Remember the old days, when the seller controlled the buyer-seller relationship? Sales and marketing could still focus on simple things, like stuffing customers through the funnel like cattle through a chute. Marketing collected leads, sales worked to close them, and if the numbers at the end of the process beat quotas and goals, then everyone was happy. Well, everyone who counted – the people in sales, the CFO and the CEO.B2B Customer

Who’s missing from that crowd? Well, obviously, the customer.  In the old days, before the universe started to tilt the balance of power away from the seller toward the buyer, the selling process could leave customers a little bruised at times, and selling techniques weren’t particularly evolved. B2B customers may have been able to buy what they needed, but they may not have been very happy with the experience of buying.

Those days are gone. The customer has been given superpowers – the superpower to hear (via the Internet) and the superpower to speak (via social media). There’s no need for customers to endure difficult selling processes, because they can spot them ahead of time and easily find alternatives.

This goes beyond the “customer experience,” although this is still an important thing to think about. This goes to the idea of real change in the organization, and a new way of looking at marketing and selling processes. Does a process benefit the seller, but has a negative impact on the buyer? It needs to be hunted down and replaced. We’ve thought of “customer experience” as something done in front of a B2B customer; in reality, everything a business does behind the scenes contributes to the customer experience, and unless businesses become aware of that at every level they’ll be subjecting their B2B customers with substandard experiences.

What does a good B2B buying experience look like? Well, first you must provide the product and service mix the customer needs – if you can’t fulfill the very basic requirements of the relationship nothing else really matters. But beyond that, there are three “F’s” you need to incorporate into any B2B customer experience:

Frictionless: 

unless you’re the only player in your market, your customers have options. They tend to go with sellers that make the buying process as simple and uncomplicated as possible. Unfortunately, sellers frequently introduce points of friction into the selling process. That may come in the form of conflicting information in content, convoluted ordering processes, unnecessary registrations, unnavigable portals and other impediments to the customer achieving his or her goal of completing the sale as effortlessly as possible. Remember – every second the customer has to spend wrestling with your processes is a second taken away from completing the other parts of his or her job.
Actively hunt for these areas of sales friction and be ruthless in eliminating them. In many cases, they represent processes that can be automated through the smart use of technology. A good example of this is quote and proposal development. In an era when configure price quote (CPQ) software is readily available, there is no reason to have sales reps manually build quotes, a process fraught with the potential for expensive and aggravating errors. Turning this into a point-and-click exercise not only ensures that there are far fewer mistakes, but also reduces proposal creation time from hours and even days to minutes. Which leads to the second F:

Fast: 

B2B buyers want to get deals done, and products and serviced delivered on time – if not sooner. That means that your selling processes need to be integrated with your operational processes. Orders need to be fulfilled as fast as possible, and customers will want to know the status of their order in real time. Make sure that you can deliver this – again, automation through wisely-applied technology is the key. Delivering alerts to customers is great – but also deliver alerts to sales reps so they can be aware of how well the fulfillment part of their deals is going. If there’s an issue, be up-front about it, and make sure the sales rep knows what’s going on, too, so he or she can take action to preserve the sale. That idea plays right into the third F:

Friendly: 

Customers like to buy from people they like. When we talk about customer experience, we often get enamored of the technology that we’re providing our sales and marketing teams, but all that investment can be unraveled by a sales rep or point of contact in the company that alienates the buyer. This seems like the simplest part of the equation, but it’s not – as I have often joked, this technology would all work great if it weren’t for the silly humans.
To paraphrase CRM expert Brent Leary, the insight provided by technology needs to be complemented by the instincts of your sales and marketing teams. The information you develop about customers has to be used to build a relationship that results in faster and more frictionless sales now and in the future. That means that someone has to be given the information about the customer, process it, and turn it into a set of behaviors that help the customer get what he needs in the way he needs it.

This will differ from customer to customer – which is why human talent for relationship creation is a critical part of the customer experience puzzle. Empathy is a key component of this, and you can’t generate empathy from your CRM or SFA application – you have to actively look for it in potential members of your team.

It might seem easy to deliver on those three F’s – but if it were, every company would be delivering great experiences to their customers. In reality, mastery of these aspects of B2B selling is so rare that the businesses who have mastered the F’s stand out – the customer experience they create is a true differentiator.

For more on the critical role of customer experience, read our report “Profiting from Customer Experience.”

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