7 Building Blocks for a Customer-Centric B2B Advantage [With Examples, $ Results]
As we covered in part 1 of this series, it’s time for a more customer-centric approach in B2B.
Businesses that embrace a more customer-centric approach to everything they do are able to tap into significant competitive advantage that most B2B businesses are missing.
This is because no competitor can truly replicate your unique brand experience. And, if the experience is outstanding, customers will reward you with more business. Thus, a better experience is a reliable source of durable competitive advantage and return on investment.
Being a customer-centric B2B business means having a commitment and intentional strategy to uniquely serve client needs for competitive advantage. It means making and keeping great brand promises that customers reward and that competitors cannot match.
In this guide, we explore 7 actions to orient everything your business does around maximizing the value of customer relationships for durable advantage. We also share two examples how to do this at different parts of the sales process.
Why Focus on Customer-Centricity in B2B?
There is a misconception that B2B companies don’t need to be as focused on customers as do consumer brands. Many assume that B2B buying is mostly a rational decision-making process, without emotional brand influence, experiential context and other psychological factors influencing the purchase path.
The fact is, customer experiences (and the memories they create) shape B2B decision making in a major way. All the way through the B2B buying journey, from initial problem discovery to purchase and post-purchase delivery and use, decisions are influenced, and real value is created by keeping a clear focus on optimizing the customer relationship.
This customer-centric focus is driven by the increasing expectations of today’s B2B buying teams. Their standards are continually being raised by digital innovation and increased competition.
What B2B buyers are challenged with and expect from their providers:
Making the right decisions – B2B buyers have increased pressure to select the best solution among a more complex field of options. They often are forced to make compromises with fewer resources. So, they spend more time researching purchases and want vendors to inform their decisions with reliable advice, not just pitches.
Risk raises the stakes – smaller budgets and condensed timelines increase the stakes to get their purchase decisions right. Their careers and reputations are on the line.
Trust and value – having a good product and support isn’t enough. Buyers also want sense-making consultation they can trust to sort out compromises and add long-term value to the relationship.
Responsiveness and ease-of-use – and they want it all to be easy, from selection to onboarding, in-person and virtually, so they can shift their time and resources to more important activities.
Customer-centric companies are 3x more likely to achieve 10% YoY revenue and profit growth
Customer-Centricity Is Smart Strategy
Being customer centric is a smart strategy for any business and evidence is mounting that shows this.
Forrester Research, who has been tracking ‘customer obsession’ trends for several years, recently released a study showing that customer-centric companies are 3x more likely to achieve 10% YoY revenue and profit growth compared to companies who fall short on customer centric measures. These same customer-centric leaders also are 2x more likely to have improved employee engagement.
And competing isn’t getting any easier. With inflation, market volatility, and supply chain disruptions complicating the playing field, B2B organizations should be forging stronger relationships with customers and partners for more predictable paths to growth.
The Building Blocks for a Customer-Centric B2B Strategy
#1. Commit to a Customer-Centric Culture
At the heart of your business is your customer—they are the reason your business exists. And yet many businesses find it difficult to be more customer centric.
Only 14% of marketers say that customer centricity is a hallmark of their companies, according to the CMO Council. The biggest barrier? Company cultures that put more emphasis on product and sales over customer experience.
Understanding and optimizing customer journeys requires a commitment to a more empathetic customer-centric approach to running your business. This requires generating a deeper understanding of the customer context for more personalized experiences and meaningful relationship building.
Being customer-centric means being empathic to your B2B buyer’s specific context: their motivations, goals and challenges.
Most B2B purchases are complex and multi-faceted. Sure, online information has made it easier to research and learn about solutions. But at the same time, the number of solution options have multiplied. And buyers are under increasing pressure to prove the ROI of their business purchases.
You’ll know you have a customer-centric commitment when you:
- Align everyone around the customer. Having everyone (leadership, sales, marketing, client service, etc.) aligned around who the most valuable customers are and what it takes to make them as successful. This also means taking some accountability for customer success, not just your own.
- Measure what matters to customers. Enable all key touchpoints and underlying people, technology and processes to listen and learn from customers. Set KPIs and measure them to enhance the journey and service touchpoints.
