There’s an unwritten law that the B2B buyer journey must be overly complex, without emotional strings and with only linear, periodic and transactional engagement. According to Gartner, 77% of B2B buyers state that their latest purchase experience was complex and did not match their expectations.
However, hope is on the horizon. B2B is in a momentous transition with promising potential for both employees and buyers. We consider where these shifts are and how marketers can transform their marketing effectiveness by focusing on three tactics: Putting the buyer journey first, putting emotion into B2B branding and harnessing advocacy through client and employee advocacy programs.
Changing B2B requirements
The B2B environment has undergone huge change in the last decade. According to Forrester, four forces have set the course for a B2B evolution, motivating brands to reassess their approach towards marketing, sales and services:
Expectations of business buyers are rising towards consumer-like experience;
Fast-paced technology advances have unleashed unimagined engagement opportunities;
New values are changing employees’ motivations, behaviors, and choices;
Corporations are aiming for higher meaning and social responsibility.
But to increase impact and customer relevancy, a new mindset and major shift in how organization apply customer experience is required.
These shifts mean that old-established marketing models need to be adapted, updated, or even replaced - which can be overwhelming for B2B brands and marketing professionals as trying to understand what is going on across the new B2B landscape.
Traditionally, B2B brands have organized their teams in sequential funnel fashion: marketing is responsible for creating demand before transferring qualified leads to sales – simple and pragmatic. In this context, it is important to understand that the B2B buying journey is non-linear. As discussed by Gartner, instead of following a predictable, linear sequence, B2B buyers jump across different tasks and stages within their journey. It is a process that is managed by both marketing and sales in parallel, constantly nurturing the lead rather than handing over to one another.
With B2B buyers increasingly expecting the same levels of service they experience in their private lives, marketing anticipates a new role alongside sales. Forrester describes marketing’s purpose as “leading the B2B organis#zation’s quest to identify opportunities, architect strategies, orchestrate execution, and ensure profitability revenue growth, through a relentless focus on delivering value to existing and future customers and stakeholders”.
Breaking silos and driving greater collaboration between marketing and sales through activities such as audience alignment, data sharing and activity co-ordination will help to significantly improve performance and customer satisfaction. This will require aligning organizational structures, clarifying roles and synchronizing information flows across channels.
The need to provide a superior buyer experience is as important in B2B as it is in B2C. A study by SiriusDecisions shows that 80% of B2B buying decisions are based on a purchaser’s direct or indirect buyer experience. Forrester points out that around 71% of high growth B2B brands have a clearly defined buyer experience vision and roadmap. For example, Maersk Line was able to improve its Net Promoter Score from -10 to +30 by reinforcing strong customer relations and a rejection of the typical ‘social as sales channel’ approach. Consequently, making buyer experience a strategic priority and capability investment paid off.
Three tactics to leapfrog competitors
Turning a B2B brand into a top quartile digital player with superior buyer centric experience can significantly increase revenue, loyalty, and profitability. According to Econsultancy, high performing B2B brands are twice as likely to invest in buyer marketing and experience-based buying activities. Here are three key areas to prioritize.
Firstly, meeting buyer expectations requires building the right mindset and capabilities towards a data-driven organization with buyer centricity throughout the entire buyer journey. B2B brands can provide consumer-like experiences seamlessly across channels and buyer phases by further focusing on these core capabilities:
Product and services, and the ability to match offerings and value adding services to individual customer needs.
Contextualisation and insights – a framework to get a deep understanding of your different buyer segments.
Omnichannel and agile. Get your organisation’s operating model and teams omnichannel-ready by breaking silos and adapting agile ways of working.
Martech architecture – develop a strategic approach towards marketing technology to sync across all channels.
Data management. Unlock your full data potential by integrating consent management, data profiling, data source management and data analytics.
Secondly, the assumption that B2B buyers make purely rational decisions is long outdated. We do not stop being people when we go to work. If anything, the reassurance of brands is important but it's often overlooked by B2B brands. According to a Google study, B2B buyers tend to be even more emotionally connected to their commercial business partners than consumers.
Consequently, it is wrong to believe that more complex and longer buying decisions push emotional factors out of the choice radar; the nature of emotions is simply changing. B2B brands should take the opportunity to ramp up their branding efforts and create emotional bonds with their customers. Strong brands balance a functional product offer but also target the underlying emotional needs; they help us to meet our personal goals and motivations.B2B Marketing points out that Slack for instance successfully inspires its audience with target-oriented content focusing on amazing things achieved by teams using this communication tool.
Thirdly, build advocates, not just supporters. After a positive experience, about 83% of B2B customers would be happy to provide a referral. We know that loyalty and brand advocacy are mainly created through powerful and repetitive post-sale experiences. However, this contradicts common marketing practices. Marketers still focus too much of their budget and resources on pre-sale customer engagement. This needs to change.
Brand advocates are typically characterized through high involvement with the brand, supreme loyalty, high growth potential and high likeliness to promote the brand. Being able to build brand advocates instead of simply favorable supporters can lead to joint profitable growth and unimagined reach. A great example of which is MuleSoft who elevated advocacy via a dedicated advocate program and encouraged community members to create 3,000+ pieces of content about MuleSoft – enabling MuleSoft to increase advocate engagement by 1,300% and new forum threads by 45%. So applying high value activities that engage buyers will mean they become more profitable and influencers of your brand.
B2B is enjoying a momentous transition with forces such as evolving buyers and employees, fast-paced technology, and changing corporate purposes setting the course for its evolution. To seize the opportunity and leapfrog competitors, B2B brands must anchor the new marketing role and make buyer experience a top priority. Developing B2B marketing capabilities, ramping up emotional branding efforts and building brand advocacy can turn B2B brands into high growth businesses.
Co-authored by Christian Bohm, senior consultant at Frog UK, a part of Capgemini Invent, and management consultant Anthea Lamont