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Three Key Steps for Building B2B Customer Trust in the GDPR Era

New Forrester Webinar explores the pitfalls and opportunities facing B2B marketers in an age of expanded rights for business customers.

What causes a B2B relationship to flourish? Pricing is obviously a big factor, but brands serving business clients are increasingly realizing customer experience is a main reason as well. In one 2018 survey, for example, 60 percent of the B2B businesses polled said they were improving the client experience in an effort to improve customer loyalty.

Building trust is central to any customer experience improvement. Yet the concept of trust takes on additional significance in the B2B setting. Business accounts have many moving parts: multiple users in a single account require separate access levels; private business information, such as agreed-upon pricing, needs to be kept secure; inventory and availability data needs to be accurate and up-to-date; and the list goes on. Partners trust the brand to offer seamless digital experiences that address these moving parts throughout the entire B2B journey. If any element falters or fails to meet the partner’s needs, trust – and the relationship – can break.

Evolving global data privacy rules compound the issue. Spearheaded by the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the ground rules for earning and keeping customer trust are undergoing a seismic shift. For B2B brands, this means an already pressure-packed endeavor has become even more complex.

To maintain current customers and win more market share, B2B brands need a strategy to build more trusted customer experiences in this new GDPR era. The following steps are a good start.

Step 1: Realize the Customer’s Wishes Come First

The convergence of the B2C and B2B space is well-documented. At SAP’s SAPPHIRE event in Orlando last June, SAP Customer Experience President Alex Atzberger said:

“This is the ‘Me2B’ world. The implications are clear: the customer dictates the terms and determines how they interact. If they aren’t happy, they don’t stay.”

For B2B brands, adopting some B2C tactics can directly boost trust with business partners. For example, a mobile app that provides personalized functionality for individual business users can satisfy a major demand.

Yet, to be successful, personalized platforms and channels require secure, consent-based data. The data management systems that feed this personalization need access to multiple sources from across the organization. And, the user must have the ability to control the experience at every touch point.

So, to reach the “Me2B” world, B2B brands need a holistic data management strategy to honor a user’s personal data, preferences and consent at every engagement.

Step 2: Realize Marketing Data Quality is Now a Strategic Imperative

B2B marketers continuously develop and refine engagement strategies, channels, content and nurturing tactics to meet sales pipeline requirements. Yet, in the past, many treated a prospect’s consent to receive marketing communications as an afterthought. They prized marketing database volume over the value of individual leads.

The GDPR is putting an end to this practice. In her March 2018 research report entitled “The GDPR and the B2B Marketer”, Lori Wizdo, VP and Principal Analyst for Forrester, said:

“The GDPR will eventually obliterate the ‘volume = value’ equation with many specific regulations about the collection and storage of data.”

The days of collecting data and then deciding how to use it are gone. Now, marketers must strategize. They need to decide what data they want to collect, then work with the broader organization to collect it, secure approval from customers, and use it in ways that are data privacy compliant.

Yet, despite the pain, collecting and maintaining explicit consent is not solely a regulatory burden. At a fundamental level, it’s a chance to reconnect with prospects, partners and clients, and offer them control of their digital experiences. Marketers who take advantage will see the quality of their existing contacts increase. The profile information will be more accurate and they’ll be communicating to interested listeners.   

In a recent webinar, Rita Heimes, Research Director and Data Protection Officer for the International Association of Privacy Professionals, talked about the value of a business lead who has expressed explicit consent:

“I think it just gives you a better relationship with them because you took the time to ask in advance and get a clear expression of interest. You’re not relying on the soft opt-in assumption as you were before.”

Step 3: Realize the Time is Now

The direction of global business clearly points toward more consumer privacy and data protection. The EU began enforcing the GDPR on May 25, 2018 and will begin enforcing an updated ePrivacy Directive soon. California’s legislature recently passed its own comprehensive data privacy law and is aiming to start enforcement in 2020. In Brazil, the government announced its Data Protection Bill of Law in July.

All these regulations have common threads. They seek to make businesses more transparent about data collection and processing of personal data. They seek to make consent for terms of service, privacy policies and marketing communications explicit and unambiguous. They also seek to give data subjects more control of their personal information by requiring businesses to provide them with data access and consent management functionality. In short, all of these laws aim to protect the interests of consumers in an increasingly risky digital world.

The California Consumer Privacy Act, or CCPA, gives consumers new rights regarding the collection and processing of their personal data. The European Union General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, puts customer back in control of their data.

Yet, the B2B market has been slow to respond. In the weeks leading up to GDPR enforcement, Wizdo said only 15% B2B marketers were fully compliant with the requirements of the GDPR. The majority said they were only partially ready, and 18% were still considering what to do.

Why are they behind? According to Wizdo, many B2B marketers thought the GDPR didn’t apply to them. Others assumed they didn’t collect or process the data covered under the regulation.

Unfortunately for them, neither of these assumptions proved correct. The GDPR does apply to B2B brands and does cover the personal data of business users, including their work email and their work phone numbers. The bottom line: brands who haven’t mapped the personal data of business users stored in their databases to an explicit consent agreement are facing a new level of regulatory and legal risk that will only grow as new regulations emerge.

B2B brands in the vanguard are seizing the moment to re-focus their customer data management strategies so they address GDPR requirements and build their business partners’ trust. They’re improving data governance, enticing users to share their data, making consent more understandable and enabling entirely new classes of services. As a result, they’re separating their customer experience from the competition.

Want More B2B Customer Trust Insights?

Join me and my special guest, Lori Wizdo, VP and Principal Analyst from Forrester, for an exciting webinar on September 27 at 11:00am ET.

In this interactive discussion, Lori and I will detail how your data management strategy can build trust with your business partners and lead to strengthened loyalty, advocacy, and more lucrative and mutually beneficial business relationships.

Register Now to Save Your Spot!

By Sonny Dasgupta

Meet us at

SAP Customer Experience LIVE: Connect with Purpose
Barcelona, Spain

October 10-11, 2018

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