- Empower and reward employees to improve the customer experience. Employees are a huge source of insight about customers and internal operations and can quickly improve customer experience through one-on-one interactions and behind-the-scenes decision-making. Empower employees to make the decisions required to meet those customer needs. Reward them based on meeting the needs of customers.
#2. Boost Your Organizational Customer ‘IQ’
The more you know about your customers, the better you can attract the right fit customers, deliver awesome experiences and build lasting, profitable relationships. We call this ‘Customer IQ’.
Having high Customer IQ is one of the best and untapped sources of competitive advantage.
No competitor can truly replicate your unique brand experience. And if the experience is outstanding, customers will reward you with more business.
In other words, simply knowing your customers well is a tremendous source of competitive advantage. By knowing customers well, we mean knowing:
- What motivates them to seek out and choose solutions like yours.
- What are their most important goals, business drivers and pain points, related to your solution area.
- What are the key steps and obstacles in their buying journey.
- What triggers their search, what answers do they seek, and how do they find them.
- What influences their decision to buy and stay loyal.
Relationship building relies on customer knowledge.
Most B2B businesses are built on relationships, developed over long sales processes. This requires automation and activation of customer knowledge across the full marketing and sales funnel and service experience using marketing automation, CRM and data intelligence.
Two easy ways to boost the customer IQ of your organization:
Get out of the building and talk to customers.
How often do you talk with existing customers to better understand how they define value and perceive your brand?
When was the last time you updated your knowledge of their core problems to solve and the ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘when’ they go about discovering solutions to those problems?
These are not satisfaction surveys or sales calls. Keep the focus about them, not you.
Go beyond just asking about wants and needs to understand their sources of satisfaction and frustration and what motivates their choices and decisions.
These ‘non-sales’ conversations are an invaluable (and cost-effective) source of insights to inform future strategy. And customers will appreciate you more for listening and valuing their input.
Don’t forget to talk to the people who play important roles in the overall experience. These usually include a buyer (making the buying decision) and a user (using your offering). It might also include suppliers and partners.
Use an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP).
An ICP is a tool businesses use to deeply understand the customer types that already are, and have potential to, drive future growth. These are your most valuable customers who are most likely to convert.
Developing an ICP includes examination and definition of your current and prospective customers that have a quantifiable match to your business goals. They are your most valuable type of customer because of the ideal match between their needs and your offering.
An ICP should be used in combination with other business strategy tools to more smartly allocate limited resources. It serves as a key input to develop highly differentiated go-to-market and customer service programs.
#3. Re-Think Your Sales Funnel (as a Customer Journey)
The classic (AIDA) sales funnel doesn’t really account for the modern B2B buyer journey. The customer journey for business buyers has been evolving for a number of years and tends to be less predictable than your sales process was originally designed for.
This is because B2B buyers have so many choices of media and information, and so many ways to learn, long before a sales contact. And, since the customer is in control during the majority of their journey, their behaviors and decisions are influenced more by their expectations and social proof, vs. advertising and sales pitches.
The first step to re-thinking the sales funnel is to make an intentional effort to better understand the B2B buyer journey and align your sales process closely to it. You may need to change how your sales team relates to customers. Have them shift into a more consultative, sense making advisor role.
A customer journey analysis is best informed through direct input and observation from potential and current customers using research methods including contextual inquiry and open-ended interviews. Focus groups and surveys don’t really get the job done here.
If done well, journey mapping can uncover powerful first principle insights into the motivations and attitudes of the people that make up your target market. Those insights can then be used broadly across the business, from overall planning and business model innovation, to product design and marketing strategy, or even operational process improvements.
#4. Adopt an Outside-In, Customer Perspective
Most businesses have a natural tendency to want to talk about how great their business is. Their portfolio of services. The features and how it all works. Their expertise and their team. The great reviews and endorsements they have.
There’s nothing wrong with describing your mission and offerings and touting all the ways in which you are different than the rest. Eventually, prospects will want to review all of this to ensure you’re the right fit for their needs. But to be clear, your buyers mainly care about how it relates to their specific situation.
