Why Customer Experience Matters for B2B

MIT Sloan Management Review
Fri, 01 Feb 2019 14:39:23 +0000

Business-to-business customers are people too.

An obvious truism? Perhaps, but you wouldn’t know it from the digital customer experience in B2B markets. Few business websites deliver the efficient, insightful, and personalized service widely available on consumer websites.

Business-to-business vendors seem unaware that corporate purchasing decisions are made by human beings, who spend plenty of time on Amazon, Expedia, and other consumer e-commerce sites. Inevitably, these experiences shape their expectations for online transactions at work. Corporate buyers accustomed to easy, quick, and customized online transactions from sites targeting consumers now demand the same or better customer experience in digital business transactions.

For most B2B companies, meeting these customer expectations for consumer-level experiences will be difficult. Few business websites offer features that simplify transactions, create deep customer relationships, and drive sales growth. To succeed, they need to personalize and customize their online selling process through high-performance technology and customer-centered business models.

As customer expectations evolve and technological advances create new possibilities, the foundations of an efficient, responsive, personalized customer experience in B2B transactions must take shape. Like their counterparts in the consumer market, B2B companies will need to shift to a human-centered design model and make effective use of artificial intelligence, analytics, algorithms, and other tools to discern customer needs and predict buying behavior.

Three Driving Forces in B2B Markets

E-commerce continues to grow as a meaningful share of B2B revenues. Forrester reports that “nearly 15% of U.S. B2B sales are expected to be via digital channels by 2021, a 15% increase in just five years.”

Digital selling platforms are replacing traditional in-person and phone-based selling, and these platforms are more able to capitalize on omnichannel strategies to capture a greater share of sales. In order to capitalize on opportunities offered by meeting B2B customer expectations, companies need to understand three fundamental drivers of sales and customer experience trends in B2B markets.

Consumerization of customer expectations. Widespread digital technology adoption and automation of many commercial interactions has affected the way businesses purchase products and services. Increasingly, they think and act like consumers — accustomed to fast, seamless online transactions, fulfillment, and account servicing tailored to their unique specifications. Yet according to Salesforce, less than 30% of B2B customers say suppliers provide excellent customer experience.

Another dimension of this reflects the rising generations in the workforce: As millennials ascend through the business ranks, they bring their digitized worldview to the workplace, where 61% of B2B transactions now start online, as reported by Salesforce. More than 80% of business purchasers surveyed by Salesforce want consumer-level customer experience, and two-thirds have switched vendors to get it.

Improving customer experience through better technology and automation represents a huge opportunity for most B2B businesses. A.T. Kearney data confirms that when companies provide a personalized, seamless experience, they generate average revenue growth of 8.1%, twice the rate of competitors with less-developed digital platforms. In some industries, converting a single-channel customer into an omnichannel buyer increases the buyer’s average spend by 21%.

Distinct characteristics of B2B purchasing. Business customers expect a customer experience on par with consumer e-commerce, but they don’t always act like consumers. Fundamental differences exist in their purchasing behavior, transaction processes, and decision-making dynamics.

Consumers can be emotional and spontaneous, and they often impulsively click the “buy” button. Business buyers, in contrast, take a rational, dispassionate approach to purchasing, guided by objective criteria and cool-headed analysis of options. Consumers typically base decisions on vaguely defined factors: price, perceived quality, or a product’s attractiveness. Business buyers have complex, specific requirements for product characteristics: price and payment terms, service levels, legal and tax considerations, and logistical needs.

B2B relationships are also more complex than those with consumers. A single consumer usually makes purchasing decisions, while B2B purchases often require input and approvals from stakeholders throughout the company. Consumer transactions typically are one-off, but B2B commerce takes place in the context of ongoing relationships between buyer and seller, and long-cycle purchasing patterns.

Evolving analytics and algorithms. Big data analytics, coupled with algorithmic decision-making, reshape both sides of B2B interactions. More corporate buyers use these tools to optimize purchasing, while sellers use them to predict purchasing trends and personalize products and services. Analytics gather, enrich, and synthesize customer data, revealing patterns in customer buying behavior and illuminating sales and service opportunities.

