I’ve yet to meet anyone who can believe it’s already October. Nonetheless, its arrival also means it’s time for CX Day, the annual celebration of customer experience practitioners and their successes!
Visit the CXPA’s website for a complete list of events. Also check out LitmusWorld’s week of related offerings, including their #CXDay2020 Voice of Experts series, where I am honored to be featured. (I was also recently named one of their Top CX Influencers for 2020.)
For my part, I’m going to mark the day by focusing this post on the power and potential of CX for B2B enterprises.
Generally B2C companies have more advanced CX capabilities, with an underlying assumption that behavior there is more emotion-driven, while B2B decisions are made more rationally.
That thinking could not be more wrong. In fact, I posit that emotion plays an even greater role in B2B than it does in B2C.
Why? Because the B2B buying cycle is typically longer and involves larger purchases and/or extended-term contracts, making for more complex relationships with more moving parts. But no matter how many tens of thousands of employees a corporation might have, at the end of the day, it’s still a human being, not “a company,” who ultimately makes the decision whether or not to do business with you.
It’s all about forging connections
With so much at stake, cultivating relationships is of paramount importance. They just might not look like the connections you built in B2C. And “delight” probably isn’t the holy-grail outcome sought after here. For B2B, confidence and a reputation for reliability are what you’re after. And above all, trust.
It’s easy to see why.
As a consumer, if that teapot I bought on a whim on Amazon last week arrives broken, I’ll be disappointed and inconvenienced. In business, if I pick the wrong supplier or distributor or SaaS vendor, not only will my job get harder (or eliminated!), so will my co-workers’. The decisions I’m making impact everyone around me, and not just financially.
So which scenario would you say is more emotionally charged?
However in B2B, not every interaction leads to a transaction. It’s not uncommon for these purchase journeys to last several years. But this is precisely where you can unleash the power and potential of CX. Use that time to build relationships and learn how to best serve your unique customers. In time, they will turn to you and only you, their trusted advisor, to meet their business needs.
Becoming a trusted advisor is the ultimate CX success. It’s not a relationship that comes easy, but once you have it, it will pay off in a multitude of worthwhile ways.
You hear about problems first
Customers will bring their trusted advisors their most challenging problems – even if they don’t directly impact your company’s products. As Nicole and I discussed in our book, How Hard Is It to Be Your Customer?, when we studied the banking software purchasing journey, we found that bankers frequently contacted their existing vendors first, regardless of whether they offered the sought-after type of software. The bankers knew their trusted advisors were informed about the landscape and wouldn’t steer them wrong. Trusted advisors provide value.
You can shape the response
Being contacted first means you can prevent any risk to your current relationship – while still helping your client solve their problem. For example, in the banking software purchasing process mentioned above, there were strong interdependencies between the selected software and existing vendors. Being contacted first means you can help your client select a product that supports their existing infrastructure without putting your products at risk of obsolescence or incompatibility. Trusted advisors are positioned to protect their interests.
You get the first chance to define the solution
The same situation plays out with financial services products. When an agent doesn’t know which product is best for his client, he calls his trusted advisor, who often works for a product manufacturer. This gives the manufacturer’s rep the opportunity to educate the agent on the best product features – most of which are likely resident in her products. Trusted advisors gain an advantage in the marketplace.
Those are just some of the benefits you get for being a trusted advisor. But how do you get there? Creating that level of trust isn’t easy. Try these tactics:
Know more than your product – know the entire domain
If every conversation with your client revolves around what your company offers, she will quickly learn to stop calling you. Instead, you need to know the adjacencies.
If you provide health insurance, know who’s strong in life insurance and 401(k)s, as well as who the good consultants are who can help your customer navigate the landscape. Provide a Software as a Service (SAAS)?Then be able to advise your client on the best system integrators and who can do customization. When your client trusts that they can call you for anything, they’re more likely to call with everything.
And that’s a good thing.
Know when your products aren’t the answer
The surest way to lose trust is to sell when you shouldn’t. One failed “upsell,” and not only will you no longer be asked for advice, you may put your core product at risk, too.
Help your clients understand how they’re doing with your existing products
Another way to build trust is to help your client understand their limitations as to how they’re using your existing products. This is an underutilized – but certainly not unappreciated – capability.
Across all our B2B studies, one question comes up over and over and over: “How am I doing compared to other customers?”
But unlike your customers, you see how multiple clients utilize your products. You know who boosted efficiency in an innovative way and whether your client is using customer service more or less than others.
Sharing these tips and insights can even help you make the case for upsells, as long as you present them in an informational – rather than a sales – manner. If you show your client how they’re missing out on opportunities, you’re advising, not selling.
Go from vendor to partner
An illustration of this last point might be helpful. I worked with a large health savings account (HSA) company. Clients had no idea what “good” looked like, so their adoption varied significantly. We knew that across the board, 86% of employees opened the HSA when the employer funded it. But clients didn’t know that, or have any measure of what good looked like.
When employees didn’t open the account, it was bad for them (they missed out on hundreds of dollars of health care benefits), bad for the client (their plan design assumed employees funded their accounts), and especially bad for us (we sold fewer products).
To address this, we built reporting showing the average level of adoption by industry, then plotted each client’s performance against this. By bringing something they didn’t have (industry norms), we were able to change our role from vendor to partner.
Sharing this data with struggling clients (who often don’t know if or why they’re struggling) led to collaboration on messaging campaigns to improve adoption. Clients already doing well had a win they could bring to management. Everyone won, actually – especially our reps, who moved from tactical suppliers to partners.
Earning the role of trusted advisor isn’t easy. But once you reach that goal, you have an opportunity to help both your clients and your company on a whole new level.