How was your experience the last time you bought a product or service for your business?

Could you find all of the information you needed on the vendor’s website, or did it leave you confused? Did you have clear communications with the vendor’s sales and support people — both over the phone and in person? 

What about the purchasing experience your organization provides? Hopefully it’s a fantastic experience, but if so, you'd be part of a small percentage providing top-class B2B customer experience (CX). 

Only 16 percent of the over 220 senior leaders surveyed by Econsultancy claimed that the CX they provide is as good as the best B2C experiences.  

Are B2B and B2C Customer Experience Miles Apart?

This isn’t necessarily surprising. 

Anyone who has worked in both B2B and B2C will be very well aware that marketing, sales and customer support are incredibly different in each channel: 

  • B2C is generally believed to be more led by emotions, while B2B decisions are perceived to be made on hard facts, features and consideration of ROI (although research from CEB and Google has shown that emotional connections play a significant role in B2B). As a result, B2C vendors have focused much more intensely on "delighting" customers with engaging websites and personalized experiences than their B2B counterparts. 
  • Most B2C purchases are made by one person, often on a whim, and usually at little expense. B2B purchases tend to cost considerably more and effect multiple players and stakeholders in the business. This complicates the purchasing decision and makes the customer journeys more varied. As a consequence, building a customer experience around a "typical" customer is almost impossible.  
  • Generally speaking, there are far fewer direct points of contact in a B2C CX. Customers usually only interact with one salesperson in the showroom, a website or one individual sales representative over the phone. B2B customer experiences include more long term interactions with numerous individuals — from sales people to the people who deliver the product — meaning that the creation of a ‘standard’ buying journey is practically impossible. 

Clearly these are two very different types of customer experience, which in part explains why customer experiences in B2B sales are perhaps less advanced than in the B2C market. 

Yet some B2B companies have improved customer experiences in their channels and reaped the rewards as a result. A McKinsey article described how a global IT service provider boosted customer loyalty by focusing more intensely on customer experience. 

The firm focused on resolving small incidents which, in the past, the IT firm would have ignored. By choosing to resolve all these minor niggles, the firm saw numerous clients re-sign contracts and extend their loyalty. 

Narrowing the CX Gap

So, what's holding B2B companies back from delivering better CX and tapping into these benefits?

General CX Skills

Providing excellent customer experience is a real skill — from marketing, to sales, to post-sales support. It is unsurprising that most major B2C vendors train their staff heavily on how to meet their customers' needs. By contrast, B2B businesses often have much less regular interaction with customers and tend to let this personal side slip.  

Building relationships with B2B customers is more complex than with a consumer audience. The length of the customer journey up until purchase, combined with the size of the expenditure and the need for ongoing support demand more involvement on the part of the B2B vendor. Unfortunately, all too often, B2B firms do not focus on the skills their employees need to support this.

Mapping customers and their journeys

Whether online or in-store, B2C customer's approach to browsing and learning about products is fairly straightforward. In B2B, the journey is vastly more complex. Imagine you sell IT services. Your website will need to provide a wide range of content which speaks to the interests of all of the potential buyers — the CEO, the CIO, an IT manager, HR employees, communications staff, and so on. 

Your website therefore needs to provide consistent, persona-driven content and customer journeys for all these possible buyers. As a result, mapping those journeys effectively is much harder. And this is before we think about other points of contact — trade shows, conferences, sales meetings and so on. 

Understanding your customers

The Econsultancy survey revealed that, besides using a CRM, the vast majority of businesses collect very little data on their interactions with existing customers and leads. Most store some information, yet fail to use all of the tools available to them — from social media to location, the kinds of device the customer is using when they visit your website or what they search for on your website. Unsurprisingly, this means B2B companies have a far less involved knowledge of their customers and how they actually buy.