Use Buyer Persona Research To Improve B2B Customer Experience

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by Creative Stall

by Creative Stall

Customer experience has been and will continue to be one of the major influences on how buyers make choices.  Recent research by SiriusDecisions found that for 80% of B2B buyers surveyed, customer experience counted as the top significant reason why they chose to work with a specific provider over another.  These findings are consistent with others over the years.  Whereas in an age of hard to come by differentiation the actual product or service offering plus price combination accounts for only 20% of buying decisions.

This 80/20 correlation is not a surprising revelation.  However, what should be noted by B2B CMO’s and leaders today is this interesting notion:  much of today’s planning, strategizing, activity, and etc. goes towards the 20% of decisions based on offerings and price.  In other words, approximately 80% of marketing and sales investments are going towards 20% of the buying decision.

Something is definitely out of alignment.  Would you agree?

Is The MBA Approach The Right Approach? 

The idea that customer experience is of significant importance has been around for a couple of decades.  Most notably in B2C.  This type of recent B2B research, accompanied by others in the past few years, points to the major influence customer experience now has in B2B.  The rise of the digital economy has amplified the need for businesses to address the way in which their potential buyers and customers view both their actual and perceived experiences.

An inclination, in my opinion, more pronounced in B2B than B2C is for businesses to gravitate towards addressing such an issue in an MBA like manner.  Applying models, diagrams, processes, mapping, journeys, and the like to, as one Vice President of Marketing put it to me, “make customer experience happen” in their organization.

B2B executives should be on guard for this inclination.  We have been down such a road many times before.  Large cross-functional teams, intricate process maps, grand strategy proclamations, and foot-stomping declarations of the organization now being customer-focused.

If we stay consistent with the 80/20 correlation noted above, it is a good bet that 80% of such efforts are focused on internal processes rather than what is actually happening in the minds of customers. 

Understanding How Customers Desire and Perceive Experience Through Buyer Persona Research

Experience, by nature, is highly personal and subjective.  Understanding experience is also reliant on the descriptive abilities of people to articulate their observations, emotions, feelings, and more.  Thus, no two people may describe their experiences in exactly the same way.  This creates a dilemma for B2B for experiences, in general, are not as easy to get descriptive about in B2B as in B2C.

Buyer persona research can play a role.  That is if organizations truly adopt the original intent and methods of buyer persona research.  Which is, to understand the goal-directed behaviors and thinking of buyers and customers.  As noted previously on several occasions, the pursuit of choices and decisions are largely goal-directed.  Thus, to truly understand how customers view their experiences, it must be understood within the context of how it impacts their pursuit of choices and decisions in a goal-directed manner.

This is an important point to raise for there are some approaches labeled “buyer persona” that have nothing to do with goal-directed behaviors and everything to do with the 20% mentioned above.  Resorting to a focus on buying criteria, risk factors, success factors, and etc. that relate to the rational 20% of the buying decisions.  A resorting to the MBA-wonkish inclination once again.  The same can be said for buyer persona approaches I have seen addressing content marketing.  For example, an overt focus on the rational preferences of people on the content they prefer – while in the 20% mode of their buying decisions.

The qualitative research approach embedded within buyer persona development is helpful in gaining a deeper understanding of the underlying goals that are driving people’s behaviors.  How organizations either support or make it difficult for people in their pursuit of choices, decisions, and goals can largely shape how they come to view their customer experiences.

State Of B2B Customer Experience Is Unhealthy

The latest SiriusDecisions research points to B2B customers indicating they are unhappy with their experiences.  With as much as 61% of those surveyed indicating they would not recommend their providers.  And, a large percentage indicating a hesitancy to renew based on dissatisfactory post-sale experiences.  These findings coincide with others (Forrester, IBM, Regalix, and others) that all point to challenges in providing stellar B2B customer experiences.

What can B2B executives do to achieve customer experience excellence?

The first place to start is for B2B executives to invest in understanding their customers on a deeper level.  Specifically, invest in understanding the often hard to ascertain underlying goals and goal-directed behaviors of their customers and potential buyers.  This type of endeavor leads to the much-needed insights on how customers view their experiences and how their experiences are being shaped.   A place where true goal-directed buyer persona research can be of immense help.

Without this deeper customer understanding, all the process and journey mapping in the world will lead to perhaps an incremental improvement in customer experiences.  As many B2B executives are discovering in today’s fast-changing digital economy, a transformation is what is needed.  Incrementalism may simply not cut it.

(What follows is a short video featuring Sandra Fornasier, Global Director of Customer Experience for Ciena.  In this video, she briefly describes Ciena’s approach to B2B customer experience.)

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