There are vast differences in the way B2C and B2B companies engage, communicate with, and assist their customer bases. Traditionally, this was dictated by the differences in customer expectations. However, new research indicates that this expectation gap is closing at an unprecedented rate.
This shift in expectations is not surprising; at the core, a buyer in B2B is a consumer just like any other customer, and this is becoming more apparent than ever. B2C brands have become part of daily life for buyers and general consumers alike, providing intuitive, interconnected, accessible, real-time, and personalized experiences. It would be unrealistic to assume this would change when they enter B2B buyer roles.
It’s vital to remain consistent in today's market, because after all, why shouldn't a consumer be treated the same whether they place an order for one pair of $160 shoes or one hundred pairs?
Personalized, omnichannel experiences have become the bare minimum
The truth is, the vast capacity we have for digital capabilities in our everyday lives has established new standards for the way business is conducted. Expectations have increased for:
- Ease of engagement: Ordering products shouldn't be a challenge
- Availability of information: In-depth descriptions and reviews provide a sense of security
- Response time: Same-day, real-time communication is not only preferred; it's expected
- Seamless experiences: Branding, tone, and message must stay the same no matter the platform
- Knowledge of interaction history: Recommendations for other products 'you may like' and targeted marketing is critical
To elaborate, thanks to the rise of companies like Uber, Netflix, apps for your banking and grocery ordering, and conglomerates such as Amazon, to name a few, we can see in practice how customer expectations have evolved. Most people have come to expect ease in their personal lives. They can buy something with a few clicks, be in the loop with tracking details until the item arrives, and consume this information seamlessly on all platforms.
What was once considered groundbreaking levels of omnichannel capability has become the bare minimum expected of a B2C brand today. So, when a person makes a significantly more valuable purchase in their work-life, they’re time and time again underwhelmed by the experience that most B2B channels provide. It feels archaic in comparison; there are reels of forms to fill in, repetitive hoops to jump through, and a consistent lack of transparency throughout the purchasing process. This is no longer considered acceptable. As the ripples of COVID-19 continue to fade the boundaries between home and work lives, this difference between the two approaches becomes even more severe.
The inevitable cannot be avoided, as the convergence of customer expectations in B2C and B2B environments is not new. This is by no means a condemnation of B2B - it’s instead an open door. It's undeniable that this new bar is high, but it presents many channels to engage customers that haven't been available before. An example of this is how buyers are increasingly likely to engage with potential business suppliers online, just as they would when shopping. This is a massive positive shift for B2B marketing, encouraging a new style of approach - removing the barrier between you and your audience. With this, your customer base opens up significantly.
Price was always the most significant factor when considering vendors; this is no longer the case. As discussed above, B2B buying decisions are increasingly based on a buyer's direct or indirect customer experience, with a minor influence from the product itself. First impressions matter more than ever; business buyers are already almost at your door to purchase before they even get to your site, meaning the tools you use to make a first impression and nourish your leads to conversion have never been more essential.
So what does all of this mean for you as a manufacturer?
It's evident that your customer landscape is changing, so be prepared to take up the challenge. Businesses need to operate branding processes with the same level of sophistication that B2C brands use to personalize their customer interactions. Business buyers are sick of being treated like a statistic; treating them like people will guarantee your business more traffic and, inevitably, more profit. What this means is that the most significant consideration for B2B models in this day and age is to focus on their data to offer personalized services.
There are many different ways to go about this. It all depends on the data you’ve already captured and the data you can source through further communications with them. Think about daily life; it's the background information that allows you to form meaningful connections with friends and family members. Knowing fundamental information ensures that every conversation is relevant, progressing your understanding of each other.
In conclusion, here are three steps to take as a business that embrace the blurred lines between B2C and B2B experiences:
1. Develop real-time customer profiles
Most, if not all, businesses have mountains of tracked customer data, but it tends to come from a range of sources and sit relatively untouched. Customer data is the driving force of experience, and it's vital that the data is used and shared appropriately. Leveraging a single source of data across the organization will empower employees to create relevant and personalized customer experiences.
2. Engage with your audience in a meaningful way
Rapidly evolving customer needs mean it's more important than ever to deliver engaging experiences to your customers. In practice, this can look like catering to your client and not directly your wallet. For example, someone who has just purchased those $160 shoes discussed above doesn’t immediately want another pair landing in their inbox; they want to read tips on caring for them and how to make them last. The same is true for business buyers. No one wants to feel constant pressure to buy, but everyone wants to feel witnessed.
3. Make it seamless
Like any consumer would, people start shopping on their phone and complete the purchase on a laptop; business buyers expect the same. For example, they fill out a form on your site as their first interaction. When they return sometime later, be it three days or three months, they expect the initial exchange to be recalled and acknowledged. Creating these seamless experiences using technologies like artificial intelligence can be beneficial at a larger scale.