A dedicated sales force plays a key role in business-to-business customer experience management (B2B CXM): the typical sales cycle ranges from three to twelve months, and 91% of participating companies in the ClearAction B2B CXM best practices study said they sell B2B products and services through a dedicated sales force. How do these facts uniquely affect B2B customer experience (CX)?
Account teams are an under-utilized asset in most companies' CXM strategies. We may involve dedicated sales reps in selecting and inviting customers as survey participants, following up on survey action alerts or case management (responding promptly to a customer's urgent issues that come to view from a survey interview), closing the loop with customer accounts after CX improvements are deployed, and building reps' customer relationship skills. Yet that may not be enough . . . we are probably short-changing ourselves in the following ways:
- What about their day-in and day-out insights about decision-making influencers in accounts?
- How do we involve account teams in sharing insights beyond what our surveys, advisory boards, and other formal voice-of-the-customer (VoC) programs provide, to help the rest of the company help the account teams and customers?
- How can we capture insights from informal customer interactions to more proactively influence repurchase?
Insights on Decision-Making Influencers
Information about decision-making influencers is typically closely guarded by account teams. Identifying patterns across customer segments could help the seller company be more strategic in developing and refining processes, policies, products, and services. There can be turf wars about revealing identities, data, and access, due to the need for simplicity, continuity and control through a single point-of-contact in the seller company. Patterns among purchasing agents across accounts, or among plant managers, IT managers, and so forth, are typically unavailable to anyone in a B2B company because of this guarding tendency. If your company has found a way to accommodate the account teams' needs and simultaneously enable the rest of the company to see patterns among decision influencers, your practices would be of breakthrough value to the B2B community, sellers and customers alike.
Insights Beyond Formal VoC
Insights beyond formal VoC from the account teams are commonly unsought by CX managers. Since dedicated sales reps are closest to customers, it could be very valuable to ask them to annotate VoC graphs and reports. Also, account teams' insights between formal VoC deployments may also reduce the frequency of VoC invitations to customers. Response rates and respondent fatigue are an ongoing concern to CX managers. As long as there's an avenue for customers to voice their feedback at any time, it may be strategic to your VoC methodology to explore the viability of interspersing formal feedback with sales reps' inputs. CX managers are often so busy administering formal VoC that many of them don't find the time to conduct further analyses to increase the seller company's customer experience intelligence. Yet the investment as a whole could be more actionable and strategic if sources such as account teams are regularly tapped into to provide as much additional insight as possible. If your company is doing this, the B2B community would be interested in finding out how it's affecting response rates and/or strategic direction.
Insights from Informal Interactions
Informal customer interactions between the customer and account teams, as well as other functional areas, are rarely documented, and even more rarely shared with the rest of the company. We tend to wait a while and conduct a survey, or assign a customer success manager to interview the customer about repurchase. Think about the value that could be harnessed by the seller company to be more proactive in making adjustments and systemic improvements — earlier — that sway repurchases. If your company has created a process for notifying other departments in the company about changes needed, based on informal VoC, it would be wonderful for sellers and customers to make this a common practice in B2B CXM.
Account Team-Managed Customer Experience
Relying only on account teams, without formal B2B CXM, is myopic. A strong partnership between the dedicated sales force and centrally facilitated CX management is needed so that the rest of the company can be attuned to customers and help the account teams be successful. It's the phenomenon made famous in the Jerry Maguire movie where Tom Cruise exclaims to Cuba Gooding Jr: "Help me help you!" Opportunities that could be enabled by others outside the account team are likely being missed unless someone is facilitating CX integration, coordination and consistency at a grander scale. As the old saying goes: "It takes a village". Account teams are dependent on the rest of the company to create value that is salable, and to create processes and policies and manpower to deliver it. "All hands on-deck!" is the way a company becomes customer-centric and reaps noticeable value from CXM.
In our typically siloed thinking, CXM is thought of as separate from account team management, or otherwise, simply as account team management. B2B CXM can grow in maturity, effectiveness, and financial value by thinking holistically about the interdependencies and synergies that are possible.
Other articles in this series:
- Business-to-Business Customer Experience: What’s It Like?
- Understanding Business-to-Business Purchase Decisions
- B2B Voice of the Customer: Integrating Decision Influencers’ Views
- Customer Experience ROI Opportunities in B2B Touchpoints
- State of Business-to-Business Customer Experience Management
- B2B Customer Experience: Do This, Not That
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Thank you for this excellent piece, Lynn. Account teams are important scouts and typically possess valuable customer intelligence and important insights. Imagine in the old West a captain of a fort sends out a scout who was gone for several days. The scout returns wide-eyed and eager to share what he learned. What responsible captain would ignore his return and go off with the other officers instead. Account teams are coming back wide-eyed every day and they should be valued; their insights mined. Just because learnings are gained informally does not lessen their worth in enriching what can be known about customers’ needs, expectations, issues and aspirations.
Good point, Chip. It may take more effort initially to tie B2B account teams into the VoC strategy, but overall, it’s a good way to enrich insights, reduce burden on customers (strains on the customer experience for many customers!), reduce investment in surveys, and thereby gain higher ROI.
I’ve found it best to step back from the whirlwind pace of the mainstream voice-of-the-customer practices and re-think the VoC portfolio with an eye toward:
(1) how can we make it as natural as possible for customers to share their views?
(2) how can we make the broadest use of customers’ views as we collect them?
(3) how can we minimize repetition and frequency of requests to customers?
(4) how can we focus on asking about things we don’t know yet, things that could provide more insights to non-customer-facing staff and strategic planning and internal rituals, while keeping a pulse on moments of truth?
In any case, it’s all about transcending silos to increase value!