For any business, at any time, delivering an outstanding customer experience is imperative. Whether you sold swords to gladiators 2000 years ago, or FlexPods to CERN just yesterday – people still buy from people. And the consequences of doing a bad job will be (almost) as killing in 2013 as they were back then.
Forrester Research will host a Customer Experience Forum tomorrow in London, and they asked me to talk about customer experience in a business-to-business environment. Most of the other presentations will be delivered by brands on the B2C side, so for mere balance they needed some hard core B2B content. Just call Kees, I say. Yeah!
Anyway, I don’t expect any of you forward thinkers to believe in the dichotomy between B and C. I surely don’t. Whether people buy professionally or privately, just two variables matter (provided there is a budget to spend): Level of involvement (do people care about the purchase, is it important to them, do they need it to achieve their goals?) and level of perceived risk (what if it turns out to be a bad investment, what is the potential implicit and explicit damage?). The higher the involvement, and the higher the perceived risk, the more people will be involved. Privately, the whole inner circle of friends and family is consulted. Professionally, the decision maker will seek council with more and more stakeholders and influencers. There is no real difference, there’s usually just a bit more money involved. Where and from whom they buy depends on brand preference and customer experience.
You can argue that it’s easier to sell a €2 bag of licorice produced by Unilever, than a €200,000 FlexPod produced by NetApp and Cisco. Unless that FlexPod will help the buyer save considerably on operational and capital expenses annually, whilst you’re trying to sell licorice to a bunch of chewing gum addicts. Or health freaks. You get the point.
You can argue that NetApp is selling the FlexPods through an indirect two-tiered channel model, which makes it impossible to control the customer experience. Surely, but Unilever doesn’t own any of the licorice outlets either, do they?
You can argue that Unilever knows the end customer far better than a company like NetApp, because they can spend millions on market research. Sure, but their target market consists of millions and millions of consumers, whom they have to convince into 100,000 deals just to equal a single FlexPod booking. Relative to Unilever, NetApp is selling to just a handful of customers – whose decision making units by the way are fully profiled, and all their contact data can be bought on every street corner. It just takes some budget.
You can argue that consumers don’t take 2 seconds to ponder spending their €2 on licorice. They’ll be addicted and stay true to their preferred brands for ages to come. True, but then business buyers spend a lot more time researching their purchases – and their behavior can be meticulously monitored, tracked and acted upon with sophisticated marketing systems for real-time spend analyses, customer listening and behavioral research, like Eloqua, Marketo, Radian6, Zuberance, Salesforce.com et cetera. And you know what? That’s actually true! Ha!
O, and business buyers will be equally hooked to their FlexPods once they’ve had a good taste of its qualities, savings and user benefits, don’t you worry about it for a second. They will be back for more.
So, whenever someone tries to talk you into believing that B2C is an easier sell than B2B – just tell them “Call Kees”. They’re wrong, and I will show them why – just in time to prevent their heads from coming off.
All said, this doesn’t imply that delivering an impeccable customer experience to business customers is easy. By no means. But, step by step, it can be done and reported on – and that’s what I will talk about tomorrow in London. Join me there and come prepared by downloading my tomorrow’s presentation.
Savor these slides with a bag of Venco licorice – try their Drop Toppers Salmiak & Mint, for a world-class experience. Guaranteed.