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Customer experience is the not so new kid in town everyone is talking about. While B2B ignored CX for long enough, it’s made enough noise for them to stop and take notice. 90% of B2B leaders now believe CX to be crucial to their organization’s strategic priorities.

While CX mastery remains a challenge for many B2B and B2B2C companies there are enough examples to show that when done well CX has helped companies reap huge rewards. IBM, Adobe, Wells Fargo, FedEx, Costco, DHL, etc. are some great examples of CX done well.

But why has CX become critical?

There was a time when a finite number of giants dominated the market. However, technology and the great wave of digitalization has shrunk our world and changed the way it operates. Today, you have innovative brands of all sizes that, irrespective of their location, competing in a global marketplace. Earning customer loyalty when the customer is spoilt for choice is getting harder.

The customer of today has high expectations that have been fuelled by their B2C, customer-focused experiences. Expecting a Netflix or Uber-like experience is the new normal. They expect B2B interactions to be just as frictionless and high-quality and want the buying experiences to be enriched and meaningful. Quite naturally they expect similar digital experiences as they proceed on their B2B buying journey.

There is also a change in the buyer profile. Today, an increasing number of B2B buyers are millennials who are uber-comfortable with digital channels. 46% of B2B buyers now fall into this demographic.

It is clear that digital experiences can no longer be a ‘good to have’ for these buyers.

For the longest time, B2B companies have managed to achieve customer loyalty based on quality, cost, delivery, availability, better features, innovation, etc. However, now B2B brands have to look at driving better digital experiences to create a brand connect and build loyalty.

That said, we have to admit that given the complexity of the B2B buyer journey, delivering efficient experiences can be a challenge. The sheer number of product variants, complex product information, demand for high-level customizations, vast dealer and supplier network with their own product catalogs and specifications, etc. are just the tip of the iceberg.

B2B and B2B2C CX is different from B2C CX

CX is important – perhaps this is where the similarities between B2B and B2C end.

B2C transactions are simpler as there is minimal need for interactions between the buyer and seller. B2B and B2B2C interactions tend to be far more complex. Usually, B2B purchasing decisions are not made by a single buyer but by a buying committee. Different stakeholders need different information elements to help them reach a decision.

The buyer’s journey is thus far more complex, especially given the complexity of the product catalogs. So, while B2C companies can get away with focusing on the fancy and more cosmetic elements the digital space demands, B2B companies have to focus their efforts more on driving the buyer journey forward.

Where should CX focus?

CX in the B2B and the B2B2C context has to thus focus primarily on ensuring a smooth progression of the buyer’s purchasing journey. This is where ‘search’ and ‘browse’ functionality comes crucially into play.

Most will agree that the B2B buying process is research-intensive. The product has to match the exact specifications. The text information must be complemented with meaningful imagery. It’s also true that product specifications are subject to constant change, products are upgraded and develop new functionalities or products reach the end of their lifecycle and get replaced. This has the potential of making the product information a complex, dynamic, and impenetrable mess.

But if the buyer cannot search for the right product, if she cannot find the right product or is unsure of how the currently available product has replaced the older version, then you have a problem. Without this clarity, you are creating roadblocks in the buyer journey and making it unnecessarily choppy.

So what can you do to optimize buying journeys? You focus on CX.

Here’s how:

  • Elevate your master data management capabilities to make products catalogs more easily searchable.
  • Provide updated, relevant, precise, and organized product information with correct product tagging to present the right product information to your buyer.
  • Optimize your mobile experiences by creating mobile-first product content, and use technologies such as AR, NFC, geo-tagging to curate engaging mobile experiences. Remember 70% of B2B buyers now start their search queries online and use the smartphone for the same.
  • Simplify your product catalog – while the products and its specifications could be complex the search for the same doesn’t have to be so. Provide technical specifications, drawings, images, live inventory, and a comprehensive search and filter option to simplify the process.
  • Be hyper-focused on correct product tagging for greater personalization and to enable ‘Advanced Search’ capabilities
  • Provide Advanced Navigation features so that your buyers can filter as many products on any number of parameters and specifications
  • Ensure that the product information answers all the questions that buyers have
  • Focus on regular content cleansing and normalization, and NPI, Syndication & Maintenance
  • Employ well-designed data models and firm data governance to establish a well-structured product taxonomy to improve search functionalities

According to the Forrester B2B Buying Behaviors survey, 62% of B2B buyers are influenced by the breadth and range of credible information when looking for a supplier. 92% of B2B buyers now prefer to conduct business online with their manufacturers and distributors. 31% of B2B buyers place compelling product content as the main influencer of their buying decisions.

These numbers suggest why it makes sense for CX in the B2B and the B2B2C narrative to focus heavily on optimizing the search and browse functionalities. And the quality of your content and your product information management capabilities will play a crucial role in helping you achieve this.