Is the Customer Experience Important in B2B?

Sure, I have an opinion, but after discussions with numerous companies whose sole focus seemed to be cost cutting, reorganization and internal initiatives, I began to wonder.

I posted this question to the B2B Marketing group on LinkedIn and here were some of the responses:

"The customer experience is undoubtedly critical in B2B if only because of the buying process. Whereas in B2C, where the number of buyers and/or influencing parties are typically small in size, the buying process in B2B typically involves multiple audiences, job responsibilities, and in many cases, many channels as well. For these reasons, especially when we live in society governed by immediacy and specific relevancy to *me*, nothing could be more critical than a specific, user-relevant, positive customer experience. And if done correctly, especially on B2B web sites with strong analytics, the results from a positive customer experience can be *very* lucrative in terms of sales leads and revenue growth."  - Lance Baird, Vice President, Sales and Marketing at Godfrey

“Customer Experience is absolutely critical especially in services or complex solution sales environments. I learned LONG ago that the sales person might get the first sale, but it is the customer services, i.e. customer experience, that gets the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and so on. That lesson supports the idea of growing customer share or insuring customer loyalty. Of course the other aspect of that is, it's of course also an imperative to growing market share. It is more than difficult to gain new customers if current customers are not willing to be a reference or even better an advocate for your products and services.” – Rick Volz, Sales Executive

“’You can fool some of the people some of the time but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.' Customer experience is everything in B2B. You can acquire customers using transactional techniques in the B2B space just as you can in the consumer space but to grow them into advocates requires that the whole experience by all of the people engaged in the relationship from user and buyer of the service is required to before you can develop the relationship any further. And just to make it even more complex those buyers and users are human and they change on average every two or three years. So understanding customers is much more complex in B2B and the relationship needs to be monitored all of the time. There is no room for complacency.” Iain Lovatt, Founder & Executive Chairman Blue Sheep Limited

Finally, after 14 posts, someone asked the question I was dying to know…

“What it is interesting is, that if we all feel so strongly that customer experience is so vital in B2B why is it so overlooked? Or is now the time for Business Leaders to understand that the brand is defined (whether we like it or not) by the experience we give and that to have a sustainable advantage and to be different in your market you MUST start with the Customer Experience?

It would be great to hear what you all believe are the barriers? I'll start with a couple:

- the lack of understanding of the importance (although this is changing) of the brand
- not enough listening to customers about how they feel about working with "company X"
- the B2B focus on quarterly results at the expense of the longer term plan
- the complexity of CX design in B2B

- .... (over to you) ...” - Richard Bush, Managing Director, Base One

There were several more posts about the importance of the customer experience in B2B), but only two that really answered the question posted by Richard about why it is often overlooked.

“Having been Head of Enterprise Customer Experience at Vodafone UK I speak from 'head in hands' experience of the complexity of getting the end to end experience right for business customers. Consumers, I would argue, are much less complex in their decision making, but businesses, well.... how complex can you get - certain people within a company may search for the right product, others may purchase it, others may use it and a different set may pay the bill (this applies to larger SMEs and definitely corporates). Getting the 'experience' right for all of those decision makers is hard but not impossible! I personally think B2B Customer Experience is a really interesting space and one that is just starting to get the attention it rightly deserves, but I definitely agree with the earlier comment from Richard Bush that there are many barriers to making B2B experience work. The biggest barrier I have found both as a client side practitioner and more recently from my consultancy work with B2B clients is that senior management (small business owners up to corporate boards) sometimes talk a good game but are less reluctant when they have to commit to the budget required for chance.” - Melanie Gray, Owner of GrayMarketing, a B2B marketing consultancy that specialises in Customer Engagement.

“... B2B transactions are based on an exceptional high level of trust. If trust is not present between you and the client from the outset, it’s almost impossible for a positive client/customer experience to be achieved (depending on what is the procurers driver). For my company this is our emotional trigger for our brand and one that resonates with our stakeholders. It’s not just about making relationships in B2B, it’s about maintaining them...” - Chris Hedges, Marketing Executive for Appleyards Ltd

I agree with Melanie and Chris that customer experiences in B2B are more complex because they are about relationships and trust at multiple levels and functions within the customer account. ..BUT if it’s the lifeblood of your organization, shouldn’t it be more than a nice-to-do? I'd love to hear your comments on why customer experience appears to be an afterthought instead of a managed process.

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