By aligning commerce, marketing, sales and service, B2B companies today can replace an antiquated business architecture and shift to a more collaborative, customer-focused approach that increases sales for both manufacturers and distributors, Rich Minns of Capgemini writes.

RichMinns-Capgemini

Rich Minns

As the “experience economy” continues to permeate businesses and organizations, B2B customers increasingly want the same level of shopping experiences they encounter in their non-professional lives. A Salesforce study suggests 70% of business buyers expect an “Amazon-like” buying experience from their vendors, and 74% of business buyers expect vendors to provide personalized experiences.

Expanding into D2C selling can create surprising new possibilities for distributors as well as manufacturers.

These end-users are no longer content with a fixed menu of options—they want more customization, more personalization and better control over their own purchasing journey.

To meet these demands in today’s marketplace, B2B brands need to build credibility and loyalty directly with both their customers and prospects rather than putting the onus solely on distributors. How do they do this? By breaking down the silos of marketing, commerce, sales and service, integrating those functions to align strategy and data, ultimately powering a far superior end-to-end customer experience.

Breaking Silos, Building Connections

Developing this new model is not an overnight process. Organizations typically go through four evolutionary stages while making this shift. The trick is to stay on the path to fully integrate the customer experience, rather than settling for modest, ad-hoc improvements.

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Phase 1: Catered Content

The first step is to provide online content that is informative to the buyer and supportive to distributors. When executed properly, the customer can easily find the helpful product or service information they seek. The more informed the buyer becomes, the more confident the buyer will be when making the purchase decision with your business and not with your competitor.

The key word here is “helpful.” To ensure the information offered is relevant, think about what the customer might be looking for.

For example, consider a pump manufacturer that sells parts to air-conditioning technicians through a distributor or wholesaler. The customer may have an excellent relationship with their local distributor, but they may prefer being able to quickly access product information online, rather than always having to go through the distributor. Knowing this, the manufacturer can publish all product manuals, spec sheets and other detailed product information on their website that is easily searchable and accessible, which helps the manufacturer begin to build a relationship directly with their customers. With this stronger relationship in place, everyone wins—the manufacturer, the customer, and the distributor as well.

Phase 2: Customer Engagement

In this next step, businesses begin to explore additional ways to engage with their audiences online or through digital programs or other service platforms.

A good way to accomplish this is to promote and amplify the content created in phase one with comprehensive marketing campaigns. Additionally, email or newsletter sign-ups, support forums, and loyalty programs can help brands stay connected to their customers.

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Data can be a tremendous asset at this stage, and brands should actively seek out feedback from their customer base. These insights can then be fed back into the marketing strategy, so the marketing team can continue to improve the content being produced. For example, if a customer survey reveals that buyers don’t understand how to get started using their newly purchased product, the marketing team can respond by creating such content as quick-start guides and how-to videos.

Phase 3: Commerce Connections

Once a relationship is established with buyers and potential buyers, it’s time for brands to expand their commerce channels. Specifically, direct-to-customer (D2C) sales channels can help brands connect commerce with sales in a new way.

Many B2B companies are leery of this step, worried that selling directly to their end-customers will damage the relationship with their distributors. However, expanding into D2C selling can create surprising new possibilities for distributors as well.

Coming back to the pump manufacturer example, as the company begins building their D2C sales channel, they might find a strong surge of interest from businesses for refrigeration systems for wine cellars. The manufacturer can share this information with their distributors, which can help the distributors expand their own businesses into potential new markets.

In essence, building out a D2C channel creates not only just a larger slice of pie for the manufacturer, but a larger pie overall.

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Building new sales channels is also an opportunity for brands to reach new and smaller markets that distributors may not be willing or able to work. For example, up-and-comers with smaller unit needs may see distributors as restrictive or inaccessible. If the brand can begin building those relationships, they’ll find they are well positioned as those customers begin to grow.

Phase 4: Data in the Driver’s Seat

The final step in aligning marketing, commerce, sales, and service platforms is to align the data. Indeed, the free flow of data is what enables a true 360-degree view of the customer experience.

When every department in the company has access to data—such as how prospects find their website, which content is most engaging, what customers like or dislike about the product or service, the questions sales or customer service reps most frequently answer, and so forth—the business gains invaluable insights into precisely where to focus their efforts and what improvements they need to make. This data-centric approach also allows businesses to continuously revisit what was accomplished in those earlier stages of development, and fine-tune as needed.

Organizations who do this well can realize the power of an integrated approach between sales, marketing, commerce, and service. Across the company, the respective data from each group helps the others perform better. Sales teams get stronger and better leads because they have easy access to rich marketing data. Marketers can better discover potential brand advocates thanks to feedback from customer service. Commerce knows exactly what kind of customer experience and features they need to provide. And service teams can provide more effective, personalized attention to customers. Everybody wins.

Breaking the Barriers

Historically, the organizational silos that have permeated B2B companies have resulted in disjointed, uneven customer experiences. But increasingly, B2B customers are demanding more from the brands they choose.

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The opportunity now exists to rethink this antiquated business architecture, break down the silos, and shift to a more collaborative, cohesive approach that produces a more consumer-like experience. By integrating business functions and critical data across the organization, companies can provide a better customer experience from the first outreach to most recent service call, and every point in between.

Rich Minns is Digital Customer Experience Sector Lead at Capgemini, a global digital transformation consulting firm. He has more than 20 years of executive experience at Top 500 ecommerce retail companies and has led hundreds of commerce launches on numerous technology platforms. Follow him on LinkedIn

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