dow. There are many B2B buyers that don’t want any interaction. They don’t want any cold sales calls, they don’t want to have to place a call to make a purchase. They believe that the ease of the B2C experience should be available to B2B buyers. But a few still prefer the old methods – to switch entirely to an e-commerce platform might satisfy most of the new customers, but could alienate some of the more traditional ones.
Gartner recently published research suggesting that 86% of B2B buyers expect their supplier to be well informed about their personal information. This is potentially creating a situation where privacy regulations bump into the type of service that customers are expecting. Companies will need to be really clear how data will be used and why customers should give consent for companies to use it. However, the Gartner statement does show that even if a B2B buyer is using an online platform, they still expect a very personal experience.
B2B customer expectations are changing rapidly. These buyers are increasingly expecting a personal level of service but they want this from their account manager, from the online system, and from your customer care agents too. All the various touch points need to offer exceptional service.
Building a structured account management process is one step you can quickly take to improve and manage B2B relationships, especially if you are in the process of transitioning from a network of account managers to also offering a B2B e-commerce platform.
Having a team that can support your account managers to stay close to the needs of their B2B buyers is a smart way to reinforce connections to existing customers, because it helps you to build more personal interactions. As Accenture documented in their research, nobody wants cold calls from sales managers at companies they don’t know, but consistent outreach from a known brand helps to improve the relationship. This is the future for B2B, more lessons from B2C, but also more personalisation too.