As in the consumer world, B2B buying and selling has become digital first. Business and technology decision-making teams use multiple channels and resources to research, evaluate, scope, and select the right solution and provider(s). Today’s dynamic business research and purchase process has made it very challenging for vendor go-to-market (GTM) and marketing and sales teams to keep pace with their business customers’ omnichannel approach.
To deliver omnichannel, GTM teams are rapidly trying to figure out how to apply technology, infuse and intelligently use data, map and streamline processes, and integrate and connect everything seamlessly around each customer journey. A chief marketing officer (CMO) colleague summed up the omnichannel challenge last week at a CMO conference, “You have to get connected to make buyer connections.”
The B2B Customer and Omnichannel Perspectives
Let’s start with the business customer’s omnichannel point of view. Business pros making a significant purchase — let’s say $100,000-plus — use a combination of online and offline channels and resources throughout their purchase process. B2B buyers, on average, use four or more channels to research and make decisions. When channels are tallied up across the buying committee — which comprises on average seven to ten professionals involved in corporate purchases — the number shoots up to eight-plus channels (source: Forrester).
Now let’s look at omnichannel from a vendor perspective. The omnichannel experience is marketing, selling, and serving customers on all channels to create an integrated, cohesive customer experience no matter how or where a customer wants to do business. The experience should be the same for customers regardless of the platform or method they choose to use — researching online from a desktop or mobile device, using telephone or text, or working face-to-face with prospective vendor sales teams.
Omnichannel delivery is a big charter. So, is omnichannel a pipe dream or something doable for B2B buying and selling? Let’s dive deeper.
Understanding B2B Omnichannel Core Principles
The requirements for developing and delivering an omnichannel strategy rest on two key principles. Being made even more challenging due to the complex and dynamic nature of buyer plus seller plus partner plus organizational committees that exist in today’s B2B process, the principles include:
- Meet your buyers and buying committees where they are in their buyer’s journey.
Because many B2B teams must engage multiple professionals with varying roles on the decision-making team, buying committees add another complexity. In this instance, we must understand the collective buyer activity and needs across the account, not just that of individual buyers.
- Deliver the right info, access, and experiences on the buyers’ and prospective accounts’ timing, not the seller’s timing.
For example, many B2B organizations organize their sales and marketing outreach and process around their own product launches, user conferences, or new go-to-market campaign unveilings. This is why omnichannel is not a campaign or initiative. Rather, omnichannel is always on to accommodate buyers’ timelines.
Defining Ideal Customer Profiles and Building Buyer Journeys
Like any business initiative, developing omnichannel strategies start with foundational research to understand your buyers’ and target accounts’ needs, preferences, and buying journeys. We’re assuming you have done work to identify and define your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), i.e. buyer and account demographics, psychographics, target account profiles, and so forth. We don’t need to map every buyer journey, but we do need to define paths for customer profile types and common use cases for each customer segment. With this foundation in place, we can then build in options for the buyers to personalize and choose their path, including support when they need help or questions arise.
The B2B buying process is not linear. A critical part of the omnichannel journey is helping buyers both start and navigate their journey on the channels they prefer — social, online, events, phone, etc. B2B teams spend a significant amount of budget to drive these first buyers’ engagements through multiple channels, but fall short when trying to aid buyers in accelerating their buying process. All too often this is because the vendors cannot connect the dots with either individual buyers or buying committees across the channels they are using.
Sales and marketing teams are challenged to move beyond that initial engagement to feed and support their buyers’ journey based on a buyer’s chosen path and channels. The finesse here is offering useful resources and information as buyers research across channels, including their buyer options. Thank you, Netflix and Amazon, for establishing expectations, to name a few from the consumer world. Unfortunately, in B2B, we often see random email outreach and automated cold calls because they were on your website or engaged in a chat.
Mastering B2B Omnichannel Imperatives for Buyer Connections
The work above requires thorough planning and execution, but now comes the next challenge in creating omnichannel experiences and journeys. And, in most organizations, this effort involves navigating legacy systems, dealing with inaccurate and incomplete data, and poring over spreadsheets to connect silos across your teams, channels, and processes.
To provide an executive blueprint, outlined below are the omnichannel imperatives to build into your plan, be it a brand-new effort or a part of your digital transformation effort.
- Customer, buyer, and account intelligence, and buyer-focused workflows are orchestrated across channels to create seamless, frictionless experiences. The focus is on mapping the buyer journey using historical data and over time using actual data and tools, including artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. This is what ultimately creates the buyer paths based on profiles and use cases.
- Customer and company systems are integrated to ensure that buyer data and internal processes are connected and that customer data can be shared and actioned across systems. For perspective, think of customer “interest to invoice.” A starter list of systems includes all databases, customer data platforms, billing systems, CRM, ERP, supply chain, websites, social platforms, and analytics tools.
- Buyer data and intelligence is governed, secured, and accessible to ensure accuracy and actionability are applied to power omnichannel buyer journeys and experiences. Inaccurate and incomplete data is an immediate showstopper for omnichannel experiences, which rely on intelligence to inform and deliver personalization across the journey. And customer data privacy must be designed into every touchpoint to create long-term, trusted buyer-vendor relationships.
- Always-on and connected workflows are in place to capture buyer and account behavior that informs and activates the right information, at the right time, and based on buyers’ needs. This is one of the biggest challenges for B2B GTM teams that have a campaign approach to marketing and sales where outreach is based on the company’s timing.
Omnichannel: Our B2B Buyers’ Expectation
Omnichannel is no longer a “nice to have.” It’s a requirement. Customers expect integrated experiences when they engage, research, and conduct business with your organization. With the right amount of focus, diligence, and effort, B2B omnichannel buyer journeys are within reach. The more we can deliver a frictionless experience through our buyers’ journey, the faster we’ll turn buyer interest into revenue and relationships.
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