B2B sellers face a marketplace defined by upheaval. Restless buyers have made churn the rule – not the exception – and B2B buyer loyalty cannot be assumed. Accenture Interactive’s recent "Service is the New Sales" research uncovered that 80% of frequent B2B buyers have either switched sellers in the last 12 months or plan to over the next year.
These buyers seek out new suppliers largely because of poor service experiences (and how easy it’s become to switch). Buyers report frustrations like missed delivery dates, sellers’ lack of integration between sales channels, poor commerce functionality, and long lead times for delivery and fulfillment.
However, the research also shed light on a subset of leading B2B sellers bucking these current trends, as distinguished by objective sales and service metrics demonstrating a proven ability to retain buyers and grow market share in spite of (and perhaps because of) this tumultuous marketplace. These leading sellers share two key traits:
- A fierce commitment to customer service that permeates all aspects of the enterprise.
- Organizational and leadership structures aligned to unify digital tools and human talent, empowering them to deliver stellar service throughout the purchase journey.
For B2B sellers working to adopt a customer-centric mindset and deliver superior service that successfully retains buyers, internal structural reorganization is often just as critical as introducing new digital tools or workforce skills. C-suite leadership is vital to these transformations, which must include every unit within an organization and every facet of the customer experience – from online and offline touchpoints, to the impact of geography and logistics and beyond.
In our research, 70% of the leading B2B sellers cite a commitment to service as a high or top organizational priority over the past three years, and are more likely to view that commitment as ongoing rather than as a one-and-done effort.
The best performing B2B sellers are also 4x more likely to get complete buy-in from senior stakeholders when it comes to digitally enabled customer service initiatives, and 3x more likely to have senior leaders who expect digital service transformation investments to yield major gains in sales growth.
In contrast, 69% of non-leading B2B sellers struggled with “cultural resistance to change at the board level” as a primary challenge to their transformation efforts. When launching initiatives that prioritize service, rallying around fully-aligned support from the C-suite and other leadership is a crucial early step that creates the foundation for success.
Backed by a stanch commitment to transformation, leadership should then examine the current business model from a customer service perspective. The goal should be identifying how that model can be disrupted in order to differentiate their B2B seller organization from the competition.
To begin achieving this differentiation and aligning the business around the B2B buyer, define customers through customer profiling, targeting, and persona identification. Some sellers find value in focusing on customers as segments rather than as individuals, where doing so enables more effective responses to pain points, and better product and service delivery. Proper alignment around customer priorities and other partner initiatives is also valuable in resolving or avoiding any channel conflicts.
Delivering a cross-channel, end-to-end customer experience often requires a realignment of business units, and B2B sellers can’t be afraid to knock down silos. Doing so makes it much easier to then implement a unified martech stack and data architecture that enables all internal groups to tap into the same customer information.
When introducing the correct martech and data technologies to support a customer service transformation, sellers must determine whether to re-architect, build, or buy appropriate solutions. This leads to another crucial step: aligning the entire organization to utilize customer data to its fullest. Data is only valuable if you know how to use it. Leveraged properly, data can and should provide insights into understanding and addressing customers’ specific challenges and needs, as well as how to drive value for each customer or segment in order to continually retain their business.
Leading B2B sellers also reported supporting end-to-end service by exhibiting more collaborative team structures; in fact, they were twice as likely to fully integrate marketing functions across channels. Many leading sellers also have either partially or fully integrated their sales and marketing teams, enabling closer collaboration on customer objectives. Within those synced teams, delivering exceptional customer service also requires a workforce acutely aligned to that goal.
Leading B2B sellers show a way forward in this area, recruiting employees with the skillsets and talent to deliver great service, and then actively developing and nurturing new customer-focused capabilities. Leading sellers also more often introduce employee innovation programs, incentivizing and rewarding employees that develop bold new ideas for improving customer experiences.
B2B seller organizations due for a transformation should draw up a roadmap that aligns each aspect of their businesses around service excellence. From there, they can then implement the unified leadership, organizational structure, technology, and talent necessary to make that plan a reality.
While achieving fundamental transformation around full-organization customer service is certainly a tall order, fulfilling customer needs across the purchase journey is also certain to pay dividends through greater customer retention, increased customer spend, and valuable marketplace differentiation.
Jason Michaels is the Managing Director at Accenture Interactive focused on B2B marketing. His direct experience with business-to-business marketing initiatives includes brand and product launches, repositioning, product development, and go-to-market strategies for Boeing, HPE, Intel, Microsoft, and other large enterprise brands. Jason can be found at online via LinkedIn and Twitter.