Algorithms turn insights into action, triggering automatic responses to customer needs highlighted by analytics platforms. An effective combination of analytics and algorithms helps sellers develop and present timely, highly customized offers in frictionless, automated customer experiences.

Four Pillars of Superior Digital Customer Experience

While the ideal approach to digital customer engagement varies across industries and companies, most successful models are built on the following four pillars:

Pillar 1: Comprehensive, Personalized Customer Experiences

Personalized, automated customer interaction extends beyond the “purchase funnel” to all activities involved in meeting customer needs. Functions ranging from fulfillment to customer support and billing should be designed to provide the best experience for buyers.

Pillar 2: Segmented Customer Needs

Segmenting customers by needs and buying behavior allows companies to create custom-tailored experiences for each group.

Customer requirements vary by type of business, from small companies with unpredictable purchasing patterns to multinational corporations with analytical, technology-enabled buying processes, as well as others with complex, specialized purchasing needs. Requirements will also vary by product type.

Despite these differences, B2B customers typically fall into one of three persona groups, each with key features to identify for building personalized experiences.

“One-click” customers: These include smaller accounts that tend to transact business like consumers, are costly to serve at scale, and often lack technological sophistication. Analytical customers: Refers to sophisticated large accounts that gather market intelligence to inform purchasing decisions. These customers require highly personalized service from suppliers. Solutions customers: Typically large accounts that require even higher levels of customization than analytical buyers, because they face an array of noncommercial challenges, such as extensive regulation, stringent security standards, and significant liability risks. Pillar 3: Facilitated Customer Interactions

The best B2B customer journey requires advanced digital capabilities, in four key areas:

Insight-enriched relationships: Companies need to know who their buyers are, their purpose for each purchase, and the key factors driving buying decisions. Deep customer insights guide interactions at every stage, including product design, engineering, and marketing. Frictionless interaction: Companies need to make it easy for customers to buy, and should do so by facilitating seamless buyer and seller transactions with digital technologies to automate or even eliminate cumbersome interactions and processes, from ordering and payment through fulfillment, replenishment, customer service, and back-office functions. Omnichannel integration: Sellers need to increase customer choice for their preferred transaction channel — phone, online, mobile, and even machine-to-machine while also ensuring a consistent experience and view of the customer across all channels. Platform business models: Businesses need to explore business models and open platforms that facilitate integration and collaboration across the value chain, through new data-driven products and services (such as predictive and proactive field-service models based on connected devices). Pillar 4: Customer-Centered Operating Models

For many companies, moving toward a consumer-centered B2B model signals a radical cultural shift, requiring new ways of working — and thinking — across the organization. B2B companies that consistently deliver consumer-level online service understand how marketing, sales, product development, IT, and other functions shape customers’ experience. They break down traditional silos and form cross-functional teams charged with optimizing every interaction between customers and the company.

Empowered with resources and autonomy, these teams conceptualize, test, refine, and deploy innovations aimed at creating frictionless experiences for customers. They use agile methods, developing minimum viable products (MVPs) that deliver quick, tangible customer benefits with little up-front investment. To keep on track, teams work toward clearly defined targets, such as improving website functionality or enhancing online pricing options. By focusing on outcomes, they can monitor and adjust KPIs that measure progress toward their organizational goals — such as better customer acquisition, satisfaction, and retention.

An Untapped Opportunity, for Now

Despite corporate buyers’ increased demand for better online experience, the four pillars of digitally optimized customer engagement are still rarely found in B2B markets. Few business websites offer basic features that simplify transactions, deepen customer relationships, and drive sales. Most lack one-click ordering, online order tracking, and insightful, personalized product recommendations and promotions based on customer needs and purchasing tendencies.

More fundamentally, companies in B2B markets rarely take a comprehensive, cross-functional approach to customer service. Only a handful use digital technologies to develop a broader understanding of their customers’ business imperatives and objectives.

But B2B companies that have improved the digital buying experience reap big returns. One such company is a medical technology manufacturer that sells a complex array of prosthetics and other products to orthopedic supply retailers.

