Business relationships are a lot like customer relationships. They both involve buying decisions and loyalty—and emotions. However, there are some differences between managing Customer Experience in business-to-business (B2B) relationships and business-to-consumer (B2C). Today we will go through those differences with our 5 Rules for Managing Your Customer Experience in B2B relationships.
To get us started, here are the rules we shared on a recent podcast, and then, we’ll take a deeper dive into the concepts behind each of them:
- B2B is complicated, so you need to simplify it.
- Recognize that customer emotions apply.
- Manage different customers differently.
- Define the experience to align the organization.
- Focus on the art of the possible.
Rule #1: B2B is complicated, so you need to simplify it.
We’ve worked with many large corporations around the world that deliver many different products and services globally. The more people you get involved in something, the greater the logistical hurdles, and the more complicated the problems get with things like consistent communication. It is essential to simplify everything as much as you can and break it down into smaller parts. One of the critical ways to improve the Customer Experience in a sizeable B2B would be to have a central team for alignment of the organization to ensure everybody is heading in the right direction. Then, the individual units would also manage their part of the experience. Matrix management in the B2B environment is also much more prevalent.
Moreover, it would be wise to remember the Dunbar Number . The Dunbar Number is about how many relationships people tend to form and manage, which is about 153. Of those 153, the closeness of the relationships vary, and the closest relationships tend to be around five and then varying degrees of intimacy radiating out from that. The crucial part of this concept is that there are limits on how much social interaction people can effectively manage. It would help if you broke down your team’s responsibility to be in line with this idea to simplify it for people and allow them to provide the experience.
We were doing some work with a client who had their extensive global customers divided by revenue. The senior account manager handled the most critical accounts. Then it cascaded down from there in account management seniority to the smaller accounts, which a telephone account manager managed. When we did some analysis, we found that the sales team knew 80 percent of their revenue came from 20 percent of their accounts. So they focused on that 20 percent, which left the other ones without an account manager, effectively. In essence, this strategy was the sales team’s response to managing too many accounts at one time.
Understanding how many people it takes to deal with an account effectively is essential. Neglecting this crucial area could mean that your future big accounts (aka, the 80 percent) would not be developed.
Rule #2: Recognize that customer emotions apply.
We do the majority of our work in B2B. The first question I ask when we meet with clients is, “Are relationships important to you?” The client always says they are, that the company is built on them. But then, when I ask if they think emotions are important, clients consistently say that their customers make logical decisions based upon the product or service.
I understand why we have this dichotomy. Individuals feel emotions, not organizations. While the organization feels nothing towards the customers, the individuals in that organization and work with you do. Managing emotions can be complicated, but just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean that we can ignore it or pretend that it doesn’t exist.
Emotions account for a large part of what drives value in a B2B experience. You have to define which emotions drive value for you and then work out how you can achieve those emotions throughout that experience.
Rule #3: Manage different customers differently.
The organization as a whole wants something from you on average. But if you need to get approval from purchasing and from senior management and the shop floor, and they all want different things, then aiming for the average will not do any good. It would be best to segment those customers in different ways. Within that organization, there are many other people with individual needs. Recognizing these variations and changing how you serve them will deliver a much better Customer Experience.
In a typical B2B environment, you might have one account but many different customers within that account. You may have different job types that interact with your organization. Depending on their role and how you work with them, their perception of you will be different. These differences in perception may require a different experience that will drive value for them as individuals within the whole.
Rule #4: Define the experience to align the organization.
The first two things that we do with any client are to define what drives value and then determine the experience you want to deliver. For example, if an organization thinks trust and feeling cared for provides value, then apply that to your plan for providing the experience with specific actions that get customers to feel those things.
Simplify it by communicating the strategy instead of the tactics. Communicate to all the departments the emotions you want the customer to feel, i.e., trust and cared for. Then, ask the different business units to focus on how they are going to do that. It empowers the team to come up with the How for your What.
Moreover, it makes it easier to get the team’s buy-in. Each unit might do it differently, depending on the circumstances, but the goal and the end game are the same: make the customer feel like they can trust us and feel cared for.
Also, it is essential to remember what those emotions might mean from a cultural perspective. The way you deliver trust and make people feel cared for in Japan might differ from how you do it in India. Again, it isn’t effortless, but you simplify it by heading towards that overall goal.
Rule # 5: Focus on the art of the possible.
In a complex organization, parts of the organization will improve the Customer Experience in a much broader, more profound way than other parts of the organization. That’s just life. Focusing on the art of the possible means pushing things far enough, but without breaking everything.
Also, not everyone will be on board with your program. Let’s assume there are ten different business units in the larger organization. Typically, you get three or four to focus on the goal and embrace the idea of delivering customer emotions with the experience. That means the other six or seven see this whole exercise as a waste of time. These business unit representatives might turn up for the meetings but couldn’t care less about doing anything for it.
However, once these naysaying units see the results come in, they will want to get involved. So, focus on getting results with those three or four units, and you will win over the hearts and minds of the less-than-convinced ones.
I talked to a B2B client today, and you could see the lights coming on for them about how all of these units fit together. I had advised them not to be too ambitious or intellectual about Customer Experience because it would scare people off when you change everything. However, if they see how changes are working for other parts of the organization, they will be more likely to make changes.
Let me be clear: you’ve still got to push the boundaries. However, you’ve got to educate people about what those interactions are, what those points are, and the concepts behind emotions in Customer Experience. More importantly, they need to see how they manifest themselves and what it takes to make the changes that deliver those emotions.
Also, look for low-hanging fruit, easy wins, or the areas of least resistance. Nothing breeds enthusiasm like success.
Cultural change is hard. In B2B organizations, you are likely to run into some resistance. So make that a part of your plan. Pick your battles and figure out how you can use your successes as a rhetorical device to emphasize and allow people to convince themselves that this is important rather than having to fight an uphill battle every step of the way.
Customer relationships have many similarities to business customer relationships, but you need to modify your tactics to manage the Customer Experience because of the differences you need. By simplifying the complicated nature of managing Customer Experience for the team and convincing them that customer emotions are at work in these relationships, you can help them manage different customers to an appropriate outcome. Moreover, it would be best to define the feelings and get the individual parts of your organization to explain how they will get it done to facilitate employee buy-in. Finally, by focusing on little wins and what you can accomplish, you will eventually win over the team to your side, with everyone working together to deliver a B2B Experience that will surprise and delight even the most business-minded customer.