What does an excellent digital experience look like in the B2B space?
From the point of view of many analysts and insiders, it actually closely aligns with market-differentiating B2C experiences. This makes sense. Apple provides consumers with seamless access to content across devices. Google makes searching easy across web, email and documents. Netflix automatically recommends relevant and enjoyable content. These experiences condition business users to expect that same level of digital excellence when they interact with their vendors.
Dive deeper, though, and important differences emerge in terms of the business users’ digital experience requirements. So, B2B brands must work through additional considerations as they improve the customer experience they offer business partners. Let’s first look at these differences and then detail how your brand can address them to offer the best possible digital experience to business users.
Three Vital Differences Between Business Users and Individual Consumers
What makes a B2B digital experience so complicated? Here are three of the most important issues.
1. Businesses take a collective approach to buying decisions.
The average number of people involved in B2B solutions purchases is more than six, and climbing, according to Harvard Business Review. With multiple teammates involved – from research and competitive analysis to budget experts and payment authorization – B2B customers are highly informed, connected and risk-conscious. Their main goal is to make the best decision based on business needs , not their personal preferences.
Importantly, these decisions are becoming more reliant on relevant digital engagements. A 2017 survey from Demandbase found that seventy-five percent of B2B buyers said relevant content that spoke directly to their company was very important when they visited vendor websites.
The bottom line for B2B brands: To win market share, digital content must be relevant and make business sense to a range of stakeholders.
2. The digital experience is tied directly to job performance.
Making choices can be stressful in any arena. For business users, this stress is magnified. From the supply chain to e-commerce, interactions between business users and vendors have direct impacts on the user’s job performance. They have reports to complete, quotas to fill, price targets to hit, budgets to adhere to, spending limits to comply with, and so forth. If the product or service they’re working with doesn’t meet their needs by providing seamless and consistent access to resources, they’ll find another brand to work with.
As an example, look at the reordering process. A 2017 survey of B2B decision makers conducted by McKinsey & Company found that 86% of respondents preferred using self-service tools for reordering, rather than talking to a sales representative. If your digital experience can make reordering fast and easy, you’ll stand apart from competitors who still need days to produce a quote, fill out a paper order form or require a phone call for an order status update.
3. Security and privacy take on an added layer of complexity.
In addition to personal data protected by privacy regulations like the EU GDPR and the more recent California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), business accounts also house a wealth of private information such as contracts, agreed-upon pricing, inventory and more.
Business users need access to this private information on an ever-increasing number of devices and platforms, but only as far as their access level justifies. Business partner administrators tasked with setting up the access policies need the ability to map entitlements and authorizations to business needs. And the relationship can be put at risk if that access management becomes too cumbersome. At the same time, if authorization isn’t secure enough, the wrong people could access private information, opening up the brand to lawsuits, criminal action and severe damage to brand reputation.
Features of a Trusted B2B Digital Experience
Given these vital differences, how can brands improve the digital experience they offer business partners? The answer boils down to a key concept: trust.
During the research phase, brands who can offer personalized content to prospective clients will gain an advantage over competitors who only offer generic experiences. Yet, trust must be part of the equation. Smart brands employ a solution for enterprise-wide profile, preference and consent data management to drive delivery of market-differentiating personalization. As a result, they can deliver content based on a user’s preferences while also respecting his or her data privacy.
Innovative companies in the pharmaceutical sector are prime examples. Sales rep meetings with doctors are getting shorter. This means companies need new ways to engage doctors and healthcare professionals to sustain productivity and growth. As a solution, they’re placing customer data management at the center of their technology stacks to build a single view of each business customer. This, in turn, powers their content strategy, which is delivered through web, e-mail and various speaker events — helping to create trusted, personalized customer experiences at scale.
The value of this data goes beyond the initial B2B buyer journey stages. The relationship will grow and sales opportunities will arise if the vendor can act more like a specialized industry consultant and less like a product seller. Making this shift requires a true understanding of business buyers – the global trends affecting them, the local challenges they face and the potential market opportunities created by the partnership. Customer data management is key to gaining this understanding and then applying it during digital engagements with business prospects.
Once a relationship is established, appropriate points of entry into the digital ecosystem become crucial. Business users need trusted access to their content and services on their various devices and platforms. They also need seamless registration and login flows to the resources appropriate for their access levels.
This means easily configurable, pre-defined and policy-based access management is now an imperative. It also means brands need a system to securely identify business partner users from any touchpoint with a diverse range of authentication factors, including SSO, federation standards and even social media credentials.
After they’re through the front door, business users’ trust in the vendor will increase if their experiences are personalized with data from their unique profiles. For example, a user based in Berlin would have her local language, currency and timezone settings reflected. Another user who works in the Manhattan office would have his experience personalized for his region.
To achieve this level of personalization, brands need a strategy for providing accurate identity data management to partner administrators, including the ability to modify the experience as users change regions, jobs and/or roles.
Data privacy is another major factor in trusted business user relationships. Spearheaded by the GDPR, the global trend toward heightened consumer data privacy has raised business users’ awareness of how brands collect and use their data. If brands use it without the user’s knowledge or consent, their trust is broken. In addition, they expect to have personal control over their profile, preference and consent data. This new reality marks a significant shift for B2B brands.
As the image shows, businesses in the vanguard are using their compliance initiatives as a springboard for building trust. They are redefining data management practices to centrally manage business users’ preferences and consent settings – as opposed to managing multiple silos of data – making it easier for them to honor users’ wishes. They are improving transparency by implementing customizable, out-of-the-box workflows for presenting clear consent requests for terms of service, privacy policies, cookie consent (ePrivacy), marketing communications or any other permission-based activities. Finally, they’re offering business users the ability to manage all aspects of the relationship with the brand, including profile information, preferences and consent settings through a self-service preference center accessible through their account profile on any device or platform.
Through these innovations, B2B brands are doing more than protecting the business from regulatory risk. They are also saving costs by reducing the need for service and call center resources when they centralize and automate business partner preference and consent management processes. This, in turn, further enhances relationships with business partners by giving them control of their own data and preferences.
Learn More about Trusted B2B Customer Relationships
Join me and my special guest, Lori Wizdo, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester, for an exciting webinar on September 27th 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.
By Sonny Dasgupta