Can B2B match B2C levels of CX management?

Oliver Matejka investigates whether it is feasible for B2B marketers to deliver the same levels of customer experience (CX) as their B2C counterparts

At last week’s Dmexco conference I watched Suresh Vittal, VP of product marketing and strategy at Adobe Marketing Cloud, address a couple-hundred-strong, captivated audience during his keynote speech on the power of great customer experience.

But there was a catch: as inspiring as the tactics and examples were, the focus was a little too consumer-orientated for our audience of B2B-ers. So later on that day I managed to cut through the PRs and journalists surrounding Adobe’s (pretty impressive) exhibition area, find Suresh, and ask what it all meant to the more niche world of B2B. He readily obliged.  

A data first approach

As consumers, we can all vouch for the multi-channelled and consistent experience provided by brands like Amazon, but with high-pressure, less frequent purchases made by businesses, is it feasible to provide the same levels of CX in B2B? Suresh is convinced it is, on the condition that businesses know their audience and use the data that’s available.

“B2B marketers need to have a very clear picture of who their customers are – what department they’re in as well as personal details – and also when the product or service is wanted," he says. "The key is to surface the right messages at the right times and to provide the right value proposition; it shouldn't be thought of as an extension of demand generation.”

Getting up close and personal with your customers

Examples of excellent CX management are far more various in B2C, but what are the limitations of B2B? Suresh draws attention to the oft-cited (and oft-overlooked) stat that 70% of the B2B sales cycle has already taken place by the time a sales rep even has a look-in.

So of course this makes it more difficult for marketers in business to work out exactly how to provide enhanced levels of customer experience – but it’s certainly not impossible. When they do make sense of the data to create a clear view of the target, B2B marketers are also able to anticipate their customers' needs and assemble the correct content accordingly – content that holds real emotional value.
Although deep emotion and theatrics work well in B2C, Suresh explains that providing a great customer experience doesn’t have to be anything grand or spellbinding. (I recently spoke with someone who described the beguiling Disney experience; from anticipation-heightening text messages during the lead up to their trip to the multi-sensory suspension of reality on the day.)

On the contrary, sometimes a great customer experience is nothing at all – quite literally. If a customer’s interaction with a business is so seamless that they don’t even notice it’s happening, a marketer’s job is often done – this is a particularly powerful approach in the business of fixed contracts and renewals.

The importance of measurability 

But wait a minute – how do you measure nothing? Well, Suresh points out this isn't quite the case: programmes should be built with measurability in mind. “The first and most simple way to measure your customer experience progress is through customer feedback – and it’s little surprise how forthcoming customers will be to provide it if it’s addressing a long-term investment.”

There’s another recurring theme emerging here: despite all of the Bs, marketers are selling to people, and those people's individual feedback is the most important thing available. However, in a generation obsessed with ROI, customer feedback can only go so far. Suresh explains there's also another very simple barometer for success: “If you’ve earned £1000 from one customer one year and then £1200 the next, that's a pretty good indication that you’re going well: it’s not just about numbers but currency.”
So, through the correct use of data, a culture of gathering regular feedback and the fastidious tracking of revenue and renewals, B2B marketers can hold their weight in the school of customer experience management. Although it might be harder, it is possible and the rewards can be greater – but when has this ever been any different?