Building a B2B Purchase Experience Model in a Recession


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The objective of this post is to share with you the beauty of building an effective B2B purchase experience model*1. This model gives you three distinctive advantages, which are particularly important in a recession:

  • Understanding how B2B customers buy;
  • Managing B2B purchase experiences with a quantifiable system; and
  • Designing B2B purchase experiences with objectives.

Understanding How B2B Customers Buy

Every B2B company has a selling process. It may be as simple as a 10-step guide to booking the sale or as sophisticated as the structure of SFA (Sales Force Automation) software can accommodate – prospecting, lead generation, lead qualification, sales opportunity identification, vision building, short listing, negotiation, closing: sale won or lost, etc. Tremendous resources are spent to enhance the efficiency of selling processes in order to be more effective. (Make more sales!) Yet the reason a seller sells is to get buyers to buy. Selling is only a means to an end: Buying. You won’t be able to sell effectively unless you know how your customers buy. The better you understand how they buy, the better your chances of closing deals and drawing repeat purchases. The question is this: “Is your selling process synchronized with your customers’ buying process?”

Ask any of your B2B customers to review your current selling process and they will tell you there are huge differences between how you sell and how they buy. For example, well before you start prospecting and qualifying leads, your B2B prospects may have already searched and qualified your company or solution through Google search, referrals or any form of social media 2.0. Your company may be short listed to or expelled from a customer’s ‘buying pipeline’ long before you are aware and able to influence them. That is, if you define your selling process with the conventional approach. With the availability of multiple channels, customers may ‘touch’ you via those touch-points that are not under the full jurisdiction of your sales function and spreading across the pre-, at-, and post-purchase stages. For instance, an unsatisfactory experience at ‘solution deployment’ or ‘help desk and service support’ would damage not only the current sales transaction but also repeat purchases. B2C customers may buy something because they want it. B2B customers buy something only when they have to; and this behavior is further intensified during a recession. Can you afford to leave your sales, i.e. your customers’ purchases, to chance? To minimize the gaps between your selling process and your customers’ buying process, a customer-centric B2B purchase experience model is required and recommended.

You probably sell your products or solutions to your customers everyday, and it is logical and relatively easy for you to formulate a structured selling process. However, what you need to do is to understand their buying process rather than your selling process. It is your duty and opportunity to uncover their end-to-end purchase experience process in order to properly manage or influence them.

Managing B2B Purchase Experiences with a Quantifiable System

Let’s take the B2B purchase experience model for an IT solution as an example. (See the below figure) This was derived from our survey conducted with 757 IT managers and buyers*2. By applying the rigorous criteria of the Branded Customer Experience Management Method, we mapped the 25 highly relevant touch-points and attributes, denoted as T1, T2, T3, … to T25. The attributes are experience-centric and staged in a natural time sequence running across the entire B2B purchase experience process from pre-, at- to post-purchase stages. From the X-VOC survey data, we derived the Experience Ratings*3 for each touch-point and formed an Emotion Curve*4. The Emotion Curve shown in the below figure represents an example of how IT managers and buyers perceive the end-to-end purchase experience delivered by IBM*5.

For each touch-point / attribute, B2B customers can interact with your company through different channels. For instance, for touch-point T1 ‘Easy to search for solution information’, customers might find information via your marketing channels, such as trade show / exhibition, advertising, promotion, PR, and referral; or via online channels, such as search engines, company websites, blogs, and email; or via telephone channels, such as enquiry hotline or call centre; or even via face-to-face channels, such as meeting with your sales force. The model can be applied to other industries as well. For example, the semiconductor industry may have a completely different set of touch-points across the Pre-fab, In-fab and Post-fab stages; such as ‘Initiation’, ‘New tech / option’, ‘Order placement’, ‘Tapeout’, ‘Mask in’, ‘Lot starts / handling, ‘Reporting’, ‘Expedite delivery’, ‘NCR’, ‘Concession’, ‘Fabout’, ‘Shipment’, ‘Esort / CP’, and ‘Qualification’. But without exception, B2B customers have to interact at each touch-point with different channels across multiple functions.

