How thinking like a customer is revolutionising the B2B sales process
Telstra Wholesale is partnering with the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM) at the University of NSW on its Business Partnering Education Program, which gives customers the opportunity to learn from leading academics and business leaders. In this article, Craig Tapper, Fellow of the AGSM at the UNSW Business School, gives his perspective on how B2B sellers can adapt to the new digitally-driven environment.
As consumers, we enjoy unprecedented market power thanks to digital technologies. We routinely use the supercomputers in our pockets to search out better deals, experiences and services. The success of innovators such as Netflix or Spotify in providing compelling, personalised experiences means we now demand instant results that are already tailored for our preferences. Consumer-facing businesses have had to adapt to these new demands or risk fading to irrelevance.
The same trends are shaping the business-to-business (B2B) world as the digitisation of markets and our expectations as empowered consumers affect how we buy ICT services. Traditionally B2B markets were perceived to be more rational and relationship-led than consumer sales. IT leaders used to rely on their suppliers to tell them what was best for their business. Now, thanks to having instant access to data and insights from around the world, B2B buyers can act in much the same way as consumers.
There is a major consequence for B2B vendors.
You might not know it, but your buyers are pre-interviewing you. Buyers are acting earlier by matching vendors to their expectations before they ask for tenders. According to Forrester, 62 per cent of B2B buyers say they can now develop selection criteria or finalise a vendor list based solely on digital content. You will only get invited to talk to them if they think you can do the job, and they think you are a good fit for their business.
How can businesses take the best from the Business-to-Consumer (B2C) playbook and apply it to their sector?
For B2B sellers, this requires an adjustment to a customer-focused mindset that has traditionally been more common in consumer markets where competitive advantage was harder to win. When you have more competitors fighting harder, in volatile or disrupted markets such as we now see in B2B technology, success comes down to how well sellers can differentiate their brand’s offerings and demonstrate how they add value to their customer’s business.
So how can businesses take the best from the Business-to-Consumer (B2C) playbook and apply it to their sector?
1. Create a customer-focused mindset
In today’s business ICT environment, product features are increasingly seen only as ’table stakes’. Successful sales teams have to adopt the B2C seller’s ability to put themselves in their customers’ shoes and ask ‘why does the customer need this’.
Successful sales teams ask ‘why does the customer need this?'
Vendors can answer that by understanding and articulating the customer pain points that they are helping to solve and the value for their customer’s business they are helping to create. In doing so, sellers will identify and use both rational and emotional levers to deliver better customer experiences throughout the sales process, from surfacing tailored content to clinching the deal with a collaborative approach to problem-solving.
Video meeting applications like Zoom, G Suite and Go To Meeting are highlighting how much time and travel costs they save users. Cutting edge marketing software providers like Salesforce and Marketo are focusing on how fast and accurately users can make decisions and how the ability to make close to ‘real time’ decisions is enabling their users to win and retain more customers.
Data security providers like Norton, McAfee and Avast are talking to existing and potential users about the numbers and types of risks prevented or defended againt, and the types and scale of losses the scurity can prevent. Logistics firms like Australia Post and FedEx are talking to their customers about how their value proposition enable lowering costs of inventory and how faster delivery or delivery tracking improves end-user customer satisfaction scores.
This all starts from understanding ‘what jobs am I helping these customers to do?’
2. Digitise for brilliant customer experiences
There are a couple of main ways that businesses can improve their customer’s experiences throughout the B2B sales cycle by using digital technologies.
First, use your data and insights to personalise experiences before and after sale. This is the so-called ‘Netflix effect’: understanding your customer’s preferences and needs, and evolving your solutions, to better target and sustain the sales relationship as their challenges and objectives change over time.
Reduce any friction that your customer might experience. Take complexity, inconvenience, and time out of the process
Second, consider how you can reduce any friction that your customer might experience. Where possible, take complexity, inconvenience, and time out of the process of dealing with your business. This applies through the sales cycles, from having the right information available on demand for buyers, to automating price check tools, through to speeding up response times and seamless support processes.
Telstra Wholesale is currently building the next topic in the Busines Partnering Education Program around ‘Digitising for Success’, the learning outcomes are being co-created with TW’s digitisation partners and customers. Telstra Wholesale expects to run its first session in the first quarter of 2019.
3. Enable your customers to do business better
True customer-centricity extends beyond improving processes or products, to focus on creating a genuine partnership with your customers. This can take the form of collaboration and co-creation by involving customers in your product or service development process. It also means advising your customers on getting the most value out of your products by educating them on how to be more efficient in the way they use your products and services.
Showing your customers how their business benchmarks against other users makes you a ‘trusted advisor’ and not just a vendor
This might be as simple as mapping the customer’s use of the features and benefits of your value proposition, comparing it to ‘best practices’ and identifying how changing their behaviours can generate better business outcomes. Being able to highlight how businesses that get the best value from the program or products use them, and what this means in terms of better revenues, lower costs, better risk management, greater efficiency or productivity. Showing your customers how their business benchmarks against other users and how changing their behaviours will pay off in business outcomes makes you a ‘trusted advisor’ and not just a vendor.
There are also times when the full value of a partnership is revealed. You will become your customer’s preferred supplier if you are there ready to support them during those moments of truth. Sellers can identify those potential pain points and address them in advance.
There are a couple of elements that haven’t changed markedly from the traditional relationship-led approach. Customers will still turn to their technology partners to provide industry insights that help them do business better. And they want vendors who can relate the bigger picture to the individual business needs of their end users and customers.
Furthermore, customers want to work with vendors that are going to enhance or contribute to the positive perception of their own brand.
While making a sale could be getting harder to achieve, those businesses that succeed with the tactics set out above will enjoy longer, more valuable relationships with their customers.
About AGSM @ UNSW Business School
As Australia’s leading graduate school of management, AGSM @ UNSW Business School offers innovative, experiential, world-class programs designed to equip a new generation of leaders to thrive in an ever-changing world.
With more than 40 years of leadership in Australia, AGSM’s globally ranked MBA programs are taught by internationally recognised faculty with industry experience. AGSM students are immersed in active learning experiences and exposed to practical skills and tools they can immediately apply to real business problems. AGSM’s Executive Education courses are designed and facilitated by industry thought leaders and faculty to build individual and organisational capability, combining the latest thinking and best practice within an outcomes-focused problem-solving environment.