Customer centricity mostly misses the mark in B2B. Strangely, B2B companies use it to foster an inside-out perspective. The concept seems to be more about talking the talk than walking the walk. We can say we’re customer centric all we want, but for buyers and customers looking in that’s often not representative of their experience with your brand. In fact, given the buyer research, it’s often seen more as customer hostility than centricity.
This is true if you’re only interested in learning about your customers so that you can extract more revenue from them, instead of focusing on serving and helping them. Customer centricity has become another tool companies use to try to place products, with their goals taking priority over their buyers.’
Most companies understand—at least theoretically—customers (happy, satisfied customers) drive organizational growth. But making the transition from “product delusion” to buyer-driven is not going well. At least not in a recognizable way that enables buyers.
We’ve all heard about the symbolic “customer in the room” activities that some organizations undertake to claim customer-centric orientation. An often-touted example is Jeff Bezos’ putting an empty chair in the room to represent a customer. But how are the people in the room interpreting that symbolic customer’s response to the ideas discussed?
Just because we pause and ask, Would Buffy like it? doesn’t mean her approval or disapproval is based on sound buyer insights, or that it reflects Buffy’s reality. It’s more likely just an “opinion of the moment” based on the collective perspective in the room. And that doesn’t make your company buyer driven. Even if the idea is well intentioned.
Customer centricity has been translated to mean – let’s understand our customers just enough so we can tell them what to do, push them down a funnel, and sell them our stuff based on our timeline, process, and revenue quotas.
Perhaps we rationalize this by justifying that we’re doing this for their own good. After all, our product does X better than whatever they’re using – so why wouldn’t they appreciate seeing the light?
Hone Your Focus to Become Buyer Driven
A buyer-driven experience is based on relevance, context, choice, and simplicity. And what each of those represents in the moment may be different, depending on where your buyers are in their decision process. These experiences must focus on buyer enablement by making it simpler, faster, easier to find and understand, select, and buy.
And all of this is not without emotions in play. Buyers are humans, and how they “feel” at each stage of their experience with your company will go a long way in determining their level of engagement and progression – as much as will the information they receive and assimilate from you.
The way you frame the information/content you share with them has an impact. The ease of ingesting that information, and the simplicity in applying it to address their specific situation, all carry an emotional impact that informs how they remember their experience with your brand. As well speeding—or slowing—their momentum toward becoming a customer.
For years, we’ve summarized the buying process to include awareness, consideration, purchase. But just because you’re aware of something doesn’t mean you buy it. B2B buying is hard. Recent research from IDG finds an average of 20 people—split between IT and LOB—who take an average of 6.2 months to make a buying decision. If they do. Gartner finds that nearly half of buying journeys end in no decision.
Unite Around Buyers, Not Products
To change this outcome in our favor, we need to unify around B2B buying committees (individuals), not channels or products.
To do so requires you do the work to learn and understand your buyers. Imagine it like riding in the back seat while they navigate heavy traffic.
- Are they looking all around them and glancing in the rearview or focused straight ahead?
- Do they change lanes often trying to gain an advantage, or are they content to stick with the same lane as traffic ebbs and flows around them?
- Do they get angry when someone merges with inches to spare, or do they adjust their speed gracefully without cursing their displeasure?
These are the types of perspective-based insights—translated intelligently—that help you understand what your buyers may choose to do next. Understanding perspective and temperament is as key as understanding the problem they’re working to solve. Buyer-driven experiences are about providing a choice that resonates, not forcing them to take the action you’ve decided they should.
Campaigns with the age-old structure of three touches followed by a sales call are obsolete. They have been for about a decade. Replace all campaigns with a structure you’re dictating with a flexible framework based on your buyers’ choice—whenever they make it. Not on a schedule you choose.
A buyer’s choice depends on:
- Where they are in their process
- What inputs they’ve received from the buying committee, peers, and colleagues
- Their degree of education about the problem and ways to solve it
- The level of uncertainty that exists around perceived risks
- And more.
Until and unless we help them navigate all of this—on their terms—sales opportunities will continue to stall or evaporate.
As Augie Ray from Gartner says, “Most companies make profit their goal, and they focus obsessively on anything to maximize it as quickly as possible. Others recognize that profit is the outcome of consistent and pervasive customer-centric decisions that improve customer experience, build lasting loyalty, and yield bilateral high-value relationships.”
Let’s be one of the “Others!”
Image: Adobe Stock