B2B Sellers: Don’t Fall for the B2C Imitation Trap

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It should not come as a surprise that buyers are people too. Yet most vendors seem to have missed the memo. Less than 30 percent of B2B customers say suppliers provide an excellent customer experience, according to Salesforce.

Few vendors deliver a customer experience that’s on par with the fast, convenient, and personalized experience that B2C brands offer. But that’s starting to change. B2B sellers are beginning to evolve their customer experiences to align more closely with their B2C counterparts. Think more self-service features, online information, and omnichannel support.

At the same time, B2B sellers need to do better than offer experiences similar to B2C companies. Amazon didn’t become a retail juggernaut by imitating Sears and Microsoft regained its footing once it stopped trying to clone Apple. On that note, here are three tips for avoiding the imitation trap.

Relevant content is king

It’s true that compared to consumers, B2B buyers have different criteria: they need to comply with regulations, meet numerous specifications, and rigorously evaluate vendors before making a buying decision. But whether consciously or not, corporate buyer expectations have been influenced by consumer experiences.

Whether it’s a display ad or a geo-triggered coupon, people are beset by ads, emails, and notifications. To stand out, B2B sellers must go one step further by delivering truly relevant content that is tailored to a particular buyer’s needs.

Predictive analytics tools and software enable sellers and marketers to understand a person’s specific buying propensities as well as the attributes behind those propensities. The seller or marketer can then tailor content according to each individual prospect to assist in decision making and move the prospect further down the funnel.

Of course automated tools can only do so much. When personalizing the content, it’s also important to consider the following questions:

  • What are the most important problems that the buyer is trying to solve?
  • What is the buyer trying to do within each stage of the buying process?
  • What information does the buyer have about our organization so far?

Emotions matter

Recognizing the emotional concerns that buyers bring to the purchase process is not new. The catchphrase, “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM,” reflects a tendency to opt for the less risky option, and has been around since the 1970s.

But as the B2B marketplace becomes increasingly commoditized—see: the LUMAscape—addressing both the rational and emotional factors behind business purchases is more important than ever. As Dipanjan Chatterjee, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, writes, “if you thought B2B was all about features and functionality, think again.”

When all things are equal, he points out, experience and an emotional connection could be the tipping point. Being attuned to each decision-maker’s state of mind and needs is vital. When preparing an emotions strategy, sellers should ask themselves the following questions:

  • Based on what you know about the prospect, what emotional triggers are in play?
  • Has the buyer had a negative experience with a similar product or service that could influence his or her decisions?
  • What value proposition (functionality, ease of doing business, etc.) would resonate most for the individual at this stage?

Don’t fall for the ‘surprise and delight’ trap either

B2B relationships are far more complex than B2C relationships. An individual consumer can make the purchasing decision, while B2B purchases typically require the input of various stakeholders within the organization. And while consumer transactions are usually fast, one-off affairs, B2B transactions usually involve ongoing relationships between the buyer and seller.

But just as there’s pressure to do whatever it takes to please customers, B2B sellers are sometimes pressured to surprise and delight clients at all costs. Research has shown that attempting to delight all of your customers at every touchpoint is an expensive waste of resources. A smarter approach is to deliver value strategically. Home in on the value propositions that matter to the key decision-makers and focus on delivering those, rather than trying to impress them with freebies.

And if a client persists in asking for perks, these questions can help determine whether to indulge the request or not:

  • What is the added value for the client versus our organization?
  • Is the client asking for additional features or services that don’t fit our roadmap?
  • Is this really what the client wants or could we offer a better option?

The main takeaway is that B2B buyers don’t exist in a bubble—they expect sellers to deliver experiences that match or exceed what they’re accustomed to in a customer-first economy. But even the customer experience can be commoditized. That’s why it’s imperative for sellers to identify what matters most to each stakeholder and convey what differentiates the company from its competitors, making it a win-win for everyone.