In Deloitte: The Future of B2B Sales is “Experience Selling, Bob Thompson relates a discussion he had with Harry Datwani, a Principal at Deloitte Digital about his company’s research on the B2B buying experience. According to Datwani, the study was conducted because the B2B buying process is changing rapidly — driven by customers/buyers. The report notes that “B2B buyers are being influenced by their experiences as consumers” and that the “B2B buyer is shifting from buying products and solutions to buying experiences that generate value from the first interaction to long after the order is placed.”
Datwani is exactly correct on why the definition of customer success has evolved as follows.
In the new definition, the buyer’s journey becomes a key component of customer success and a key differentiator for you. Your mission is to give customers not just a great product or service, but also an end-to-end buying experience that matches or exceeds their expectations. According to Harvard Business Review, exceeding expectations with customer service when an issue arises is not as good as simply meeting their needs in the first place. Even companies that focus resources on providing great post-sale customer service can fall short if the buying experience is lacking.
This is where your marketing and sales teams come in. Following are four imperatives that marketing and sales can collectively use to create alignment and produce positive buyer experiences:
Imperative 1: Remove Customer Friction
This one should be a no-brainer but unfortunately is often violated. You need to remove anything that prevents the sale, or leaves the customer with a bad taste. It starts when all members of the executive team go through the buying process themselves, preferably anonymously. All instances of potential friction should be captured, including:
- A cumbersome website – difficult to navigate and hard to find information.
- Complex order forms.
- Requirements to enter the same details more than once.
- Long wait times to talk to a sales person or chat rep.
- Uninformed or uncaring staff.
- Prioritizing rules over common sense.
This is not the time to compliment the staff that crafted the buying process (unless it is perfect), but rather to be ruthless in finding and eliminating all sources of friction. Never assume that what is intuitive and crystal clear to your engineers and MBA staffers is likewise so to all potential buyers.
Imperative 2: Practice Congruent Messaging
To eliminate buyer confusion and post-sale remorse, marketing and sales should present the same customer-facing messaging. Customers who are told one thing during the purchase process and discover another after buying, are rightly frustrated and can express this frustration by leaving poor reviews. The marketing department, which usually controls messaging, can help the sales team message correctly by:
- Focusing on internal training.
- Creating customer-facing messaging templates (e.g. email and presentations).
- Monitoring for message consistency – with no optional behavior allowed.
- Aligning your brand message with your customers’ experience – from initial contact through product or service delivery and usage.
- Providing your prospects and customers all the information they need pre- and post-sale, to reduce the need for later customer support.
Imperative 3: Demonstrate Greater Value
Marketing and sales teams together can create a better buying experience by delivering better value throughout the pre-purchase process. As the below graphic shows, there is a great difference between vendor/suppliers at the lower end of the relationship food chain and those that reside at higher levels.
When you can occupy the position as a consultant or trusted advisor, as opposed to a vendor, you are adding significantly to your customer’s buying experience. And this starts not only with the products and/or services you offer, but also your mindset. Your mission must shift from selling to “serving”. As any of us who have experienced an overly aggressive salesperson can attest, prospects can sense your motivation. You serve by being a problem solver and information provider. You also serve through your rock-solid commitment to delivering on your promises. And as referenced above, marketing and sales both serve customers by delivering a consistent, differentiated and congruent message.
It’s possible to start at a lower rung and work your way up the relationship food chain, but it is difficult. Vendors seldom end up as consultants or trusted advisors. Interestingly, I have seen companies and reps go down the food chain and this is painful for all involved. Train your marketing and sales teams to start high and stay high. And when friction comes up in the buying process, the job of everyone on your team is to eliminate, not reinforce the friction.
Imperative 4: Utilize the Right Sales and Marketing Metrics
Companies often use well-known metrics like net promoter score (NPS), customer satisfaction (CSAT) and Customer Effort Score (CES) to monitor how they are doing at keeping customers happy. While these are useful macro-level KPIs, there are some specific measurements that help the marketing and sales departments track their performance in creating a pleasant and productive buying experience.
- Conversion of initial inquiries to opportunities.
- Average sales cycle length.
- Losses to competitors (and why).
- Product returns and non-payment.
- Number and quality of online reviews.
- Number and quality of referrals.
Problems with customer friction and incongruent messaging will always show up in these metrics. And the great news is: if you follow the four imperatives in this article, you will not only foster better customer relationships but also spur improvements in revenue and profitability. For more on the relationship between customer experience and financial performance, read Good Marketing Can’t Overcome Poor Customer Experience.