Over the past decade, B2C brands have successfully transformed their businesses to operate effectively in the web 2.0 world (and forthcoming web 3.0 one). Now, it’s time for B2B brands to learn from the B2C digital experience playbook.
Why? My prediction: by 2025, the majority of B2B commerce will be conducted online.
And I’m not alone. McKinsey found that for the first time B2B e-commerce and in-person sales are tied are as the top revenue-producing channels (both at 18%).
To prepare, we can’t just focus on commerce capabilities to complete an online transaction (“self-service”). We must also talk about the content that influences the buyer journey – and more importantly the customer journey – so they continue to engage with B2B brands, products, and services to ultimately buy more.
The Time To Invest In CX Transformation Was Yesterday
Consumers have increasingly pressured brands to digitize commerce capabilities – a wave we saw accelerate during the pandemic. In return, buyers rewarded brands that delivered exceptional, omnichannel experiences. Just look at Chick-fil-A which shut down all dining rooms, and quickly expanded drive-thru tents and CFA One App experiences. Chick-fil-A actually expanded during the pandemic compared to other quick-serve restaurants. The customer experience and the digital experience through their CFA One App were far better than any other competitor.
On the flip side, B2B brands have been much slower to invest in commerce and CX transformation. Pre-pandemic, B2B buyers didn’t have as much leverage as B2C buyers to completely shift business models. The B2B industry under-invested in rethinking the overall customer experience. And for the few brands that were set up for a self-service experience, the experience was poor by B2C standards.
The exception to this rule is B2B technology brands that focus on SMB clients and tend to have products that are well below $30k annual contract value (ACV). These brands tend to sell at large volumes and have a strong self-service offering in order to validate their products and services with strong content that leads to a commerce-enabled experience. Not all are commerce-enabled, but the ones that are have been able to scale rapidly.
Surprising Roi: Accelerating ACVs
What’s interesting is that pre-pandemic, most B2B tech brands would never imagine an ACV of over $50k through fully self-serviced sales orders.
But over the last three years, B2B buyers have gotten comfortable finding new places to validate products and services (without a salesperson holding their hand), often through marketplaces.
As a result, a post-pandemic McKinsey study shows a whopping 35% of buyers are now willing to spend $500k+ ACV through online channels.
Content Marketing As A Critical Enabler
As a matter of human nature, B2B buyers are bringing their personal consumer expectations to work. For example – I bought my last car without going to a dealership lot (during the pandemic), and that’s exactly how I want to buy HR software in my role as Alloy’s CEO.
In addition, B2B buyers now have different expectations of what they want their journey to be like once they become a customer.
Using my car buying example again, my car was delivered to my house (not the dealer), I was able to schedule a demo with a tech online, and any additional services I needed are done remotely and managed through the app when I’m ready to engage. As such, I would die a happy CEO if I never got a phone call or templated email from my HR software customer rep wanting to show me a demo of a new feature.
This mindset gap is most prevalent in B2B mid-market and enterprise brands that still believe their products are too complex to explain through online channels. I’d challenge that notion by tasking product marketing teams to reimagine customer communications and content mapping.
As your B2B tech brand develops its 2023 go-to-market plans, here are the 3 questions to ask in planning meetings in order to help your team get in the mindset and challenge conventional wisdom about how your buyers want to purchase your product and engage with your brand throughout their customer lifecycle:
Can a buyer easily find, research, and validate our products without speaking to us directly?
Is the online experience equal to or better than the in-person experience when buying from our brand?
Can we personalize online experiences (content) based on data-driven decisions along the buyer journey?
Interested in more on this topic? Download Alloy’s 2022 tech marketing report, entitled The State of the Modern Customer Journey, which takes an in-depth look at customer lifecycle challenges as well as up-and cross-selling demands facing today’s global tech brands.