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How are you managing the changing nature of B2B customers?

What do customers want, and are you delivering?

Ask a business executive and they’ll tell you that everything they do is for their customers. Which is all well and good, but how many B2B companies are really paying attention to the changes in what customers want?

I had an interesting conversation with Steve Shaffer, CEO of Insite Software, a leading B2B eCommerce company. Steve pointed out that B2B sales haven’t changed much from how they were revolutionized in the 19th century by pioneering executive John Patterson of National Cash Register (NCR), who trained specialized sales representatives, provided them with commissions on sales, and calculating custom quotes for each deal to maximize profit.

But in the last 20 years, there has been a sea of change in B2B customer behavior. Steve’s team is attacking that change with B2B eCommerce and others are focusing on different areas, but the reason is the same: Customers complete as much as 90% of the customer journey before contacting the company. (If Steve has his way, it will be 100%.)

Focus on the digital experience

What that means is that you must focus on digital customer experience. With Google charging more and more for the traffic it sends you, your only defense is to improve your experience so that customers return directly to you, rather than consulting with Google first. To understand what would make customers do that, B2B execs should look to the B2C giant, Amazon. 

Why? Because your B2B customers are consumers, too, and their expectations for the B2B experience are shaped by what they see offline, largely by Amazon. Amazon is not suffering from Google’s steadily increasing traffic tax, because they have become a destination–the place you go first when you need what they sell. 

How can B2B companies learn from Amazon?

  • Smooth eCommerce. Obviously eCommerce is something to consider. Not every B2B company needs eCommerce, but far more need it than have it. Your customers want to buy online when it makes sense, so the right eCommerce experience is critical to customer experience. Steve would send you to Insite to fix that.
  • Excellent site search. When is the last time you navigated to your answer on Amazon? How about with a B2B site? The reason you hardly search on B2B sites, while you hardly do anything else on Amazon, is that Amazon’s search is really good, while most sites have painful search experiences. If you have eCommerce, that can be a good product search, but other B2B sites should look to improve their site search also. (I am senior strategist at SoloSegment, who does exactly that for you.)
  • Recommendations. How many times do you look at one product but have Amazon suggest something better? Your eCommerce engine can do that for products, but SoloSegment can do that for content. No mater what kind of site you have, you need to recommend the right place to go to your customers–or else they will leave.

It’s time to stop treating customers like it’s the 19th century with your 20th century website. If you want to become your customer’s go-to site (the one that they go to without searching Google first) start acting like Amazon does with their maniacal focus on customer experience. If you don’t do it, you are waiting for your competitor to do it first.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in internet marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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