Pre-Sales Servicing of B2B Customers

Keith Klade, Vice President of eCommerce // March 07, 2017

Second in a four part series: Pre-Sales Servicing

As the second part of a four-part series (the first part is here), I want to talk about delivering on-line pre-sales capabilities involved with the “Being-Serviced” B2B Customer. In the first post I introduced the “Being-Serviced” B2B Customer as those that will have matured beyond requiring superior “Self-Service” capabilities to those that will want to “Be-Serviced”. Understanding what this means within your industry, to your Partners and End Customers will be critical.

"For future B2B Customers it will be about “Being-Serviced"

First, let’s define pre-sales. We will define presales as the process made up of activities normally carried out before a customer is acquired. These activities focus on educating and providing relevant information that assist the sales organization in generating leads and strengthening the potential for conversion. Since buying decisions are being made on-line well prior to the formal engagement of a sales representative, if it happens at all, it is critical that on-line digital capabilities provide a strong influence in the potential buyer’s decision making process. For B2B, that experience that influences these buyers’ needs to include the extended enterprise of your channel partners. Providing these partners with relevant information and the tools they require to influence the end customer is just as important.

Most individuals do not like to be “sold to”. How many times have you cringed when you have picked up your phone to the sound of a salesperson on the other end? How many of you, exploring new automobiles, have gone to dealerships on a Sunday just to avoid the sales people? (side note here – not all states have this law about car sales and Sunday so this might confuse people) However, we all know there comes the point where you must speak to a salesperson to lock down the details and make the final decision. Your on-line experience needs to be able to influence the person enough to take that step. This means giving them relevant information that is important to them when they need it in a manner that they do not feel they are being sold-to, rather serviced in making their buying decision.

So, in servicing these individuals, typically they have come to you on-line for one of the following reasons:

  • Exploring solutions to address a need
  • Replacing a product or service
  • Solve a problem or avoid risk
  • Optimize solution quality, timing and cost
  • Improve management or support
  • Educate themselves

So here is a short list of questions you should be asking yourselves when servicing these B2B individuals and influencing their buying decisions early in the sales lifecycle. The goal being for them to reach out to your channel partners or sales team. These first few are foundational, but use these and the others to prime the innovation engine and take them to the next step:

1. How are you segmenting your products?

Work with your sales force and channel partners to understand how potential customers explore and educate themselves on your products, services and solutions. Based on these findings, you will want to segment your products accordingly. This may result in segmentation approaches such as product category, application, industry, regulation/compliance requirements, geographical, role-based or hybrids. Solution selling, guided-selling and product/solution configuration tools can give them ability to understand your custom, manufacture-to-order, engineer-to-order products and solutions. Your site navigation, content, search optimization and data then needs to be aligned with this.

2. How do others search for your products?

I am amazed at times how even experienced companies have not optimized their in-house and external search capabilities. The most used feature on your site needs to be optimized and aligned with your site taxonomy and features. It needs to be integrated across your backend technologies. This needs to be kept up-to-date as your site matures. Your search capability needs to provide easy to use options for searching. Results need to be formatted in a manner that can be quickly skimmed. Result need to be quickly refined with additional filtering capabilities and nested results.

3. Do you understand who is coming to your site and what is relevant to them?

There are many approaches to understanding the person visiting your site. Collecting this information in a non-intrusive manner while providing means for them to volunteer quick pieces of information that build a profile over time will help you target relevant content in servicing needs. Whether this be through on-line personalization, social integration, marketing automation campaigns or a progressive nurtured experience. Remember where they entered your site, where they have been, what they have viewed and where they bounced. Most people like to be reminded of their activities and interests. Remind them of these areas next time they return.

4. Personalization verses Customization?

Personalization is fantastic and should be the goal of every B2B company to deliver relevant information at the right time. Customization can influence personalization and provide that extra capability that allows someone to feel serviced. Customization in the past was about allowing users of the site to change the layout and features of the site to fit their needs;they had to take the action to do so. But what if they did not have to take that action? What if you were able to take the action for them? Some simple examples include automatically creating their My Profile of interests based on the behavior and activity. Or rearranging their navigation based on what was most used and accessed. Then, allowing them to change (or customize) it if they choose. You may even want to prompt them to pin a link to their version of the site with a simple Interest icon. The innovation in this space is endless.

