B2B companies know that it is harder than ever to influence customer experience (CX) in the digital age. An influx of channels, easy access to information and influencers, and an increasing desire for personalised, consumer-like experiences has blurred traditional purchasing paths and empowered B2B customers to independently make buying decisions before engaging with company representatives.
Today, most B2B customers are over half way through the buying process before they even contemplate engaging with companies; 90% never respond to cold outreach; and 61% of all B2B transactions now start online. This new B2B customer experience paradigm has reshaped the customer buying process and is straining traditional marketing, distribution, service and sales strategies.
Widening the net
In response to this challenge, many B2B companies have rapidly grown their indirect sales networks and engaged new types of channel partners to increase selling opportunities. But the reality is many organisations have failed to underpin channel expansion with the systems and processes needed to enable insight, influence and collaboration across the extended network.
New research shows that just 21% of B2B leaders today have total control over their company’s sales networks and overall customer experience, and another 84% do not have visibility into sales partner opportunity pipelines.
The ‘B2B Customer Experience 2017’ study surveyed 1,350 sales and customer service executives from B2B organisations around the world to understand how well companies are serving customers. The study found that the urgency to grow the indirect channel and monetise customer experience has become disconnected from today’s operational reality.
B2B firms are largely blind to the CX needs of their indirect channel partners. Limited control or oversight of their partners’ sales, marketing and customer engagement channels means they cannot build relationships with loyal customers who spend more, they miss out on growth opportunities that reside outside the traditional sales cycle, and they incur huge opportunity costs by failing to capture renewals.
In other findings in the report:
- Most customers are already 57% through the buying process before they first engage with a company representative.
- 90% of customers never respond to cold outreach.
- 61% of all B2B transactions now start online.
- 71% of B2B executives say customers increasingly want B2C-like experiences compared to a few years ago – fast response times, consistent experiences across multiple channels, and availability 24/7.
- But nearly half (49%) admit they are failing to deliver the cutting edge and highly relevant experiences customers crave.
Ending the ‘benign neglect’ of traditional channel management
With customer experience being the gateway to growth, a new approach is needed. B2B companies need to ditch the traditional ‘light-touch’ partner management strategies in favour of a more rigorous, orchestrated approach. This means prioritising the flow of information, resources, processes and services across the entire partner network to deliver compelling customer experiences.
Ecosystem orchestration means that B2B companies don’t simply outsource parts of the customer experience to channel partners. They instead look to create real value and differentiation by viewing their channel ecosystem as an extension of their business. It’s an approach that engenders trust and enables partners to pursue a connected growth agenda that also boosts revenue across the wider sales ecosystem. Companies that get it right are 63% more likely to exceed their indirect channel revenue goals.
B2B companies that recognise that channel partner disconnect is hindering their growth potential can regain control by:
- Pivoting from partner management to ‘ecosystem orchestration’ – B2B companies need to view indirect partners as an extension of their own business and critical enablers of customer value. Intentionally teaming with a select network of partners and ensuring they are well supported on an individual level can significantly improve customer experience.
- Supporting partner priorities – In an indirect channel ecosystem, understanding the needs and preferences of end customers must take priority. Delivering the best customer experiences requires connected insights. Feedback mechanisms and data sharing are essential to building trust and understanding how to create new value for customers. Providing partners with something they value – such as leads, resources, customer events and sales coaching – will encourage continuous customer information sharing.
- Adopting a new currency for connected growth – Customer data management, analytics and social listening technologies can help companies deliver the relevant and personalised experiences that customers crave. Investing in these technologies and integrating them with core customer experience capabilities, such as closed-loop feedback, is a solid way to measure performance.
B2B companies understand that there is an imperative to reinvent the customer experience. However, unless managed correctly, the growth in indirect channels will lead only to a loss of control over increasingly disjointed sales, service and marketing functions. B2B companies must reinvent their channel strategies, focusing on building an orchestrated ecosystem of value-adding partners who can co-create new experiences that delight customers and drive connected growth for all.
Mark Gaylard is a managing director at Accenture Strategy. As part of the Advanced Customer Strategy practice, Mark works closely with B2B and B2C leaders to implement growth strategies that improve customer loyalty, experiences and value. With over 15 years of consulting experience, he specialises in planning, designing and implementing digital customer strategies, multi-channel customer strategies and customer-centered operating models. Mark is based in London