Seeing is believing. Now for the first time, you are able to visualize how to deliver and manage an integrated and consistent Total Customer Experience (TCE) for your B2B customers across the matrix of multiple touch-points and channels. It doesn’t mean all barriers are broken and the resistance of “silo” or individual department thinking will disappear. What you get here is an option: an alternative for you to listen to the Voice of Customers (VOC) systematically, put the experience data to practical use, and form a quantifiable management system; an alternative for you to direct the change program of your company with an outside-in approach, through experience data, in order to migrate from product-centric to customer-centric; and an alternative for you to create a genuine and effective TCE, from which both you and your customers can benefit.

Designing B2B Purchase Experiences with Objectives

Not all customers are equally important to your company. According to our research, 20% of the top B2C customers generate 60-65% of revenues; 20% of the top B2B customers generate 80-85% of revenues. Treating all your customers equally means you are not optimizing your resource allocation among customers. The same rule applies to touch-points. Not all touch-points are equally important to your company and to your customers. Some touch-points are more important in driving customer satisfaction; some are more important in reflecting your brand values; and some are more important in driving repeat purchases. Some may not be important at all. Allocating resources equally among all touch-points or managing touch-points without clear objectives implies that you are far from optimizing customer satisfaction, brand differentiation and sales return. This may not be a primary concern to your company when the market is prosperous, you are achieving top-line targets with relative ease and you don’t have to worry much about the bottom-line. However, whether you admit it or not, you may have over-spent in the past, and now you have to think seriously about cutting your budget in this recession. The question is: “Cut what?” Cut staff? Cut advertising & promotion? Cut sales bonuses?

We recommend that you take a good look at the importance levels of your existing touch-points. By deploying the X-VOC customer experience research methodology, you can derive the importance levels of each touch-point to customer satisfaction (Customer Importance Weighting*6), to brand differentiation (Branded Importance Weighting*7) and to purchasing (Purchase Importance Weighting*8). For example, referring to the below figure, if IBM plans to cut the budget for one of the face-to-face channels ‘Event / Gathering’, the wise move is to retain or even increase the budget allocation for two touch-points: T24 ‘Provided validation on solution delivery and value derived’ and T25 ‘Post-purchase follow-up’; as these two touch-points are important to reflecting brand values, driving satisfaction and repeat purchases (represented by a combination of yellow, blue and red dots), and reducing spending at other touch-points.

To put it into strategic perspective, you can manage your touch-points with target objectives. For example, if IBM wants to improve NPS (Net Promoter Scores), IBM should focus resources on those touch-points represented by a combination of yellow and blue dots. Why? Because those touch-points (i.e. T12 ‘Perceived quality of the solution’, T15 “Service attitude”, T19 ‘Ease in deploying the solution’ and T23 ‘Help desk and service support’) are highly important in creating brand differentiation and in driving positive emotions and memories. We have conducted a series of global customer experience surveys covering a wide range of industries and the survey findings prove that only when customers experience both high levels of satisfaction and brand differentiation, can the NPS scores be maximized (NPS can reach a record high of +97% where highest potential score for NPS is +100%)*9.

The beauty of the purchase experience process model is this: if you aren’t IBM, these same importance levels for satisfaction, differentiation and sales mean nothing to you. In other words, competitors will find it more difficult to copy your unique branded experience than to copy the product, price, service and related attributes because different companies have different brand values, which leads to a different mix for ideal performance of touch-points and channels. Similar to most B2B companies, quality and price can be replicated easily in your competitive business. To stay ahead, you have to differentiate – and a branded experience model is definitely one of the key differentiators, especially in a recession.

