Customer expectations – how are they evolving, what is driving them, what should sellers do to keep up, and how to improve customer experiences
As a seller you’ve been told countless times that the rules have changed – buyers now hold the power, they are well-informed, have more choice, and exercise higher demands. Why?
B2B buyers are first and foremost still consumers. Their B2C experiences influence their B2B buying behaviours and decisions.
According to a recent Salesforce study on the state of the connected customer, changing customer expectations means that 82% of business buyers expect the same experience as they get with personal buying.
But only 27% believe B2B sellers are doing a great job when it comes to offering a comparable B2B customer experience.
The report also showed that:
- 72% of business buyers expect sellers to offer a personalised engagement to their business needs
- 69% expect Amazon-like buying experiences
- 67% have switched vendors for a more consumer-like experience
B2B buyers today want a hyper-personalised customer experience. This means they want sellers to listen more, uncover more, be authentic, match up to their exacting customer service standards, empathise with their pain, provoke them into new ways of thinking, and most importantly communicate knowledge, understanding and value.
The buyer-seller gap – is it real and what can sellers do to close it?
Much has also been debated about whether sellers are keeping up with pace of buyer expectation change.
According to a recent study by Miller Heiman, the buyer-seller gap is indeed real – customers are continually changing how they approach the decision-making process (as a result of fast-paced changes in the B2C world), but sellers are not keeping up.
Worse still, they claim that as a result only around half of all sellers are meeting their targets.
The study recommends a few other things sellers can do to close the gap and improve customer experiences:
- Know the market, know the company, know the buyer: Sellers need to do their research and find as much out as they possibly can before engaging or meeting
- Focus on the experience, not just the interaction: Buyers want to know that sellers are truly invested, that they are not just applying a one-size fits all approach but are listening, questioning, learning, storytelling, and understanding. That they can deliver an ROI in terms of financials and service
- Go beyond the sale and build relationships: The seller’s role doesn’t stop at the point of sale. Buyers want sellers to develop a relationship with them and maintain a continued interest in their needs, pain, and goals, and a continued investment in their success
- Insight and perspective rule: The study suggests that having advanced insight into buyers offers the biggest opportunity for sellers to set themselves apart from the rest. By having a deeper level of understanding and insight into the buyer perspective sellers can not only respond better to needs, but also have the chance to influence buying decisions
Let’s be honest, sellers are being asked for a lot. It’s challenging for them to keep pace with changing customer expectations, understand the buyer, their organisation and the market intimately, and communicate intelligently about the things that matter most to buyers in ways that demonstrate a deep understanding of their perspective.
As the report also highlights that it’s daunting for sales leaders to distract a sales force with such initiatives when the trade-off is selling time – the most precious of all resources.
Getting some perspective
The report points to the fact that many sales “transformation” initiatives aren’t transformational, but rather incremental improvements. This certainly rings true. I speak to sales leaders every day, and many still grapple with the pros and cons of investing in technology-led sales transformation.
Whilst they accept the new status quo in terms of buyer/seller relationships, and realise that the adoption of sales enablement, and a data driven approach, will yield significant benefits – bridging the customer expectation gap, driving vast improvements in their ability to deliver enhanced customer experiences and ultimately drive revenue growth – the pressure on infrastructure and resources still holds them back. Hence we see incremental improvements rather than true sales transformation.
Likewise, there is no doubt that many sales leaders remain sceptical that Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems will deliver a return on the substantial infrastructure and software investment required for true disruptive business transformation.
But the fact remains that insight-driven businesses using more advanced technologies are predicted to steal $1.2 trillion per annum from their less-informed peers over the next 5 years.
If insight and perspective hold the key to bridging the gap and improving customer experiences, then my take would be that’s it’s not the cost of investing that sales leaders should be concerned about, but rather the cost of not investing.
Make every engagement opportunity count
According to the Salesforce report, the buyer expectation is that every engagement with a seller be crisp, compelling and concise, and that every interaction has to be worthy of their time.
Importantly, they want the same level of attention to their needs at every stage of the relationship, whether that be pre – or post-sale. Buyers report that their top objectives are that sellers have a “clear understanding of my need”, and that they likewise had a clear view of how the seller’s solution “would solve my problem”.
