We usually think of customer experience (CX) as a consumer-facing concept. In most retail companies, it is a full-time position that puts heavy focus on the physical interfaces to the customer (Web, social, stores, support).
It becomes easy to believe that customer experience is a combination of marketing, sales and service. CX has an identity crisis when you consider the definition Forrester’s Harley Manning gives it, “How customers perceive their interactions with your company.”
Companies that have silos built around their customer-facing functions are poorly equipped and must evolve.
Bigger than any department
If we take Manning’s definition, CX becomes something much larger than any department and instead becomes a philosophy that transcends turf and silos and applies equally to a B2B marketplace. Manning puts it this way:
The definition frames the discussion around what customer experience professionals should focus on, where their responsibilities intersect with those of other types of professionals (like marketers), what results they can expect to produce for their businesses, and how they should measure success.
In B2B marketing we have an opportunity to organize our teams and coordinate our efforts around taking the external expectations of the marketplace, driven largely by the work of our competitors, analysts, and the customer’s own research and to turn that into an opportunity to set expectations in a way that favors the benefits of our own products and services.
CX actually begins in marketplace, continues with our own marketing efforts, and doesn’t stop there.
This image was created in 2010, so assume the left-hand side is changing in favor of new ways of communicating like social media. The graph still works, however for what it means to first set expectations through a highly unified communication of image.
CX then becomes a gradual move from communication of image (which must be very consistent) to delivery of value (which has to equally consistent). There’s no difference in between what this means in a consumer-facing business and what it means for the B2B world.
There is no single moment that defines a customer experience. It is a continuum that has to very carefully managed and when it can’t be managed, influenced.
Navigating the purchase
Why does this matter so much? As the world becomes more digitally-driven, the way a customer of B2B products reaches a decision is undergoing rapid change. With that rapid change comes a need to redefine our own marketing and sales processes to align to this evolving marketplace.
Peter O’Neill, another Forrester research analyst, reports, “Curiously, B2B buyers tell us that 70% of the content they read and study before making a purchase decision is actually found by themselves; as opposed to being given to them by marketing or sales.” Suddenly, what’s found ‘out there’ about your company and its offering (and isn’t necessarily in your control) has a greater impact than before. Knowing that, the need to get buyers to consume your best content first — or as early as possible — becomes a critical exercise.
Today’s sources for a buyer’s early exploration include social streams like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ as well as sponsored posts in forums that align with the marketplace (for us, Venture Beat, GigaOM). This “outside in” approach, as O’Neill calls it, is very different from blasting out information about offerings and gathering contact information:
What is important about the buyers’ discovery phase is that they definitely do not type “ERP” into a search engine. They look for information (via search, communities, discussion forums, websites, blogs) that is based upon their business issues and outcomes. So the most critical need for B2B marketers to understand is that their awareness/discovery content must be in the language of the buyer; it must answer the immediate question being posed and not more (certainly no selling or even gatekeeping contact data gathering); and it should accelerate the buyer along their journey. This is a major challenge for most B2B marketers – they are great a creating content about themselves or their offering but not at creating “outside-in” content.
The digital movement will continue to disrupt the B2B marketplace, but the companies that succeed will have not only great offerings, but have in their DNA this broad view of Customer Experience. Is your organization ready to evolve?