As discussed in a previous blog post, artificial intelligence (AI) is a powerful tool that can truly transform the sales organization at High Tech companies, driving growth and profitability. But understandably, High Tech executives have many questions when it comes to the use and impact of AI to support business-to-business sales. In this blog, we kick off a two-part Q&A in which Accenture’s Bryan Gauch and Audrey Hawks answer some of the most common queries we they hear. First up are two questions High Tech companies routinely have about AI and its relation to customers.
B2B customer expectations in High Tech have been aligning to their own consumer expectations for some time now. How do you see these expectations translating to digital channels in which they engage?
Bryan: I love that we’re talking about customers and their ever-evolving needs and expectations. I see two big changes. The first is how customers are informing themselves. According to our research, almost 70% of the buying process is finished before existing customers engage sales. This is huge, given existing customers contribute about 80% of annual revenues. And in High Tech, we’ve found that, on average, seven people in each B2B customer are part of the decision-making process. That means seven people have done a significant amount of digital research to form their opinion, and that research is going to directly affect how they not only look at the product and service, but also how they evaluate pricing and what they want from their provider. For sellers, this means they have to become adept at capturing customers’ digital footprint and feeding that information into their sales approach.
The second big change, or should I say shift, is that B2B customers are bringing their consumer expectations into the B2B buying process. COVID has not only accelerated this expectation, but also turned it into an actual need. Think about it: COVID required all customers to be digitally fluent and technically conversant to stay connected. As a result, B2B customers judge B2B providers the same way they do B2C providers. They saw how leading retailers, for instance, were creating a new, simple value exchange: You share your data and use the digital channels I provide and, in return, I’ll make it easy for you to navigate the website or app, explore products and reviews, personalize the purchase, and return anything that didn’t meet your expectations (sound familiar, Amazon?). Now, these consumers are taking those same expectations into their B2B buying experiences and applying them not only to websites, but to their human interactions as well. Sellers have never had to be more ready!
Audrey: To expand a little bit on what that might mean for a new B2B customer, let's look at what those seven buyers do when considering a product. Each of them may want different support from sales—whether to ask questions, get more information about a product or a solution, or even step right into the purchase. Each of those individuals wants the information to be relevant to them and wants to be able to engage to the degree that makes sense based on their role and where they are in the process. From the seller’s perspective, being able to figure out how to respond to each of those different players in the sales process is really important.
For existing customers, sellers need to avoid making the sales effort separate from the other digital engagements customers have across service, customer support, or managing their previous orders. Sellers need the ability to integrate selling motions seamlessly through digital channels where customers may already be engaging—for example, providing recommendations to augment a customer’s installed based as they manage their existing environment.
Bryan: That's a great point—B2B customers want providers to "know me." It sounds cliché, but it’s true. Existing customers have heightened expectations that a company they’re doing business with can illustrate via their interactions that the company knows who they are, what they’ve bought, and what they need. Nothing frustrates a customer more than having a long history of purchases from a company, only to be met with a blank stare—physical or virtual—from a sales person. That not only wastes the customer’s and sales person’s time, but it also makes customers feel underappreciated. And that’s no way to keep someone’s business.
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What role do data and AI play in enabling sales to support customers across the end-to-end journey?
Audrey: I see AI playing a role in three key ways. I think the first is driving personalization. AI looks at a wide range of data to give sellers valuable insights into who the customer is, what business problems they are trying to solve, and what recommendations are most relevant to them. With these insights, sellers are much better informed as to how to best serve a customer—getting ahead of challenges or identifying and capitalizing on opportunities.
Second is powering experience capabilities centered on chat. AI and natural language processing enables customers to have easy and meaningful digital conversations with a provider, in a very natural way that fits with their B2C-like expectations and has intelligence behind it so it meets customers’ needs and doesn't fall flat.
Third is providing intelligent automation of customer engagements. AI enables a seller to keep pace with customers at all touch points at scale, so the company can serve more customers across sales, service, and customer success—while meeting the unique needs of each customer.
Using this three-pronged AI approach can help High Tech companies focus their sellers and agents on the highest-value interactions.
Bryan: When I think of your first point, personalization, I think of trust. Trust is forever important because it changes the value exchange expectations between the seller and the customer. As a company, and therefore a seller, delivers digital experiences that are simple and connected, and illustrates that it knows its customers. It creates trust. That trust gives customers confidence they, in turn, can give the seller their data to further personalize their solutions. But what data and how sellers should use it is a key question. Providing data to sellers simply for data purposes can and will be counterproductive, and it won’t result in a scalable, better customer experience. Coaching sellers to spend the time with the right data is as important as the data itself. In fact, Salesforce recently came out with a State of Sales report that shared the data categories that top performing sellers care about and use most. This data enables sellers to be more contemporary in their customer conversations, and, yes, more personalized in their interactions, which translates into customer loyalty and more business down the line.
This is where AI can help by serving up the best data at the right time, offering the seller the ability to act as a custodian of the customers’ information…although I think that’s the beginning of an answer to another question we have yet to ask.
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Nothing frustrates a customer more than having a long history of purchases from a company, only to be met with a blank stare—physical or virtual—from a sales person.
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In our continued series, we learn from a sellers perspective: How can data and AI help sellers progress leads and opportunities, as well as more effectively manage the sales support process?