When I book with Airbnb or call an Uber, I can’t help but marvel at how these design-minded experiences have transferred to buyer expectations across the B2B chasm. It’s no secret that B2C customer experiences influence B2B brand experiences, but I’m still impressed by how quickly these new experiences become expectations. Once the internet went truly mobile with later-gen smartphones and 4G connectivity, the desire for simple and useful transmedia experiences became a shared aspiration for all brands – B2C and B2B.
Amazing experiences inspire us to imagine more like them and beyond. When I encounter a clunky or frustrating customer experience, I wonder why it can’t be like the streamlined interactions that I know are possible through good data and design. “Why can’t it be that easy?” is a question that B2B buyers ask often. And when B2B sellers answer with “It can.” or “It is.”– and orient their business around delivering on that aspiration – they win customers away from competitors.
New Accenture Interactive research from 748 B2B buyers and 1,499 B2B sellers uncovers that 80% of buyers have either switched to new suppliers within the past year or plan to in the next. And more interestingly, the data shows that the more frequently buyers make purchases, the more likely they are to change suppliers. These consideration points are occurring more often across both simple and moderately complex purchases. Unfortunately for B2B sellers, this means that customers – longstanding and loyal – are the most prone to switching vendors.
Optimistic B2B sellers will look at this data and say that many of the most valuable buyers are up for grabs. And if you’re a seller eager to capitalize, use these activities to craft your sales approach.
Start with the customer
Put yourself into the shoes of a B2B customer.
Think like a buyer. Develop a clear picture of how your current B2B supplier could improve the service experiences it provides. You want more personalized and attentive experiences with the seller as a partner in your success. You want personalized pricing (a top demand among surveyed buyers), faster shipping or easier transactions, and more flexible payment options. You expect the robust self-service options and seamless, fluid offerings of the best B2C experiences (just like the 32 percent of buyers who have increased their sales experience expectations, per the research, in the past 12 months).
That’s not reality for many B2B buyers. Per the research, uncompetitive pricing, slow delivery or procurement, and missed deliveries are an issue cited by one in every four buyers. Your current supplier may not know or understand your specific needs, leaving you open to issues that slow down your business and compromise your promises to your organization.
Time to engage and evaluate potential B2B vendor replacements. You’ll use your large buyer team of internal stakeholders to coordinate decisions and negotiate purchasing complex product solutions. You very much want and need knowledgeable salespeople that are experts in your sector (the second most common demand among surveyed buyers). This will provide clear communication, earn trust, and keep friction out of the buying process. You also want suppliers to go beyond simple sales to broadly support all your requirements around their products. This means delivery, reordering, and stock levels, simplifying ongoing buying and supplying, and driving predictive functions that help you deliver for your organization.
You probably already know what buyers want; now it’s time to give it to them
B2B sellers risk hemorrhaging four in five of their existing customers every 24 months if they can’t master retention and loyalty. But there are bright spots.
The Accenture Interactive research recognizes leading sellers that flourish in this speed-dating ecosystem by doubling down on prioritizing connected, personalized, and memorable customer experiences. Among these leaders, 96 percent have increased profitability and 97 percent have increased market share by offering services infused with technical understanding and empathy for buyer needs across their respective customer journeys.
B2B sellers should nurture customer connections and earn meaningful relationships through excellent experiences at each and every customer touchpoint. This means from initial product research, to purchase, to delivery, to post-sale service. It also means across channels, and on into future purchase cycles. To do so, B2B brands need to support customers with a balance of quality, seamlessly connected human-to-human and self-service experiences. This allows customers to chart flexible and convenient purchase paths that best serve their needs.
Nurturing close customer relationships further enables B2B sellers to thrive by listening to buyers’ needs and gathering feedback. Concerns are then better heard and more quickly and more accurately addressed. While many B2B suppliers are losing customers to competitors without knowing the true reasons, leading sellers in our research were apt to be listening to their customers – dynamically adapting to buyer needs and making themselves worth keeping around.
B2B sellers hoping to increase retention should begin activating more connected experiences that can help their teams – in all areas of the organization – incrementally improve customer success. Considering the Airbnb-like experiences that today’s B2B customers seek, sellers should look to B2C and best-in-class B2B to drive to “AirB2B” experiences: ones that are seamless, simple, and make both initial and continual purchases easy.
Jason Michaels is a Managing Director and B2B marketing lead at Accenture Interactive.