Having too much of an inward focus about how you present your brand to the market isn’t what potential customers care about or want to hear.
Your potential clients don’t want to be sold. They want to find answers to their questions easily, immediately and on their terms. They want to be listened to, helped and appreciated. They expect a personalized approach that caters to their unique needs and challenges.
This means being able to discover and connect with brands digitally and easily finding guidance and inspiration to make them more successful.
How to Shift to a Customer-Centric Perspective
Gather your team and talk to customers, then ask the following questions to translate what you do into benefits that your customers care about:
- How do we provide what they need to take their business to the next level?
- How do we make them a hero by choosing the right solution?
- How do we eliminate the risk and stress of having to change service providers?
- How do we give them time back in their day? How much time?
Discuss with your team how they apply your solutions to do all of these things. Document your most compelling examples of how you did it into case studies, using clear, specific benefits from the customer’s point of view. Ideally, these will include customer testimonial quotes as proof.
[Checklist]: 10 Steps to Customer-Centric Demand Generation
Get the accompanying checklist for developing a modern demand generation strategy and system that is customer-centric, insight-driven and digitally enabled, so you can work smarter and build the business of your dreams more confidently.
#5. Turn Your Website into a Customer-Centric Conversion Machine
You probably already have a website. The question is, is it helping your business grow?
In the past, B2B websites were just online brochures, window decorations that largely went un-noticed because the majority of revenue was driven by more traditional sales channels like events and cold calling.
Today’s B2B buyers expect you to have a digital presence that aids and guides their complex buying process. B2B buyers are self-reliant, and willing and able to research, evaluate and interact with providers almost completely through digital channels. This means a lot of your sales process is powered by your website, and not just pre-sale.
Your website is not only the centerpiece of your digital presence, it can also be a powerful tool for boosting sales effectiveness.
To do this job well, your website has to be designed to:
Confidently convey your unique brand value proposition.
Your brand expresses what prospects and clients can expect from your business. This is your brand promise. Since modern B2B buyers start their journey online, your website is the front door to your brand.
It must confidently communicate how you meet (and ideally exceed) buyers’ expectations. The promise – and how you deliver on it through customer engagements — differentiates you from the competition.
All of this is conveyed through visually engaging and easy-to-use digital experiences that serve up exactly what buyers are looking for in their moments of need, with authority, clarity, proof, and offers to engage.
Establish you as the best choice.
Upon first visit, your website must immediately build trust and credibility in your brand. The design has to present a clear story about who you are, what you do, and why you do it. It has to present a strong value proposition that speaks directly to the buyer’s self-interest.
The website draws visitors in via a conversational conversion path of helpful content and compelling offers that promise something of value in return for a contact. Ideally, you are personalizing content and offer experiences to deliver exactly what they want, at the right time, and at a price point most likely to convert.
Nurture buyers along their journey.
A well-designed B2B website nurtures a lead through the sales funnel, often over an extended period of time. Your website should present information and micro-conversion offers that help prospective clients make better decisions and move them along the path to a service engagement.
Generate high intent traffic.
This means having content that is highly visible in online search and well matched to the questions buyers are asking in search queries along their purchase journey. This usually means a smart blend of SEO tuned organic content distribution, augmented with highly targeted paid media in search (Google) and social (LinkedIn), and digitally amplified earned media (trade news and influencers).
With the right strategy and design, your website has the potential to be your most valuable marketing asset.
#6. Use CRM to Optimize Relationship Building
Most people think of CRM, which stands for “Customer Relationship Management,” as the software used to enable it. However, CRM isn’t just a technology tool.
CRM should be thought of as a business strategy first, technology second.
CRM is a strategic commitment to having an automated workflow for maximizing the efficiency and profitability of your client relationships across their entire journey and sales process, from discovering your offering, all the way to engaging with you and advocating your brand. CRM isn’t just a tool for marketing and sales. When implemented successfully, it offers benefits across the entire company.
Investing in CRM makes sense for businesses of all sizes and types, especially those that are built upon customer relationships, because CRM makes managing and growing those relationships easier. In fact, CRM and marketing automation makes even more sense for small businesses for two reasons:
- Small businesses rely on developing strong and lasting customer relationships to grow.