5. Omni-Channel “Being-Serviced” Experience

Omni Channel considerations for B2B not only include a consistent experience across your communication channels (i.e., marketplaces, publications, mobile, websites, exchanges, partner integrations), but those provided by your Retailers, Distributors and other Channel Partners. In cases where your channel partners buffer you from the actual end customer sale, it is still the relevant information provided by your site and theirs that influences the buying decisions. Is information being used consistently across your organization for all channels to market and do your Partners have access to the same information? If not, how can you make this information available to them? Most B2B companies have locators pointing people to their Channel Partners. You may have information that could be passed to them with a hand-off from your locator to their on-line chat feature or initiating one of their service or contact us forms. This may be shifting the pendulum to the far right, but ideally shouldn’t yours and your channel partner’s sites be integrated. Why should your partners physically carry collateral about your products on their sites (i.e., images, specs, documentation, attributed data) when it could be referenced on the manufacturers from within the partners branded experience. Shouldn’t parts of your site be reused within theirs?

6. What are the most common problems being encountered within specific industries you serve and the application of products like yours?

Do you understand the problems being encountered related to yours and your competitor’s products? Are you able to cross-reference these to solutions and services that can assist? Do you provide frequently asked question (FAQ) capabilities that direct them back to a solution or people that can help address the issue? Do these tie into your partner locators and contact us allowing for them to get to the right people? Are you using blogs, wikis and other social forums that allow your customers and partners to assist each other in the solutions identification or problem-solving process?

Now, with pre-sales, hopefully the product issues they are experiencing are with the other guys. Are you providing a competitor product cross-reference for that potential re-platform or replacement? At least for the products where you consistently win.

7. What differentiates your products and services from the others on-line?

You should know what differentiates your products from the competition. Provide ROI calculators, RFP templates, product comparisons, industry success stories, brief case studies, customer satisfaction levels, industry standards certification, regulation compliance and product reviews. Encourage product reviews with incentives and provide an executive summary of the positive reviews. Peer reviews and references are critical to influencing B2B buying decisions.

For your channel partners, explore Sales Enablement programs that allow you to share sales and marketing collateral that assist in the sales process. Ask yourself, how can you make it easier for your channel partners to sell you(r) products and services?

8. What is the value-add of working with your company on-line?

On-line, you need to differentiate yourself with your value proposition clearly and concisely. I hear many from many organizations working to differentiate their company’s commodity products in a manner beyond price. Many are looking for ways to differentiate themselves based on being easier to do business with. Placing emphasis on on-line capabilities provided to a customer will help provide an on-line differentiation.

Even with complex product selection and configuration scenarios, B2C experiences are going to eventually win out and become commonplace. Those that focus on this early are going to win deals from those that may even have a better product. Leverage areas noted above to improve ease of doing business during pre-sales.

9. Beyond Marketing Automation Campaigns?

Sure, you have email campaign processes today that bring people back to your landing pages to hopefully generate leads - right? I am not going to get into the value of Marketing Automation programs and nurturing potential accounts. Having a website is great, but you need to bring people back to it. Use Marketing Automation concepts to target potential customers with information where they showed interest. Offer newsletters, promotions, and product launch announcements. Leverage web analytics combined with predictive and prescriptive to proactively service those potential buyers. Content Marketing and Social integration options should be used drive traffic to the site - this is a blog in itself.

10. Few final questions to ask yourself?

This blog could go on for many more pages, with far more examples in each of the above. In closing, you need to bring together change agents and thought leadership across your organization and ask the questions above. But, also think about these and determine how they may impact the pre-sales process on-line.

  • Do we portray our brand message successfully?
  • Do I publish content required to make a buying decision?
  • What type of personalized experience will provide relevant content?
  • What does educating a potential customer mean to us, to them?
  • How should we partner with others on-line to drive traffic to us?

With the above, always try to put yourself in the shoes of your potential buyers or future corporate accounts. Ask yourself how you can service the customer in a manner that influences their buying decision verses just trying to sell to them.
In the next two posts on the “Being-Serviced” B2B Customer, we will explore Sales and Post-Sales considerations.

B2B ecommerce, Digital Strategy, User Experience

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