E-commerce accounted for only about 4% to 5% of sales, but this manufacturer wanted to reduce selling costs by conducting more business online. Customers, however, preferred placing orders with sales representatives or by telephone. They saw the company’s site as cumbersome and less efficient than these traditional channels, because they had to type in detailed patient information that was already entered in their own ERP systems.

The company designed an open API to eliminate the duplicate data entry on the side of the customer, which linked the e-commerce site with a customer’s ERP system. For customers, ordering online became easier than picking up the phone or buying from competitors. The company’s share of each customer’s spending increased by 5% to 10% per transaction. Order frequency and order quantities rose, and e-commerce now represents 20% of the company’s North American sales.

When digital technology enables new levels of customer insight and seamless service, it can transform customer relationships.

This process, time consuming and multipronged, starts with three key steps:

Segment customers into one-click, analytical, or solutions categories. Identify points across the customer journey that cause friction for buyers, and eliminate these through digital tools and automation. Embed customer insights into every stage of the cycle, from marketing to product support. Humanizing the Customer Experience Pays Off

Investing in customer relationships is a solid strategic choice in the current economy. Sales growth has flatlined in many B2B markets. But Forrester reports year-over-year B2B e-commerce growth of 7%, anticipating that such sales will surpass $1 trillion in 2019, and as much as $9 trillion, including other digital commerce channels. Companies that offer B2B customers a consumerized online experience can capitalize on that growth. Frictionless, personalized interactions stand out in intensely competitive markets, boosting sales, enhancing efficiency, and strengthening customer relationships. An enhanced digital customer experience also expands markets by offering self-service options, allowing companies to profitably serve low-volume, infrequent purchasers.

In the long view, superior customer experience capabilities transform the basic dynamics of B2B markets. By making it easier for buyers to communicate their needs and make purchases, digitization transforms the seller-driven “push” commerce model into a customer-initiated “pull” model and takes the guesswork out of operational functions, from product design to procurement and production planning. As technology draws buyers and sellers closer, they discover new opportunities to create value by working together.

B2B customers have watched these possibilities come to fruition in consumer markets. Now, these customers are primed for and seeking a similar transformation of the commercial experience. In the end, the reward will go to those suppliers who deliver the personalized, frictionless, human-centered digital service customers have come to expect.


It assumes that breakthrough innovations will take years to develop.


One is a pragmatist, the other was an idealist — but their mistakes are similar.


In some cases, it’ll be necessary to preserve analog solutions.

3 SEO Tips to Optimize Your Videos for Search Engines
Fri, 01 Feb 2019 05:00:00 -0800

You've spent countless hours and consumed countless cups of coffee trying to get your video content to rank high when people are looking for information through a search engine. You can't figure it out, but it seems like your videos never rank quite as well as you would like them to.


It turns out that SEO as it relates to website pages (and SEO the way it relates to videos) are two completely different beasts. Sure, they have their similarities, but it's beneficial to your business if you understand why SEO works differently for videos and what you can do to improve your ranking on the big search engines.

We are going to look at a handful of SEO tips, as it pertains to video, designed to help you improve your ranking that turn into the content powerhouse you've been working toward.

Add a transcript

Believe it or not, you can drastically improve the rank of your videos by adding a simple transcript of what is said in your content. There are two benefits to adding a text transcript alongside your video.

First, it gives viewers another way to watch. You don't want to end up in a position where someone wants to view your video but can't because their partner or housemates are sleeping nearby.

The second, and perhaps technically most important as it relates to actually ranking, is it helps the search bots organize your content and rank it higher where appropriate. The bot will analyze your transcript, look for common themes and phrases, then try to find a proper ranking spot for your video. The better your rank, the higher you appear in the results. It's that simple.

case study from SafeNet showed just how well transcripts can impact your video rank. Their study followed two unranked websites for just 22 days. They found that by adding full transcripts to the videos, they went from no rank on the first day to being No. 14 for their top keywords in 14 days. From there, they managed to increase to eleventh on Yahoo and ninth place on Bing. Their study concluded that this is due mostly to the addition of a transcript to each video.

Make your title stand out

Think deeply about, and what we really mean is analyze, the main title of your video. Your title is one of the most important things you have to create when publishing a video.

