B2B Solution of the Week: How your company can use omnichannel marketing to improve customer experiences

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B2B buyers have changed. Shaped by their consumer expectations and enabled by technology, B2B buyers demand a consistent, personalized experience at every stage of the customer journey. Although B2B sellers have progressed developing digital touchpoints, most struggle to weave them into existing channels and create an engaging, seamless omnichannel customer experience.

Using a recent report from Forrester Research, sponsored by Accenture Interactive and SAP Hybris, B2B News Network surveyed B2B omnichannel marketing experts to provide actionable insights into this problem.

Building the B2B omnichannel customer experience

Before embarking on an omnichannel journey sellers must prepare key capabilities including creating a “golden record” and gathering and analyzing past, present and predicted future behaviors, according to John F. Fisher, global head of industry marketing, SAP Hybris, an B2B ecommerce platform.

“The ‘golden record’ collects all interactions across all channels that the seller has with the buyer in one place easily accessible by all departments,” Fisher says. “Once accomplished, the seller must analyze this data. The key is to integrate present data (i.e., what the user’s doing on the website or social media) and predicting what (she) will do in the future based on all these factors.”

And digital channels have more import than ever because a majority of B2B buyers spend more time online, and 40 percent of them use digital buying channels exclusively, according to Jay Dettling, managing director, Accenture Interactive.

Jay Dettling, managing director, Accenture Interactive
Jay Dettling, managing director, Accenture Interactive

“It is important for the B2B marketer to understand the opportunities—and not just the CMO but all C-level executives,” Dettling says. “They must pick the tactics that map to the buyer’s journey.”

B2B marketing tactics can include retargeting, email marketing and banner ads, among others, according to Dettling. If marketers followed a B2C model, they would just build one site. But today no one size fits all.

“B2B must understand which customers deliver value,” Dettling says. For these customers, Dettling suggests creating specific landing pages and welcome back pages tailored to what they bought last time.

In the end, B2B marketers have to meet the customers where they live. B2B customers expect that if they use one channel to communicate, the information they shared will follow them to other channels. B2B businesses need to match their responses to the meet the needs of the buyers.

“No one wants to tell her story more than once,” says Abby Herriman, senior vice president of delivery and innovation, HighPoint Global, a private firm that helps clients with content, contact center optimization and other services. “Once sellers have put the foundations of an omnichannel strategy in place, they have to connect the channels. If buyers start their journey online, all communication has to carry to (the) phone or other channels. If sellers implement digital channels without integrating into a larger omnichannel strategy, they risk any goodwill they’ve built with buyers.”

Personalize customer journeys to emulate buyer expectations from B2C

One of the key takeaways of the Forrester report revolves around making the B2B experience similar to what the customer receives in the B2C market. That means personalization.

Glen Caruso, chief revenue and marketing officer, UserIQ,
Glen Caruso, chief revenue and marketing officer, UserIQ,

Fortunately, B2B companies sit on a goldmine of customer data that can be used to build segments so accurate that engagements feel personalized, notes Glen Caruso, chief revenue and marketing officer, UserIQ, an automated in-app tool to help engage B2B customers. “The number of data points doesn’t matter as much as quality and depth of data. And there is no better way to personalize a customer journey than to ask what the customer wants, listen and deliver.”

Perhaps one of the biggest differences between the current B2B customer experience and closer emulation of a B2C experience remains touching the pain points the buyer wants to solve. But at times the buyer and user who has the pain are different. And they can be separated in time.

“For the user, the pain point is often real and immediate,” says Suneet Bhatt, CMO, LiveIntent, a B2B marketing and advertising solution. “For the (buyer), the pain point can be several months out and part of the bigger picture, but it has to tie back to the user’s need. The product has to have a practical application embraced by the user today and fit into the (buyer’s) longer-term strategy.”

Break down data silos, employee resistance to create a seamless omnichannel experience

As Forrester found in its report, B2B sellers rated the difficulty of sharing customer data and analytics between siloed channels, countries and locations as the top barrier to an omnichannel strategy. And while all these data silos are important, they represent only the tip of the iceberg, according to Fisher.

“Data silos are the easiest ones to break down. Technology to enable data to be brought together is advancing quickly,” Fisher says. “Now technology can include non-structured data such as tweets, videos, recommendations, etc. It’s not technology that will hold back adoption of an ecommerce website or a new CRM; it’s employees that have been (taking) phone orders or using email as a CRM. Getting them to change is the challenge.”

The employee education challenge reaches to the higher echelons of management, too. The CEO and executive team must get behind a B2B omnichannel program for it to have a chance to succeed, according to Dettling.

“Restructure MBOs so executives do not compete with each other,” Dettling says. “All of them must be incentivized to support one another then structured to work together.” Organizational design is the factor that often stalls B2B omnichannel programs, according to Dettling.

Impact of B2B/partner culture and infrastructure on omnichannel experience

To master omnichannel customer engagement, a B2B company and its partners must have aligned cultures, and the proper technology infrastructure has to exist, according to Forrester. “To actively engage customers requires a focused business technology agenda that puts the customer in the center, a culture of constant iteration and analysis and support from a partner ecosystem to fill capability gaps,” its researchers write.

In this scenario, don’t follow a square-peg-in-a-round-hole approach. “The right omnichannel strategy is the one that fits as tidily as possible into a company’s existing sales channels,” says Ofer Yourvexel, CEO, Pepperi, a mobile sales automation platform, “while still driving improvement and change by offering the customer more possibilities for purchase.”

In the case of technology, Yourvexel recommends “white label” systems that can be extensively configured and branded to meet B2B requirements. Also, they should offer maintainability, usability, and flexibility for fluctuations in customer demand, he says.

This requires B2B firms to find partners with a forward-looking vision and mobile-first approach to development that matches their buying processes, according to Glen Coates, CEO, Handshake, a B2B commerce platform.

“The chosen platform will need to support intuitive in-person and online ordering through mobile and the web,” he says. “Usability and design of the solution should compare favorably to B2C ecommerce and mobile apps, while addressing unique complexities of the B2B buying process.”

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Derek Handova

Derek Handova

Derek Handova is a veteran journalist writing on various B2B vertical beats. He started out as associate editor of Micro Publishing News, a pioneer in coverage of the desktop publishing space and more recently as a freelance writer for Digital Journal, Economy Lead (finance and IR beats) and Intelligent Utility (electrical transmission and distribution beats).