The forces that have reshaped the consumer sector are increasing in B2B, demanding that marketers respond with a new emphasis on the customer experience. 

Our new report B2B Digital Trends, conducted in partnership with Adobe, explores the practical and philosophical shift occurring in business-to-business marketing.

Although every industry is changing at its own pace, there is universal movement toward an approach that looks more and more like consumer marketing.

The report looks at B2B in general and more specifically at the healthcare, manufacturing, technology and professional services industries.

In this post we’ll highlight three takeaways around the B2B shift toward customer experience…

Attract them with content…keep them with the experience

While the consumer marketing world is obsessed by mobile, B2B is focused on content.

When they evaluate their most exciting opportunities for marketing today, respondents see an audience attracted and nurtured by content that is matched to their interests and customer journey.

Once secured, these new customers will be kept by customer experience. Matching their B2C peers, roughly one-in-five marketers sees CX itself as the most exciting opportunity they’re pursing.

But customer experience is expansive; almost every area listed is an aspect of customer experience. 

Q: Which one area is the single most exciting opportunity for your organization in 2015?

The emphasis on these two areas has implications for marketers setting strategy for 2016 and beyond.

Competition for attention will force quality and specificity in content. While competition in the technology sector has been fierce for years, no industry is immune. Marketers need to budget their time and money to anticipate this trend among their competitors.

Content strategy will increasingly have to look beyond internal resources, drawing on agency partners and content specialists to create, enhance and design content pieces that stand out.

The return on content is dictated by its long-term results, not a short-lived bump. Campaigns should be viewed as components of larger programs but in reality, many companies invest in content only to move on soon after launch.

Reuse, repurposing and re-campaigning strong content is a necessary skill that’s often lacking.

Can there be an overemphasis on product quality?

Historically B2B companies have relied on their products, partnerships and relationships at customer companies to keep accounts. That’s largely still true today, but external factors are forcing many companies to broaden their view.

Products are unquestionably at the heart of the B2B value proposition. Some companies still enjoy true competitive advantages in the depth or breadth of their product offerings. However globalization, digitization and innovation mean new arrivals, new business models and new approaches from long-time competitors.

This harsher environment is ultimately very healthy for B2B marketing organizations. As the voice of the customer in the enterprise, marketing is taking a more active role in advocating for and creating the change demanded by their markets.

As they look to the medium-term future B2B marketers increasingly see the experience and service they offer is the factor that will differentiate them from competitors.

Q: Over the next five years, what is the primary way your organization will seek to differentiate itself from competitors?

Those organizations that rely exclusively on their products to “do the selling for them” are in some danger of disruption. A platform that relies on one support is fragile.

If a comparable product arrives on the scene that advantage can be lost and lost quickly. If the experience is difficult in any way buyers can be induced away by a combination of superior experience and a viable alternative.

Companies that emphasize product quality have an advantage over their competitors that should be at the heart of their strategy, but not comprise all of it.

Instead of sitting on their laurels these companies should be aggressively pursuing the most fluid ecommerce experiences, the most responsive customer service processes and most aggressive customer research into what’s around the corner.

Remaking B2B starts with strategy

It’s easy for digital marketers to look at B2B as slow moving. Historically the share of revenue spent on marketing has been lower than in consumer marketing, leading to slower adoption of technology and less emphasis overall on the practice of marketing.

But the ratios are changing. The internet has democratized research even in heavy industrial sectors, leading to a very different customer journey. B2B buyers now move far down the cycle before ever speaking to a sales representative. This has changed the game for marketing, refocusing investment from sales processes to the customer.

Evolving B2B companies know that this means changes to the way they do business and to the way they think. Overwhelmingly when asked about the building blocks of customer experience, B2B respondents identify strategy as the most important with culture a strong second.

They understand that without a long-term view that is shared by executive leadership real change is difficult and slow in coming.

They also understand that strategy and even investment is only part of the solution. If an organization’s culture doesn’t shift to reflect the changing priorities of their market any changes will only be skin deep.

Q: Please rank the importance of these areas as building blocks for building a brilliant customer experience.

Transformation starts with culture and strategy, but it plays out through technology, skills and data. Those at organizations where the digital will is lacking can try to make incremental improvements that combine for larger effects.

Upgrades to data systems lead to a better understanding of the customer, for example, which can be used as leverage to make changes in the customer experience. Education and skills training adds capability of course, but it also injects teams with the desire and ambition to use those skills.

Similarly, technology is better used as a support for an existing initiative than as a mean to an end, but it’s not uncommon to see a new technology drive valuable process innovations.

By taking small steps, B2B marketers can start the conversations that ultimately move their teams, departments and even organizations.

B2B Digital Trends covers these and many other topics. Econsultancy subscribers can instantly access the full report here.

Stefan Tornquist

Published 14 July, 2015 by Stefan Tornquist @ Econsultancy

Stefan is Vice President of Research (US) for Econsultancy. You can follow him @SKTornquist
and connect via LinkedIn.

45 more posts from this author

Comments (5)

Philip Harding

Philip Harding, Account director at Grist

Content marketing seen as the most exciting opportunity for B2B firms - Will need to be too considering reliance on products and services as a differentiator.

almost 2 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Dave Perry, Digital Lead at Afton ChemicalEnterprise

This comment, 'Historically B2B companies have relied on their products, partnerships and relationships at customer companies to keep accounts.' is still true looking forward. The relationship however is now starting, if not shifting, to an online foundation. Customer Experience Management is ensuring the online experience compliments that of offline.

almost 2 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Daryl Tavernor, Digital at Netinspire

Great piece

almost 2 years ago

Bri Ploude

Bri Ploude, Marketing Manager at Peak Activity

"Similarly, technology is better used as a support for an existing initiative than as a mean to an end, but it’s not uncommon to see a new technology drive valuable process innovations."

Really enjoyed this, great write up! What do you think about our 3 trends? http://bit.ly/1jRvdDp

over 1 year ago

George Matthews

George Matthews, Search Executive at Whoisvisiting.com

Brilliant article Stefan, i have recently released an article on B2B Marketing that covers profiling your customers https://www.whoisvisiting.com/getting-know-profile-customer-whoisvisiting-b2b-marketing/ i think you guys would enjoy it.

over 1 year ago

Comment
No-profile-pic
Save or Cancel
Daily_pulse_signup_wide

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Daily Pulse newsletter. Each weekday, you ll receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.