Your title needs to speak to the audience. It needs to be both engaging and appealing the new viewers. As it catches the attention of those browsing, they will click the link to watch your video. The end result is you'll get more traffic, which plays an important role in whether or not your content is worthy of ranking toward the top of the list.

You can also use your title as a vessel for your important keywords. Make sure the keywords flow naturally and include the words you want to rank for at the start of the title.

For instance, instead of "What are the best East coast exclusive restaurants? We find out," you're far more likely to rank for "East coast restaurants" if your title reads "East Coast Restaurants: Top 10 Ranked."

Write a description

One of the biggest mistakes new YouTubers make is they don't include a detailed description below the video. Many times creators will just say, "Follow me on X!" and advertise their social media platform. While there is nothing wrong with advertising your brand on other platforms, don't take this SEO goldmine for granted.

Basically, your description is viewed in conjunction with your content. Similar to how the transcript we mentioned earlier acts as a copy of the actual video, the description gives you a chance to flesh out what your content is about – and use keywords in the process.

Make a plan and get your targeted keywords in order. Once that is done, look for ways to inject the keywords into the content you create for the description. Again, it's important that the stronger keywords appear at the top of the copy.

Let's go back to the East coast restaurants example again. Instead of greeting your audience in the first couple sentences, try starting your copy out like this: "East Coast Dining: Which establishment is ranked the best restaurant, and why do people prefer each location? We are going to look at some East coast exclusive diners and restaurants to find out."

In your first couple sentences, you've managed to use East coast dining, best restaurant, and East coast exclusive diners – all keywords that may, or may not, be popular – depending on your research! Rank the right keywords and, bam, you're on your way to ranking in the biggest search engine in the world.

How to Create a Culture of Presentation Management
Fri, 01 Feb 2019 06:00:00 -0800

Presentation management helps everyone make better presentations. It can transform decks that are typically only used once into enterprise assets that can be used over and over again. It ensures that all employees are speaking on message while reducing the time it takes to create a presentation from five hours to five minutes. By creating centralized library of slides that are formatted to present, individuals can easily find, use and re-use them from anywhere. At the same time, HQ can push out slide updates and track slide usage to make better content decisions going forward. 

Here are some best practices to help you implement a presentation management strategy and increase adoption throughout the organization:

Name a director of presentation management.

Someone has to own it. Depending on the size of the company it could be one person, or a team, who is responsible for creating, collecting, updating and tracking content. They are usually from marketing since presentation management is a strategic communication much like advertising, PR or social. They should also have a strong understanding of the company’s business divisions so they can determine what content to include in the slide library, and who should have access to it.

Don’t just show how, explain why.

Training employees how to use their presentation management solution goes beyond demonstrating features and functions. Explain that, by gravitating to a presentation management culture, your team will be able to focus their energy on giving great presentations and having productive meetings, instead of fumbling around, piecing together a PowerPoint deck.

Collect the content.

A good place to start building your slide library is with your company’s last 50 presentations, which should feature the most up-to-date content. They might not be perfect but they are a starting point. Go to your network folder or worksite and take the last 50 PowerPoint decks (or other file types), remove any duplicate slides and build your corporate story. A good corporate story includes information about:

The company e.g.: history, mission, executive bios, earnings statements, press releases, etc. Products and services e.g.: product description and details, product benefits, pricing, road map, case studies, etc. Marketing e.g.: logos, images, videos, PowerPoint template, marketing plans, KPIs, etc.

Now that you have a healthy set of files, format them consistently with your company’s brand templates and clean up any images and charts. In doing so, you are launching your library with a polished and accurate set of slides that the team can use day to day, meeting to meeting, as needed. 

Launch in phases. 

If your company is a large enterprise with 1,000-plus users dispersed over several different divisions, start small and pick a subset. First off, it makes content collection easier (see above), and you would only have to do it for one division instead of the entire company. Second, a pilot team of 50 instead of 500 is much easier to manage and gives the company an opportunity to work out the kinks before going live across the entire organization.

With presentation management, slides don’t die; they evolve. It’s a practice that can be planned and executed and tracked along with the long-term objectives of your enterprise. In fostering a culture of presentation management across your organization, you can meet the goals of the enterprise and help employees excel in their daily tasks. Long-term combined with short-term, enterprise and the individual -- presentation management balances both.

