More than 300 B2B firms across the US, Europe, and Asia-Pacific were surveyed by the global consulting leader, whose findings point to the blurring of lines between B2B and B2C marketing tactics and to the changing expectations of today’s business customers.
“Business buyers don’t operate in a vacuum,” said Jill Steinhour, director of high-tech strategy at Adobe. “Their expectations are shaped by the full spectrum of digital services they use each day, from voice assistants in their homes to the digital banking apps on their mobile devices.”
B2B leaders have seen major returns from this shift to personalized digital experiences. SAP, already one of the world’s largest enterprise software providers, was able to strengthen its relationship with a key client, GE, by tailoring its online content to individual users based on browsing behaviors. After programming its home page to target GE customers with account-specific messages, SAP saw click-through rates jump 900%, page views increase 35%, and engagement rise 20%.
For its part, e-commerce giant Grainger has a clear mandate to personalize the B2B purchasing journey.
“How do we in B2B do what Coca-Cola has done in B2C?” asked Justine BaMaung, optimization manager at Grainger, earlier this year at Adobe Summit. “How do you build that extreme loyalty to the point where your customers turn into your brand advocates?”
For Grainger, its e-commerce website is crucial to driving sales. By adding personalized product recommendations on its website, the B2B company increased overall home page engagement by 12%. Also, by testing recommendations placement on the home page, Grainger was able to double revenue from the recommendations zone.
Just Getting Started
The achievements of these companies indicate that B2B players have radically improved their digital customer experience. But this is only the beginning, and B2B companies must set their sights even higher than consumer-facing brands.
“The B2B buying cycle is longer and involves more steps than the consumer purchasing journey,” Steinhour explained. “The motivation behind B2B purchases is also different, not to mention the cost and follow-up associated with business solutions. Given that, it’s essential for B2B marketers to nurture their customer relationships by offering valuable guidance and content, in addition to convenient digital experiences.”
The Ovum research suggests there is considerable room for improvement among B2B players. Almost half of the respondents admitted they are still in the early stages of their digital transformation. Among their top challenges, 61% said they still struggle to drive engagement on mobile channels, 56% reported issues when trying to personalize engagements and offers outright, 55% pointed to analyzing and interpreting marketing and sales data, and 54% said understanding individual customer needs and local value propositions posed challenges.
A Five-Pronged Plan For Progress
Some B2B brands may be in danger of falling behind customer expectations, but most are investing in new systems, people, and processes to serve the market’s evolving needs and get a jump on the competition. Their approach, according to Ovum, can be broken down into five pillars:
1. Boosting digital spend: The right technology infrastructure is critical for any brand looking to modernize its digital approach. Indeed, 73% of respondents to Ovum’s survey said they plan to increase their digital spend over the next 18 to 24 months. Mobile experiences stand out as a top priority, with 70% of B2B businesses ranking these as their No. 1 area for investment as they work toward a seamless omnichannel purchasing journey.
2. Getting value from customer data: Customer understanding is a major differentiator for marketers. B2B customer data is especially rich because the purchasing journey involves multiple interactions, each of which offers marketers more information to their personalization efforts.
While there is widespread agreement that analytics and data fuel today’s customer experiences, more than half of B2B brands said they still struggle to manage the information they collect and understand their customers’ individual needs and tie those behaviors back to an opportunity. That is why 43% said they have committed to deepening their level of customer insights and better understanding their buyers.
3. Adding AI to the mix: B2B brands are also looking to deliver personalization at scale in real time with artificial intelligence (AI). Fifty-three percent said they have already invested in AI to enhance their customer experience, and another 30% have concrete plans to do so.
“As B2B customers become more demanding, brands will increasingly use AI and machine learning to better anticipate their needs and gain deeper levels of customer intelligence,” Steinhour said. “Not only will this make them more proactive in serving their audience, it will also help them stay one step ahead of the market without compromising on their growth ambitions.”
Even the most basic applications of AI are paying major dividends. For instance, by examining how customers interact with its website content, Grainger was able to optimize its display algorithms to drive more sales. Simply switching a banner on its home page from “top-selling products” to “recently viewed items” resulted in double the revenue from a single piece of real estate.
4. Organizing teams around outcomes: A digital strategy that drives business transformation and growth also requires B2B brands to change the way their teams work. According to Ovum, this means adapting team structures and operating models to serve customer needs, rather than inward-looking metrics, and ensuring employees feel supported by senior management. With the resources and incentives to work in customer-centric ways, teams will then pay it forward in the experiences they deliver.
In addition to changing the way they work, employees also need to adapt their skillsets to serve a digital audience, Ovum said. For B2B brands, skills development is one of the top priorities as they look to achieve their digital ambitions, as is ensuring staff have the proper training to bring their digital vision to life.
5. Collaborating with customer-facing business units: Teams that have traditionally worked behind the scenes rarely interact with customers directly, which makes it difficult for team members to put themselves in a buyer’s shoes. To address this issue, more businesses are encouraging teams to collaborate and break down internal silos, helping employees to appreciate customers’ needs and factor them into their decision-making.
In companies that rate themselves as proficient in their approach to digital, Ovum found that 57% of employees work directly with colleagues responsible for the customer experience, 56% work with teams that manage the customer relationship, and 55% work with contact center teams.
The Way Forward
B2B brands are saying goodbye to product marketing and moving toward true life cycle marketing. Instead of a linear sales funnel, customer relationships are now built on constant communication and proactive value-adding experiences.
“The B2B sector has made significant strides in adapting to this new dynamic, setting the stage for a new wave of personalized experiences as marketers explore new ways to delight their customers,” Steinhour said. “At this pace, B2B players may soon be the ones setting the pace of innovation on digital channels.”