What B2B customers and resellers want – A perspective that goes beyond research
While I have been pushing a scientific approach to building and implementing a customer experience strategy for a long time, let’s put that aside for a moment. After working in this area since 1981, there are a few things I believe are high priorities for most B2B customers. You probably won’t discover some of these points directly in any formal feedback system, though they may be at the heart of many different improvement suggestions.
Customers all want to be remembered. This means remembering everyone with whom you have had contact, and what that contact was about. Think about your favorite local restaurant. You appreciate it if the owner greets you at the door and says, “Welcome back Mrs. Smith. It is good to see you here again.” It gets better if the waiter asks, “Would you like the same drink as last time?” You feel that you matter to them.
At its most trivial this means not asking customers for the same information repeatedly if they phone you for support. If your phone routing system asks them for a contract number to route them correctly, you should not ask them for the contract number again. If you have gone through a diagnosis process with a generalist and found that you need to pass it to a more specialized person, the diagnosis information should go with the call. If the person has already phoned with the same problem, or indeed any problem, you should know about it and potentially check that all is still OK. If you have the person’s phone number in your database and the person calls from that number, you should not need to ask their name.
You must participate in the customer’s investment process
Your company probably has a standard format for proposing solutions to customers. If your customer is a large company, they are certain to have their own investment approval process. The person you are selling to has to decide, then propose any substantial investment for further approval at their end. Your proposal needs to fit their process. You should find out what their process is, and make it as easy as possible for them to use it to get your proposal approved.
Continuity of project management
If yours is a service business that relies on project execution, ensure the same project manager is in charge from the start to the end of the engagement. Let’s suppose you have three project stages: proof of concept, pilot, and full roll-out. Different people are needed for each stage of the project. If you have a completely different team for each stage, each new team leader has to get to know the customer organization, and the customer has to get to know them. Customers find full team changes deeply frustrating. The best solution for this is to keep the same project manager in charge the whole way through.
Reduction of your organizational complexity
If you are a large company, you are a complex company. Large customers are complex too, so they will have some empathy for you. A fundamental role of your account team is to reduce the perception and consequences of that complexity for customers. The account manager should be the broker between your different businesses and functions. If you have multiple businesses, each with a separate sales team, you will fail in this complexity reduction and never become a true strategic partner. You will be condemned to have their procurement department as your main contact point. This is not good for your margins.
Your company is always “We”
No matter what your customers complain about, apologize on behalf of your company. The worst type of thing you can say is “Ah yes, another complaint about shipping. Those people have a lot of problems at the moment.” Replace the thinking by “I am sorry you had this experience. We have had a few shipping problems recently and are doing our best to improve.”
What resellers want
If you use resellers to sell complex products, the resellers’ top priority will probably be that you supply accurate, price-competitive quotations quickly. Let’s suppose the reseller is selling to Nestlé, and that you have a global discount agreement directly with Nestlé that gives them a price reduction everywhere in the world. The quotation you give the reseller needs to reflect that. Let’s further suppose that this deal is in Indonesia and that you have had to give a further 15% price reduction to Nestlé in Indonesia the last three times you did business there. You should give the reseller the quotation with the additional reduction without being asked, though with the necessary explanation. Otherwise you, the reseller and Nestlé all waste time.
The second thing resellers want is for you not to compete with them. Unless you have a formal business model that says you work 100% through resellers, their expectation is not realistic. Your most important customers will want to do business directly with you. The best you can do for resellers is to provide them with clarity on your business model, letting them know when they can expect you to show up, and when it is less likely. If you do business in many countries, it is also probable that you have countries where you have no direct presence and will use resellers. Sometimes you will have an exclusive agreement for a country with a single reseller. Be clear about that too.
Remember that cost reduction is not strategic
While your selling proposition to customers may be cost reduction, cost reduction is not strategic for customers. While that might not seem to make sense, try to think about it this way: the strategic decision is what to do with the money that has been saved. How will it be invested? Once you are helping customers with their investments, you access people that are higher up in the organization and develop a true strategic partnership.
Customers get used to positive experience, then expect more
With relatives in Chicago and California, the difference in weather between the two is common subject of discussion. In addition, the Californian relatives have moved there recently. I have observed this phenomenon with others who have moved to much better climates. Personally, I moved from wet and grey Galway, in the west of Ireland a long time ago, and learned to appreciate the existence of summer. However, for me, and for others who have gone through the weather-improvement experience, its impact is strongest at the start, and fades over the years. Nicer weather becomes “the new normal”. So it is with customer experience. No matter how great the improvements you implement, customers will get used to them. Your competitors may also copy them. You need to repeat the whole strategy development exercise and come up with your “next big thing”.
I hope you enjoy these points that are based more on experience than on what comes out of customer research. Feel free to agree or disagree below. As is usually the case for my blog posts, this is a slightly-edited version of a chapter in one of our books, in this case Customer Experience Strategy – Design and Implementation. And the drawing at the top is included in a new book of business cartoons by Peter FitzGerald that should appear within the next week on Amazon.