SEO Trends to Boost Sales in 2019
Fri, 01 Feb 2019 07:00:00 -0800

It seems like an obvious business goal: make sales and increase as you expand. The best way to plan for success is to be prepared for what’s to come. By looking into the year’s SEO trends, you’ll be able to streamline your strategy to ramp up sales and boost business.

Search engines are becoming more intelligent and fine-tuning their process for knowing what users want before they type or say it. Google’s algorithm for how it ranks web pages continuously changes. That’s why it’s essential to revise your SEO strategy so you can be sure your business is at the top of SERPs when people search for similar keywords.

Here are some of the top SEO trends you need to pay attention to if you want to increase sales in 2019.

On-page optimization

On-page SEO is the process of optimizing elements of web pages on your website with the goal of driving traffic and ranking higher in search engines for greater visibility. If you’re going to boost your sales, you have to optimize your website to keep users engaged.

Site speed

In July 2018, Google rolled out an update stating that page speed is now a ranking factor for mobile searches. It wants to highly rank and reward websites that give viewers the best, most streamlined user experience (UX), which leads to increased sales and engagement.

Google’s data also found that 53 percent of mobile users abandon a web page that takes longer than three seconds to load. That’s not a whole lot of time to create conversions, so you have to make sure your site is speedy and efficient in giving users what they want.

Google PageSpeed Insights is a helpful tool used to track your site’s speed and assigns you a score based on what needs to be improved or what’s working well.


You can’t have true SEO without the implementation of tags. This is where you place your keywords to ensure that Google crawls your web pages and ranks them accordingly.

Tags that should always be optimized with the right keywords are:

Title Alt tags on images Meta description Headings Subheadings File size

Are the images or other visual content on your web pages causing your pages to lag and take several seconds to load? If so, you can bet you have frustrated users on the other end skyrocketing your bounce rates and abandoning the page as quickly as possible. People don’t like to wait for content to load when so many websites out there load within mere seconds. Use image compressors like TinyJPG or Kraken to decrease your image size drastically.

Voice search

BrightLocal study found that 27 percent of consumers using voice search to find local businesses end up visiting their website. So if your goal is to increase sales in 2019, it’s best to optimize your strategy for voice search.

Make your business part of this growing SEO strategy by optimizing your site so that it appears when someone asks Siri or Alexa a question relative to your content. There are a few things to you can do to optimize your content for voice search.

Use long-tail keywords. When you type up a Google search, it’s usually a short phrase with only main words included. But when you use voice search, you tend to ask the entire question as you would ask a friend. That’s why it’s important to include long-tail keywords in your content.

Create a featured snippet. You know that tiny white box that pops up with a direct answer when you ask Google a question? It’s called a featured snippet, or answer box, and if your content is in it, you’re guaranteed to eat up everyone else’s traffic. Include a concise, clear summary of your content above the fold of your web page using long-tail keywords to maximize your chances of being featured in an answer box.

Optimize for local SEO. The same BrightLocal study found that 58 percent of consumers have used voice search to find local business information in the last year. If you optimize for local SEO, you’ll open your business to an entire pool of new customers. Create a list of keywords consumers would use to find your business via local search and implement them into your strategy.

High-quality content

Search engines favor quality content that brings value and insight to readers. Gathering traffic to your website and creating conversions is about conducting keyword research so your content can rank high in search.

Google doesn’t take kindly to spammy SEO techniques that deceivingly achieve high rankings using poor quality web content, which it refers to as thin content. You should avoid other unfavorable practices like keyword stuffing and doorway pages. If the content you’re putting out doesn’t bring value to your audience, get rid of it. Come up with a revamped content marketing strategy that focuses on the consumer and their needs.

Wrapping up

If your goal this year is to increase sales, it’s important to keep an eye on SEO trends as the algorithm for ranking high is constantly changing and updating. There are lots of rising trends on the market for search engine optimization. Voice search is gaining more popularity year by year, only high-quality content is making it to the front page of SERPs, and on-page optimization techniques are crucial to gaining visibility. What trends will you keep an eye on in 2019?

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