A Sample of a B2B Purchase Experience Process Model

*1 The guiding principles and the tools for building an effective B2B purchase experience model in this post are based on the U.S. patent-pending Branded Customer Experience Management Method.
*2 Customer Experience X-VOC Research—Mainland China B2B Purchase Experience (IT Solution), CustomerCentric Selling (U.S.) and Global CEM, July – August 2007.
*3 Experience Rating is the rating of customers’ feelings about each sub-process of a touch-point experience.
*4 Emotion Curve is invented and first put into applications by Mr. Sampson Lee, president of Global CEM, in 2006. It is one of the experience assessment and management tools of the U.S. patent-pending Branded Customer Experience Management Method registered by Global CEM. Emotion Curve maps the customer emotions generated at each touch-point or sub-process, and links them to form a curve in reflecting the perceived experience across the entire customer lifecycle (covers all touch-points at stages of pre-purchase, at-purchase, and post-purchase), or at a specific touch-point (e.g. retail, call center, website, etc.). Unlike the conventional approaches focus on enhancing efficiency and are process-centric; emotion curve represents the genuine customer feeling by addressing emotions and five senses, in a natural time sequence from an experience perspective. It is a truly [customer-centric] experience assessment and management method. The statistic data of emotion curve is derived through substantial X-VOC surveys, from the experience ratings on each touch-point or sub-process, evaluated by different target customer segments. The definition and selection criteria of touch-points and sub-processes are based on vigorous and scientific research, method, and sequential steps. An Emotion Curve shows how customers perceive experience. It is an innovative and powerful tool for creating a branded customer experience strategy. Furthermore, through a simple curve, from CEO to receptionist, no matter in boardroom or post room, all people in a company could easily understand and communicate the customer experience levels, by using a common graphical language.
*5 IBM is rated as the Most Liked B2B Purchase Experience among 14 IT vendors. The result is derived from the Customer Experience X-VOC Research—Mainland China B2B Purchase Experience (IT Solution), CustomerCentric Selling (U.S.) and Global CEM, July-August 2007.
*6 CIW™ (Customer Importance Weighting) is a weighting that reflects the importance of a sub-process or a touch-point to customers.
*7 BIW™ (Branded Importance Weighting) is a weighting that reflects the importance level of a sub-process or a touch-point to a brand.
*8 PIW™ (Purchase Importance Weighting) is a weighting that reflects the importance level of a sub-process or a touch-point to purchase.
*9 Based on our global customer experience surveys with Starbucks, Louis Vuitton, and the Cosmetics, Automotive and Financial Services industries, covering a total of 135 customer segments with over 11,000 respondents, the highest Net Promoter Scores (NPS), ranging from +81% to +97%, were achieved only when a branded experience was delivered. That is, customers experience both high levels of satisfaction and brand differentiation. NPS dropped significantly when customers experienced high levels of satisfaction only.


  1. Hi Sampson

    Interesting article. I enjoyed it a great deal.

    Having worked with Toyota in redeveloping its automotive B2B (fleet sales) experience, I appreciate the challenge you face.

    B2B has so many more different customer segments, often with radically different needs. Just think of the differences between a SOHO doctor or lawyer versus a commercial taxi fleet. Each requires a different experiencescape to be developed with different touchpoints, different delivery actors and different expectations.

    Some segments may have several different customers. Just think of commercial fleets with fleet managers, insuring manager, drivers and potentially captive dealers. Each of these requires a different experiencescape too.

    And then there is the much more complex end-to-end customer lifecycle. Just think of the extended pre-contract phase, purchase within a contract, plus the reporting and end of contract stuff that you typically don’t see in the simpler B2C world. Each of these requires its own touchpoints.

    And then there are often an endless number of financing, insuring, delivering, commisioning and servicing partners, all of who influence the experiencescape too.

    And, and, and.

    Creating a B2B experiencscape is an enormous amount of work. The example you show is just a tiny part of a real B2B experiencescape.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-driven Innovator
    Follow me on Twitter


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