B2BxCX—Common Challenges and Recommendations (Part 2)
Part 2 of 3: B2B Business Challenges
In Part 1 of this series, I shared some of the most prevalent themes I’ve come across as it relates to the frustrations customers face while interacting with B2B organizations. Working with and within B2B organizations on their customer experiences for more than 10 years, I’ve also uncovered some common business challenges of note, which I’ll dive into in this installment.
These observations, while not a 1:1 match for the customer friction points, are certainly related, and solving them is imperative to facilitate the experiences customers want.
As for the common CX friction points, these themes manifest differently across industries and individual companies. They may not apply exactly as expressed here within your organization, if they apply at all.
Common Business Challenges:
- While they may not complain about this themselves, salespeople face limitations that keep them from bringing in new customers or serving existing customers in new ways. Salespeople focus intently on the relationships they have with customers and are sometimes reluctant to give up opportunities to connect with them. This leads to their participation at every customer touch point, whether or not they are adding value. Doing so means they are both taking their time away from other important activities and potentially also frustrating customers with extra steps to get to what they need. Related to this, sales assumes that their involvement is the experience the customer wants and expects, and this is not always true. Also, just like customers, salespeople are faced with continually evolving and expanding offerings. Particularly in larger organizations or those that offer technology-oriented products, it takes a lot of time and effort to stay current. And without spending this time and effort, sales cannot effectively guide customers toward the information and solutions they need. Taken together, these result in salespeople not having the time they need to expand their customer base (limiting growth), or pointing people to solutions they know well regardless of their relevance to the customer’s specific problem, risking trust and reputation, or both.
- Digital marketing teams are not seen as strategic partners within B2B organizations, haven’t received the investment needed to truly unlock the power of their work, and therefore cannot deliver it. Like with digital tools for customers, B2B organizations have been slower to embrace digital marketing. While most are now communicating with customers via digital channels, they don’t have the tools and information they need to take full advantage of digital marketing’s possibilities. As a result, their digital marketing teams haven’t been able to support sales and merchandising with critical insights to bolster sales and even transform the way they work. As with customer-facing digital tools, the organizational complexities on both the supplier and customer sides make targeted, personalized communications more difficult than for B2C (a common roadblock is simply not having unique account information for individual customer users). Teams are left working in a way that is, for the most part, a digital version of what they once accomplished with print marketing. This renders analytics collected from marketing initiatives minimally useful from a higher-level strategic standpoint, ensuring a continued lack of interest in investing in more sophisticated tools and practices.
- Without customer-centric services in place, manufacturing and distribution companies find themselves in a “race to the bottom” on pricing. With the advent of e-commerce, it’s become much easier for customers to compare prices when sourcing supplies. Other than for products that are new to the market, there is ever-increasing competition, including lower-price, higher-margin private label offerings. This means that, unless companies—B2B and B2C alike—provide customers with good reasons to choose to buy from them, the only way they can compete is on price, leaving them vulnerable. These “good reasons” generally come down to the customer experience and the services, both human and digital, that an organization offers in support of the products they sell—from the first moment of customer contact to support after delivery. Unfortunately, it can be hard to determine the “right” services to offer customers, and doing so can cause political trouble within an organization if they’re not designed thoughtfully.
- Making changes to legacy systems and shifts to ingrained (generally slower) processes or approaches is difficult and time-consuming, encouraging challenges from new, nimble competition. Established B2B companies have been investing in technology for a long time, and have built complicated, custom systems specific to their businesses’ needs, whether customer-facing or not. They have also established parallel, human-intensive processes to support their customers when interacting with the complexities they’ve introduced. Having established these systems and processes renders companies resistant to change, particularly when there are older systems involved, as this work can be expensive, from both a technology and a change management perspective. Work like this also instills a collective belief that both the complexity and the personal interactions supporting it are key to a company’s success. Even when friction points are identified, whether for customers or colleagues, they remain reluctant to consider changes due to potential risks.
- Older organizations are often “siloed,” don’t collaborate effectively across divisions and departments, and miss opportunities to optimize their relationships with customers. This “siloing” is reflected in both the way employees work and the digital tools they use. It’s most prevalent in organizations that have legacy systems, as the components of these systems were developed by departments operating relatively independently before the benefits of sharing the data they had available became as apparent as they are today. Resistance to change with respect to siloing is less about technology than autonomy and control—departments believe that partnering with other departments, regardless of the potential benefits (like those related to the adoption of more sophisticated digital marketing tools and processes), will somehow make them less important. The internal consequence of siloes is inefficiency, but the silos are also responsible for the fractured, inconsistent experiences that frustrate customers.
- Regardless of how well they serve customers themselves, companies are dependent on their supply chain and vulnerable to disruption. This challenge seems self-explanatory and has come into high relief over the past few years. While product availability obviously has a very direct impact on the customer experience, it may seem like a strange challenge to include here, as resolving it seems outside of B2B organizations’ control. In many ways, it is—but not entirely. I’ll return to this challenge with the recommendation themes in the next installment.
As with the customer friction point themes I shared in Part 1, I expect none of these are completely surprising. And again, there is good news, which is that B2B organizations continue to find success serving their customers. Unfortunately, addressing these internal challenges does take a lot of work, both from a technology perspective and a human perspective. However, although challenging, it’s not an impossible feat.
In Part 3 of this series, I’ll share themes I’ve seen across recommendations made to address both these business challenges and customer frustrations.
Outside of the common challenges and recommendations I explore in this series, I’ve also learned that 4 key deliverables form the backbone of any compelling CX strategy. For a deep dive into each one, and how they all work together, be sure to check out our CX strategy webinar.
Photo Credit: Faris Mohammed | Unsplash
Kat Kollett is the Director of Customer Experience Strategy, leading the CX Strategy team. She brings a multidisciplinary, user-focused approach to innovations in brand, digital, analog, environmental, and interpersonal experiences, and helps clients apply those innovations to meet their strategic objectives.
When I was little: I wanted to be a math professor like my dad (turned out not a good fit), and then an architect. The built environment still calls to me.
Creative outlets (other than work): Homemade Halloween costumes and birthday cakes for my kid, and making toys out of cardboard boxes.