McKinsey recently published a great piece aimed at B2B companies called The new B2B growth equation. This focused on how B2B Customers want an “always-on, personalized, omnichannel experience”. These customers want more from their B2B sellers — “more channels, more convenience, and a more personalized experience“. It’s not that they don’t still want traditional interactions or that they just want remote human interactions – they want these and digital self-service in equal measure. What this means for B2B sellers is a need to deliver excellence across a wide range of channels – 10 or more according to McKinsey.
We are often called to help our clients with multi-channel projects and have a model we use to divide up these channels not just into Inbound and Outbound, but into Prompting (the channel can prompt a customer to do something but can’t complete a transaction), Conversational (the customer can talk to someone about what they want) and Self-Service (the customer can do things for themselves). Originally developed as a model for B2C omni-channel marketing, this is increasingly being adapted for B2B sales and marketing also.
Obviously, this wide range of channels requires a degree of digital infrastructure. We have all seen companies across the B2B landscape make big investments in these technologies over the last few years as COVID has disrupted traditional models.
But it also takes digital decisioning.
Why? Consider the top-5 requirements that customers in the McKinsey survey have of their B2B suppliers:
- Performance guaranty
- Product availability shown online [All your channels must know what’s available]
- Purchase from any channel [You must be able to approve, price and commit to orders on every channel]
- Always on real time customer service [Your customer service team need real-time explanations of everything your system decided]
- Consistent across channels [Your pricing, approval, delivery, shipping and commitment decisions must be the same regardless of channel]
As we can see, customers want consistency across all these channels.
They want pricing, delivery dates, discounts, estimates, terms and conditions and everything else about their business to be consistent across all these channels. If you leave all these decisions to the individual channels, you won’t deliver the consistency your customers want. You also run the risk that customers will be treated better (or worse) not based on how good a customer they are but based on the channel you used. If a good customer using your procurement portal gets a worse price than a bad customer who happens to be talking in person to a sales representative, then your B2B sales process is broken. The solution is to deliver centralized digital decisioning across the channels for these critical decisions.
Customers don’t want limits on what they can do on these channels – “There shouldn’t be a limit to what types of transactions can be done on your phone” as one says in the survey.
It’s easy to let people initiate transactions on these channels but much harder to complete them – customers don’t want to just enter their order on their phone, they want you to check it, price it, apply their discount and accept the order. You can’t tell them to wait while you get someone to look at it. You can’t defer decision-making to people if you are to deliver effective self-service. And even if you were willing to force your customers to talk to someone to get pricing or definitive agreements on deliveries, say, you still need to make sure that they get a consistent answer. Digitizing these critical decisions is key to delivering real-time, accurate, consistent, cross-channel transactions.
Finally, customers want to have a personalized experience.
As McKinsey say, you have to “Personalize everything!”. This means applying their specific discount, their terms and conditions, their delivery requirements, their history with you to EVERY transaction. It means using their history across all your channels to personalize the next transaction no matter which channel it is on. And the best way to deliver a personalized experience is to decide one transaction, one customer at a time – what should I say to this customer now? Only if this decision is modeled, understood, automated and analytically enhanced are you going to deliver true personalization.
Digitizing sales and marketing decisions – next best offer or next best action as its often called – is table stakes in B2C these days. This McKinsey survey shows that the time has come for B2B sales and marketing teams to tackle these same issues.
We are offering a webinar in April titled “Delivering Customer Excellence in a Complex, Multi-Channel World” – we hope you’ll join us to discuss this topic further.