Customer Experience, or as it is fashionably known CX, is one of the hottest trends in marketing. Everyone seems to be talking about the customer experience. Its roots, in the retail world, are simple to understand and compelling to embrace. The business benefits associated with a happy customer have been well understood for decades. Now we are starting to see the concept of measuring and managing the customer experience extend into the B2B world and into the arena beyond simple transactional selling into what is traditionally called the complex sale; the world where the selling extends beyond one buyer and one transaction. The benefits associated with this customer-first thinking are now well documented, but we have also found that the insight gained from understanding the process from the customer’s situation can be dramatic.
We have found that there are five fundamentals to consider when embarking upon a CX program in the world of the complex sale.
1. It’s all about the Customer Buying Journey
Any consideration of customer experience, or experiences, must be preceded with gaining a full understanding of the buying journey. To look at customer experiences in isolation of the total buying process is to miss far more than you see. A lack of understanding of the entire end-to-end buying journey – including key players, motivations, anxieties, decision making style, buying activities and dependencies – results in having no context for any individual experience.
I have used the expression “end-to-end” and I want to underscore the importance of the wider view of the buying journey. The buying journey starts with some trigger event, activity or experience, that sets the wheels in motion and ends, if it indeed ever ends, with the customer having used, or fully using, the acquired offering. It is significantly longer than often believed, and the early and late activities are as important to understand as the activities that focus on direct interaction between the buyer and the seller.
Here’s one of those simple things to say; yet very hard to do. When you are mapping out the buying journey you must consider everything that the buyer does and why, when and how they may do it. Not what you hope or imagine they do when you are selling to them. There are two things here, firstly the concept of understanding all that they do, not just the touchpoints where they may interact with you or a potential supplier, but everything they do, and the likely sequence of those activities along their buying journey. Secondly, what they really do; not what you would like them to do or what seems logical.
We are yet to find any one company that has successfully mastered this “outside-In” view. It’s tough. You must really put yourself in the customer’s shoes and stay there. And, the only way to do that is to have some very candid and unbiased conversations with customers, as well as non-customers, in order to understand their world and all its idiosyncrasies.
3. Startling Facts
With respect to the challenge, or the opportunity, of mapping and managing the buying journey, consider:
• Customers now complete more than 50% of the buying journey prior to talking to a salesperson
• Sales and Marketing are rarely involved in more than 15% of the total customer buying journey
• 90% of buyer concerns that can slow or stop a buying journey are never addressed by sales and marketing
• Buyers invariably understand the offering and the value it will deliver to their organization, and yet more than 70% of typical sales and marketing efforts are directed towards educating the buyers about the offering and the value it will deliver to their organization
• Buyers rarely see a supplier’s value propositions as either powerful or differentiated
4. The gold is in the details
Our research has shown, time and time again, that within a specific market, when buying a specific offering, buyers buy in remarkably similar ways. In fact, that is how I now recommend defining a market: buyers buying in the same way. If you find a variance in how your buyers are buying, it is more than likely that you have more than one market and would benefit from thinking of it as such. When considering the buying journey, it is not effective to simply use some generic steps. This can be useful for thinking about the overall phases a buyer may go through, but you must get into the details. The gold associated with understanding the buying journey is in the details, for example: which key players get involved, when; how motivations change through the buying journey; how decisions are made; where and when the concerns are likely to arise.
5. What’s it all about
What, then, is the overall goal of a CX program, or of understanding the buying journey? Although it’s a very nice goal to think that we are going to give all our customers a wonderful experience, it’s really about the bottom line. This may sound crass, but when it works, it’s great for our customers and great for us. The true win/win. But to return to the topic of what we are trying to do, it’s all about positively managing the buying journey. Perhaps incredibly, there are four, and only four, possible things we can do to positively impact the buying journey. Like the three, and only three laws of motion, we have the four Selling Imperatives. These are:
• Initiate: To motivate a buyer to start a buying journey
• Expedite: To motivate a buyer to move through their buying journey quicker than they otherwise would
• Complete: To motivate a buyer so that the probability of them completing their buying journey, and buying from you, increases
• Augment: To motivate a buyer to invest more than they otherwise would as a result of their buying journey
That’s it, just four things. Every investment or activity in sales and marketing, every initiative in a CX program, must come down to one, of more, of these four Imperatives.
A Checklist for Success
Now we know that any CX program must be firmly based on a foundation of understanding the target market’s customer buying journey, let’s look at the five-step recipe for success.
1. Map the target market’s end-to-end buying journey
Ensure you have complete and deep knowledge of the actual market’s buying journey. All that the buyer is likely to do, the touch points, the key players that get involved, their motivations, concerns, decision making style and dependencies.
2. Understand current reality
Assess how you currently interact, directly or indirectly, across the entire buying journey. This likely will result in some surprises and shocks. Go back to the startling facts to see how you are trending compared to the overall state of the union. Herein is the opportunity for most of the organizations. Take the focus away from your offering and trying to convince the world of its inherent superiority and value. Instead place it on positively managing the customer buying journey and helping the customer to buy and gain full utilization from their acquisition.
3. Determine your Market Engagement Strategy
Determine how you want to be involved, or even change, the market’s buying journey. But be honest; you must be relevant to the customer and deliver unquestionable value for the customer to want to engage with you. This is where you can design the classic elements of the CX program, how do you provide what the customer requires and expects (maybe even more), when, where and how they want it, in a way that is natural and compelling for them. At the same time, never forget the four sales imperatives. In what way will you positively impact the buying journey to deliver that mutually beneficial equation for the customer and for your own organization?
Based on a clear understanding of the customer buying journey and your associated market engagement strategy, the resources of the organization, and across the entire eco-system including partners and channels, should be organized and then enabled, competent, supported, motivated, compensated and managed to deliver on that strategy. Another of those easier said than done things, and perhaps somewhat aspirational, but none-the-less it must be the envisioned end state.
5. Manage and Measure
Any CX program is not a one-time event. It must constantly be managed and measured. Even if you could somehow implement the perfect approach; markets, competitors, economics and customers don’t remain static. The system is in constant change. However, based upon a clear understanding of the buying journey, changes can be quickly detected and responses to such changes implemented across the organization.
There can be little doubt that the current focus on CX is good across businesses. However, when considering and implementing a CX program in the more complex B2B world where the buyer/seller relationship is not based on a simple transaction; the focus must be placed on positively managing the specific market’s end-to-end customer buying journey. It is only by taking this wider view that the broader benefits associated with a CX program can be realized. The organizations that embrace this, not only as a part of their go-to-market strategy but as part of their culture, will win big. Those that don’t will find themselves in the downward spiral of price pressure and margin erosion.