How many times have you searched the internet today? Think about the utility it has become for what we do every day. Maps, product ratings, games, competitors, jobs openings, basic research and thousands of other topics are commonplace searches for us all. What did we do before the internet? When you think about your own online experiences, it certainly relates to the typical customer journey.
So, let’s think about your customer. They have identified a need and want to begin getting their head around the solutions available. Where will they usually start their research? Most likely, they’ll head online, and, of course, this has a significant impact on how we do business. So how are B2B businesses addressing these changes?
An incredible 94% of corporate B2B buyers report that they perform some type of online research prior to making a business purchase. In fact, this online research behavior is so dominant that over 30% of business buyers regularly perform online research for expensive purchases over $100,000.
Here’s another fascinating point regarding the actual sales process: in a recent Acquity Group survey, responders indicated that they were just as likely to say that no sales person was involved as they were to say they like to deal directly (in person) with a salesperson to complete their purchase. Another large percentage preferred some form of phone or live chat support to complete their purchase.
According to the same report, business buyers are coming to your website 83% of the time to evaluate your company and its offerings. In addition, they will leverage Google to find you and other competitive offerings 77% of the time. As you might imagine, the majority of survey respondents expect these online research and buying trends to continue to increase.
These Trends are Impacting the Customer Journey
While we all probably know that online customer research and buying trends were strong and on the upswing, the empirical data shows us just how critically important it is to understand the customer’s buying process. More than ever, it has become fundamental to digital marketing efforts that we prioritize the customer’s online experience in their overall buying journey.
I believe the relationship with our customers starts with understanding their expectations when they go online to research, compare and buy. How are you providing an excellent digital experience across the customer journey?
- If they perform a Google search, will your site rank highly among the search results, preferably on the first page? When they come to your site, are you providing them with a well designed and updated website that accurately portrays your offerings, differentiation and value proposition?
- Are you anticipating the common questions your buyers have and educating them in high-quality blog posts and knowledge articles that are easy to find?
- Can you leverage awards, success stories, customer quotes, testimonials or third-party validation of your product or services?
The old saying is still true, you have one chance at a first impression.
In the competitive landscape of the online world, you must excel at digital marketing best practices in order to compete effectively.
Continued Investment – With Room to Improve
So, what has been the response of business executives to these megatrends? In a recent Accenture survey, fully 90% of B2B executives plan to maintain or increase their investment in enhancing their online customer experience. While they plan to spend more, 20% of those executives were generating no or low returns currently and 57% felt they were “surviving, but not exactly thriving.” Many in this middle category said they lacked a sound customer experience strategy and/or the ability to execute well on their plans.
In looking at the behavior of buyers and executives in the B2B space, what surprises me is the propensity of business buyers to behave like consumer buyers! Business buyers are starting their research and buying processes on line, and yes, most business leaders are responding in some ways to meet this demand.
But while I would expect to see a lag in online customer experience investment, the gap is much wider than I expected. Many businesses are still not investing properly to capture their share of buyer wallet, and these investments must be made in digital assets.
Here are some key observations:
- The online customer experience is more than just marketing. All facets of the digital customer experience must be combined to drive results that keep the customer pleased at every step of their relationship with your firm.
- Leaders in customer experience also invested heavily in offline capabilities to provide market leading services in areas such as contact centers and field service processes.
- Not surprisingly, market leaders invested two-thirds of their customer experience budgets in digital and they reaped huge rewards.
For more observations on how companies that focus on the customer journey are radically changing the business landscape, please refer to my blog posts under the Category of Customer Journey. Our customers are most definitely searching, evaluating and developing their short list of providers from online research. They expect us to provide intuitive experiences when they interact with us. How are you adapting to these customer expectations?