Tuesday, January 14, 2014

B2B Customer Experience Management Best Practices

If you work for a B2B company, is customer experience still an important focus?

Yes, without a doubt! That question should never cross your lips! A customer experience management (CEM) strategy for B2B will be different from that for B2C, but it is, nonetheless, equally, if not more, important.

The focus shifts in B2B customer experience to the relationship between the account manager and the customer. "People buy from people" becomes the mantra here. (That can be good and bad.) That means that your account managers must be armed with all the right tools, data, and insights in order to deliver an experience that will ensure that he meets his business goals, which typically include: satisfaction, retention, acquisition, expansion, and referrals.

But the business overall has some motivators or goals, as well. And for a little more detail on that, I want to share some of the findings of ClearAction's 4th Annual Business-to-Business Customer Experience Management Best Practices Study - 2013. In the study, customers were asked about the  top three goals motivating B2B CEM, and the following were cited most often (in rank order by frequency of top mentions):
  • increase customer loyalty (i.e., share of budget)
  • increase retention (i.e., reduce churn/defections)
  • stronger competitive differentiation
  • increased revenue, increased profit
  • acquiring more profitable customers
  • increased market share
  • improved industry leadership position
It's great to have motivators, but are these actually achievable by focusing on the customer experience? Yes! The following are examples of B2B firms' greatest achievements when they pursued their #1 CEM goal.
  • $200M revenue increase in the last year as a result of taking action on customer feedback.
  • 35% growth rate over the past year due to Client Success layers with Sales.
  • 25% increase in NPS in the last year due to comment analysis and closed-loop activities.
  • 10% increase in project profit due to service excellence over the last year.
  • 20% increase in customer engagement over the last 3 years due to CEM technologies.
  • 5% increase in share of budget among buying customer base in the last year as a result of better account management.
  • Service recovery on low NPS saved a $500K account.
That all sounds great, but not everyone sees that kind of success. Respondents were asked about the five greatest obstacles to B2B CEM success, and these are the top mentions (listed by frequency of receiving a top ranking, i.e., #1).
  • Lack of executive sponsorship
  • Limited bandwidth of managers
  • Budget restrictions
  • Lack of CEM strategy
  • Difficulty correlating CEM to business results
  • Lack of cross-organization cooperation
Clearly, executive sponsorship is a major concern and inhibitor. How bad is it? Respondents were asked about their agreement with the following statements. Tell me what you think! We have our work cut out for us. Or it's time for some new executives!

Respondents were also asked about the importance of VOC relative to a few other items, and here are the findings. Looks like we have a lot of management personnel out there who think they know better than their customers, since 44% agree/totally agree that VOC is less important than management instincts.

I don't know about you, but that chart doesn't make me feel all warm and fuzzy.

At the beginning of the post, I mentioned that account managers are important to the B2B experience and relationship. In order for them to deliver a great experience, though, they must be equipped with the right tools to do so. When asked to rate how well respondents' companies conduct activities to center employees on customers, the results looked like this (listed by percent of respondents who indicated world-class or well-established):
  • Present customer feedback to all employees and execs (43%)
  • Expect action on survey results by owners of customer experience key drivers (40%)
  • Use customer metrics in performance reviews (36%)
  • Reward customer experience improvement by teams (27%)
  • Onboard all employees regarding customer experience programs (18%)
  • Align incentive pay to customer experience metrics (18%)
Most important to account managers as it relates to managing their day-to-day customer relationships are the first two. But from an overall culture of listening and of customer focus, they are all important.

The report is filled with a lot more findings and recommendations on how you can improve your B2B customer experience. Take a look - and feel free to share your own thoughts below.

Note: Lynn Hunsaker, ClearAction founder, shared the report with me last month.

The customer experience is the next competitive battleground. -Jerry Gregoire, CIO, Dell


  1. Thanks for this great overview of the new report, Annette!

  2. Annette, for a while I worked as an independent consultant. My world revolved around B2B sales.

    It is very different from B2C

    In B2C there are lots of customers buying little where as in B2B there are few customers buying lots.

    So getting the customer experience right isn't a nice thing to do, it is the only way to pay the mortgage.


    1. Hi Annette, as someone that still does work as an independent consultant, I can only concur with and endorse James' statement.


    2. James, you make a great point... I love the way you state the difference between B2B and B2C. Truly, they are very different... and yet, both experiences are important.

      Thanks, Adrian!

  3. Great report Annette. I'm a little late to the party I guess, but great insights are always useful, whenever you find them. Your comment on the lack of executive level sponsorship really struck a chord. Some executives equate Customer Experience Management to just CRM and nothing more ! Disheartening, but true nonetheless. Also wanted to highlight another recent short blog post I came across on CX vs CRM. Posting the link here for the benefit of all the readers http://bit.ly/SOizIj. Keep 'em coming !

    1. Esha, thanks so much for your comment. I agree, it is disheartening. Thanks for sharing that link here... great article.

  4. Great stuff Annette, gives a very good insight on customer experience best practices. Its true that in B2B, Account managers play a great role and equipping them with appropriate tools can be very useful in optimizing the value from the account...I have come across a nice article on designing premium customer experience, here is the link http://www.tata-bss.com/in/four-critical-approaches-to-offer-a-premium-customer-experience/

    1. Thanks so much... and thanks for sharing that article. Will check it out.

      Annette :-)

  5. In every business, we need to take positive steps to develop our business relationship. So, we need the help of effective communication, effective management, and many others. Thanks for this wonderful sharing, it will definitely improve our business management skills and teach us about client relationship.
    Management Coaching Florida