In 2012, research from CEB/Google offered a clear signal that tectonic shifts were underway in the world of B2B engagement. We learned that B2B purchasers are already 57% into their assessment and purchase decisions by the time they initiate contact with a supplier. To spell it out, that leaves significantly less than one half of the process that can be influenced directly by traditional means. Where once contact with Sales happened early in the purchase process, it is increasingly an informed customer who now chooses when – or when not – to engage with a supplier in a B2B transaction.
Viewed in this light, the digital experience of an organisation is every bit as important as the best sales representatives or account managers that an organisation can muster. What customers see online is what they perceive the company to be; as has become all but common knowledge, the experience is the brand. Customers are educating themselves on their own terms, drawing on sources across all digital channels.
B2B customers begin their path to purchase in exactly the same way they do as consumers – with a simple search. Prominent players in most sectors can quickly and easily be identified and, based on the content customers find on their journey, early decisions are made about who is best placed to meet their needs.
The big winners in B2B engagement are coming from customer–centred solutions. The old marketing adage of ‘benefits not features’ has never been more relevant – abstract perceptions of brand have less and less traction versus the ability to convey a supplier’s direct business value to customers.
Our own research into B2B transactions consistently reveals a difficulty in business customers being able to deconstruct their assessment process into its constituent parts. While the nature of B2B suggests that what takes place is an ordered, logical process of specific checks against given criteria, more often than not this is closely intertwined with a visceral process based on gut feeling, instinct and emotional factors. And by knowing this, greater quality and depth of engagement can be achieved – and greater differentiation derived – through appealing to the emotional side of the assessment.
Consider a factual proposition based around cold, hard statistics, functions and features. This of course has a certain degree of potency when it comes to engaging B2B customers. However, when concepts such as simplification, improvement, confidence and social benefits come into play, the impact of perceived benefits is significantly increased.
Research consistently tells us that B2B brands hold their own when it comes to emotional connection with customers, versus their B2C counterparts. And here’s why. Business purchases are all about risk – making the assessment process as much about risk mitigation as anything else. And when all suppliers are preoccupied with arguing why their products or services are the rational choice, the differentiators become centred around emotive aspects of the decision.
In B2C transactions, we know that drop–off during the final stage of online conversion can be the most hazardous for businesses. People change their mind when the emotional charge of their decision to buy becomes a clinical process of sign–up, or checkout. It’s no different in B2B – once the scent of the emotional drivers to purchase are gone, interest waivers. A superior user experience must continue right up to the point at which the online process hands over to those who manage the conversation best: humans.
As a B2B supplier it only gets more difficult, never easier, to engage your potential customers. As with B2C, greater understanding and insight of your customer’s needs and motivations empowers you to provide digital experiences that address not only to their cogent sensibility, but connects with them on a human level. And anything that helps you speak to your customers less as demographics, and more as people, can only be a good thing for your business.