Most CX practitioners realize that creating consistently great customer experiences is not easy. Knowing which of those experiences will lead to revenue and share growth is even harder. While great CX is a challenge for all, it is a particularly knotty issue for B2B manufacturers, who labor under a number of unique customer challenges:
- Multiple Customer Types. Manufacturers typically serve both dealers, distributors, and end customers, with differing – and often conflicting – requirements and expectations
- Value Chain Complexity. How do you integrate those conflicting CX requirements without disenfranchising your distribution channel? How do you best serve end customers through an intermediary?
- Switching Barriers. Long-term contracts or high replacement costs can produce the illusion of short-term customer loyalty. How can B2B marketers understand the true impact of their CX strategies on customer consideration, spend and retention?
- Cadence of Interactions. B2B manufacturers can go years without interacting with an end customer directly. This raises the stakes greatly for when they do interact and begs the question of how to create additional value-add interaction points that raise customer equity across the value chain.
While these challenges are material, they represent a significant opportunity for competitive differentiation for those organizations that address those CX challenges thoughtfully and creatively.
Let’s dive deeper into some key takeaways and effective CX strategies that can help address the unique CX challenges B2B organizations face. Here are four to keep in mind:
#1 Consider All Your Customers
To have the kind of CX that makes your organization a market leader, you’ll need to knit together a CX strategy and processes that address, respect and integrate all customer requirements for all customers — from dealers and distributors to end customers.
This will require careful consideration of what those requirements are, and how you can best support them. Sometimes these requirements align: For example, end customers will care about how easy it is to work with dealers/retailers to access and use your product, and your dealers will want you to develop inventory, training, and informational processes to support those interactions. At other times, these requirements will be distinct, such as with lead and traffic generation. End customers do not care about this, but dealers will care greatly about how manufacturers operationalize such efforts, particularly when that is not their core expertise. For more on this: “The Role of the Dealer in CX Alignment” from Simantel.
Keep in mind that not all customers need to be treated equally and your strategy will need to zero in on customers and customer experiences that are most critical to your company’s current and future market success.
#2 Create a Seamless CX Across Channels and Distribution Partners
To properly manage customer relationships when you’re working with dealers, wholesalers, and other partners, your B2B business will have to put in extra effort to understand how to service them better as well as how to work with them effectively to service your shared end customers. If your business also has a hybrid model, dealing with dealers as well as directly with end customers, this also must be integrated into your strategy. The bottom line here: What’s best for the end customer has to be the organizing rationale for all the strategies and choices your organization makes.
#3 Build a Strategy for Continuous Engagement with Your End Customers
As we mentioned earlier, you may have limited direct access to your end customers or interact with them infrequently. So, it’s important to understand how you can extend your CX interactions beyond what customers need at those particular moments. In other words, CX has to be more than “I sold it, I serviced it.” It must be a continuous and ongoing relationship. This ultimately comes down to a marketing challenge – for example, updating and informing customers on what they should know about the products you’ve sold them by becoming an educational partner. By creating value over time, in between major interaction points, you’ll build more authentic loyalty and create more effective barriers to switching.
It’s worth noting that success in this area will require deep, actionable insights on what customers need from you, and what end customers seek from your dealers, particularly in digital channels. According to Gartner, Inc., by the middle of the decade, 80% of B2B sales interactions between suppliers and buyers will occur in digital channels because 33% of all buyers desire a seller-free sales experience.
#4 Identify the Highest ROI CX Opportunities
Because B2B CX challenges are so complex, there are unfortunately no low hanging fruit or easy remedies to make life easier. If your organization can really begin to understand its multi-channel, multi-faceted, multi-customer CX complexity, with often lumpy and elongated sales cycles, you’ll be halfway there in building the right platform for CX success.
That said, no company can ever say “we’re going to spend the next six years developing our CX strategy before we launch it.” The initiative will be dead in the water before it begins. Instead, you’ll need to find short-term gains as early wins that get stakeholders enthusiastic while focusing on the long-term systemic improvements that can sustainably and materially improve customer experience for your end customers.
If you can design and build a strategy that knits all this together, one based on ROI and one that makes more money and grows market share by positively changing customer experience, short- and long-term, you’ll have something persuasive that can get buy-in from your organization. Once you do, you can begin making the necessary cultural changes your B2B company will need to make to become more customer-centric.
The Verde Group are CX experts. Contact us for help with your company’s unique CX strategies.
(Article originally published on April 22, 2022, updated on June 12, 2023.)