Offering a compelling customer experience has become as important in the B2B sector as it is in B2C. Organizations selling to a B2B clientele know that their customers are part of a generation of ‘always connected’ consumers, and that they expect at least the smooth buying experience they are used to from consumer brands – if not more.
Standard services in B2C are the display of order and delivery status (and push to e-mail of status changes), broad information, meaningful images, relevant recommendations, and helpful content related to the topics within the specific sector.
Most B2B organizations also understand that to ensure sustainable growth and drive revenue long-term, they will have to embrace the investment in digital channels and reinvent their marketing, sales and customer relationship processes to get ready for the digital age.
However, digitizing commerce, including marketing, sales and after sales services today means much more than launching an online shop or an automated marketing campaign. All too often, single, isolated digitalization projects within an organization can lead to inconsistencies – for example, in the handling of online and offline transactions – and to disconnected sales, service and communications channels. And this translates into bad customer experiences.
Rather than implementing a range of separate digital solutions in silos, successful businesses break down old barriers between business areas and define an integrated customer engagement strategy that links processes between marketing, sales and services to deliver a value and serve business customers consistently in all phases of the customer lifecycle – from research to buying and finally using and replenishing or replacing the product. This opens up new opportunities to engage with customers and ultimately, grow the business.
Technology, of course, is at the heart of each customer engagement project. Powerful B2B e-commerce platforms, together with their integrated technology ecosystems, are often the engine that drives successful strategies to address this challenge.
Connecting traditional and digital sales channels with ERP, CRM and back office systems, not only do these platforms integrate all customer touch points, but they also allow direct links to a whole ecosystem of business partners and distributors, improving supply chain and planning processes.
Digital tools and features support the internal sales force and services teams, who can now gain instant access to each customer’s account data as well as extensive product data to individually advise their business customers. In short, over and above a simple online shop, B2B platforms offer a much wider range of functionalities that help businesses consolidate their marketing, sales and service in order to deliver valuable and relevant experiences.
In fact, if implemented properly, the digital customer portal becomes the key interface to the customer. It is much more than a modern B2B sales tool: It maps the entire customer lifecycle – including all interactions within marketing, sales and service and helps businesses track and grow their valuable customer relationships.
Self-service access around the clock
With all relevant underlying marketing, sales, service and communications processes integrated, the digital customer portal turns into the central contact point for an organization’s B2B customers. Through the ‘always on’ online portal, they can access a whole range of functions, any time, from anywhere and via a range of communications channels. It also becomes the one-stop-shop for all customer communication via chat, social media, email, feedback form, video call or telephone.
As a self-service platform, the customer portal integrates all web-based applications and customer interaction processes into one single, easy-to-use interface, from product information to after-sales requirements. Customers can use it to place orders, manage repeat orders, request add-on services or spare parts, or schedule maintenance and repairs. They can view or download extensive product information, relevant content, as well as accessing their account and order histories and order status. And, no matter which communication channel they are using, the information they receive will always be consistent as it is held in one central place.
Providing product information online means manuals and datasheets can be supplemented by more engaging content such as videos, zoomable images, 3D graphs and other interactive content. Search functions help customers to find the information they need more easily. High-quality, detailed content has been shown to improve conversion rates, as well as reducing calls to the call centre.
Order processes in B2B can be complex, often involving reviews and approvals, correct accounting and fixed budgets. All these can also be integrated and handled using the customer portal.
Empowering the sales team
Offering self-service functionality to customers for straightforward requests such as order status or downloads of product information means the internal sales team can focus on activities that grow and nurture relationships and add real value for the customers. The customer portal automates jobs such as order processing and invoicing, freeing up more time for sales representatives to handle more complex customer requirements.
At the same time, having a single view of the customer and customer history enables the sales team to identify potential for offering additional products or services. Not only can sales reps log into the portal via the Internet, mobile apps give them even quicker access to key customer data – so they have all relevant information in their pocket, at all times.
According to consulting house Walker, by 2020, the customer experience a brand delivers will be more important than price or product quality and features. This means organizations have to invest in improving the customer experience now, and they can take a two-pronged approach to this by offering a strong self-service portal, as well as providing their sales representatives with the tools and information they need to give customers the best advice and service possible.
Using the digital platform to reinforce and support traditional sales channels is a clever move: B2B businesses should not make the mistake of relying on their digital channel alone. Personal interactions remain important, too, especially when it comes to more complex requirements. With the right platform, organizations are well positioned to meet rising customer expectations on all levels, and meet them fast.
Finally, customer portals can be a key component of a wider, comprehensive customer engagement programme – with flexible and powerful features, they will provide a future-proof basis for long-term strategies.