Insight is the lifeblood that drives customer experience and sales success today. Without data, and the ability to turn data into actionable insights, it is harder to meet customer expectations and offer the personalised customer experiences buyers crave.
But sellers, and indeed any employee in a customer-facing role, cannot be expected to understand a customer’s entire history and derive their own insights from it in real-time.
Enter Artificial Intelligence!
Emerging capabilities in data analytics, data modelling, machine learning and natural language processing are taking the strain – analysing, filtering, interpreting and presenting the insights of greatest value to sellers from the almost unfathomable amounts of data created every day from news reports, public financial and corporate information, social media and so on. Insights that allow them to develop a customer experience strategy.
AI ensures sellers make every customer engagement opportunity count. With advanced insight sellers can deliver optimal customer experiences by making the customer feel like they are in a community of one – that they’re remembered, treated with attention and consideration, that their needs are being addressed throughout their unique customer journey, and that, just as they find in the B2C environment, sellers are creating customer experiences that naturally integrate with their world.
Whether that means harnessing the ability to augment a sales call with useful or insightful contextual anecdote at the vital moment, capturing the attention of a customer meeting by utilising up-to-the-minute insights about everyone sitting around the table, uncovering triggers or pain points and providing a solution at the exact moment its needed, or even finding an interesting piece of content of relevance to a customer and automatically sharing it.
Exceeding customer expectations
According to the Miller Heiman report, buyers were twice as likely (61.8%) to say that sellers meet their expectations rather than exceed them (31.8%).
Exceeding customer expectations means going a step further, providing new ideas to take their buying process forward, help them shape a new vision for their success and guide them in potential new or alternative ways to meet their goals, or solve their problems.
To exceed customer expectations, sellers need to be better predictors, identifying and quantifying opportunities and problems perhaps even before the customer knows they have them.
According to Salesforce’sConnected Customer report by 2020 57% of business buyers will switch brands if a company doesn’t actively anticipate their needs.
Machine learning and predictive analytics are feeding sellers with never-before-seen real-time insights into customer needs and goals, pain points, market dynamics, competitor activity, sentiments and buying triggers, and enabling them to construct predictive models for faster decision making and direct action – whether that be jumping on an opportunity to add value, tracking emotional sentiments that signal an intent to buy, identifying an issue that a customer needs to address, or spotting an emerging risk that needs action in order to mitigate damage.
AI is enabling B2B sellers to anticipate the needs of their customers at an unprecedented level, and as time goes by and the amount of data available to AIs grows to unimaginable amounts, problem solving is only bound to become more and more refined.
Each new piece of data an AI receives allows the machine to learn even more, update information, look for new patterns, and continuously exceed expectations.
In its report entitled Artificial Intelligence: The Next Digital Frontier, McKinsey found that B2B customer experience best practice case study examples across a wide range of industries demonstrate that AI can improve customer experiences by enabling companies to better project and forecast to anticipate demand, optimise R&D, deliver services of higher quality at lower cost, promote offerings at the right price, with the right message, and to the right target customers, and provide rich, personal, and convenient customer experiences.
How to measure up to customer expectations
As Miller Heiman point out, what buyers want is actually pretty straightforward. They value sellers who research their business, who facilitate mutual and compelling discussions that respect buyers’ time and abilities, who focus on the longer-term, and who provide perspectives and insights that help progress their process, change their vision and expand their expertise.
They also point out that sales enablement is at the heart of the seller’s ability to measure up to these customer expectations.
My take would be that this pressure is not going to go away; sellers need to recognise that the gap between sellers and buyers will continue to exist until such time as they implement a plan to close it. Not take incremental steps, but embrace technology and data led transformation of the sales process.
Artificial intelligence is the next great technological revolution, and sales professionals shouldn’t hide from it; they must embrace it.
Early adopters are already winning the race – harnessing technologies that look for smarter and deeper insights to synthesise a data driven understanding of customer wants, needs and preferences in order to personalise customer experiences and connect with them in more meaningful, value-driven ways.
Want to know more about how to meet customer expectations and deliver next generation customer experiences?
Artesian is the answer to technology and data driven sales transformation. Not only can we help you reach customer more effectively, but also improve customer experiences and exceed customer expectations.