- Small businesses have less complexity making CRM implementation easier and faster, offering an advantage over larger, slower competitors.
Making an investment in CRM offers a wide range of benefits to small businesses including reduced cost of acquisition (CAC), increased sales velocity, the ability to boost reach, awareness and better convert leads to customers, and improved employee productivity.
There is a wide selection of CRM tools available on the market, so choosing the right one can be intimidating if not confusing. For guidance, we developed a list of the top CRM tools for small business weighing the pros and cons of each platform to help you in comparing all of the options.
#7. Use Data / AI to Enhance Customer Service, Loyalty and Retention
B2B usually entails complex products and services that require quite an investment of time and effort from your customers to onboard and gain value from it.
It’s not just about making a sale; it’s about embarking on a journey together where you and your customers support each other’s success. Customer-centric organizations adopt a proactive service and support approach where long-term customer success is the north star.
This kind of approach transforms the conventional vendor-client relationship into a partnership where retention rates soar, and value-added account expansions are easier to close. It also helps in identifying and mitigating potential issues before they escalate, thus saving both the client and the company time and resources in the long run.
For instance, a customer success teams armed with in-depth client profiles and notifications can identify gaps in knowledge or resources and tailor training programs in response. This not only facilitates smoother product adoption but also builds trust, as clients feel valued and supported throughout their journey.
Regular check-ins, mutual goal setting, and honest business reviews go a long way to build trust, advocacy and referrals that can pay huge dividends, with minimal sales and marketing investment. Customers who have a smooth onboarding and adoption experience are more likely to refer new business and leave positive reviews, helping to drive new revenue streams.
Progressive B2B firms are utilizing data gathered from CRM and customer service notes to tailor onboarding programs that ensure a smooth transition and successful integration with your product or service.
These investments in customer-centric data insights promise to improve a customer’s experience across the entire journey. This not only enhances the customer experience but also generates substantial business value in terms of improved ROI, cost savings, and increased revenue, leading to a mutually beneficial and sustainable business relationship.
Examples With $ Business Results
Now, we’ll put these building blocks into action with two examples using hypothetical B2B business scenarios to demonstrate the potential outcomes.
In this example, B2B SaaS business specializing in project management software implements SEO and conversion optimization. This scenario illustrates the significant impact SEO can have on a business’s revenue, especially when combined with other strategies to enhance conversion rates and average deal sizes.
- Annual Revenue: $2 million
- Website Visitors per Month: 10,000
- Conversion Rate: 1% (100 customers acquired per month)
- Average Deal Size: $200/month
Current Monthly Revenue = 100 customers × $200 = $20,000
Current Annual Revenue = $20,000 × 12 = $240,000
The company decides to invest in SEO, targeting high-value keywords, optimizing their website for speed and mobile devices, and creating valuable, SEO-rich content that addresses potential clients’ pain points.
Result #1: Increased Organic Traffic
Through SEO optimization, the company successfully increases its organic traffic by 50%.
- New Website Visitors per Month: 15,000
Result #2: Improved Conversion Rate
Improved website and sales content and user experience boost conversion rates by 0.5%.
- New Conversion Rate: 1.5%
Result #3: Increased Average Deal Size
Higher-value keyword targeting, combined with improved sales and onboarding experiences leads to improved satisfaction, which attracts larger deals, increasing the average deal size by 25%.
- New Average Deal Size: $250/month
With all of these changes and improved results, the company realizes the following business outcomes:
Increased Customer Acquisition:
New Monthly Customer Acquisitions: 15,000 visitors x 1.5% conversion rate = 225 customers
New Monthly Revenue: 225 customers x $250 = $56,250
New Annual Revenue: $56,250 x 12 = $675,000
Monthly Increase: $36,250
Annual Increase: $435,000
By implementing this strategy, the B2B SaaS company could potentially increase its
monthly revenue by 181%, with an annual revenue increase of 281%.
Investments and Costs:
It should be noted that the company can achieve these substantial boosts in revenue without added spend for advertising or hiring. Also, the benefits gained from SEO and experience enhancements are likely more sustainable than an equivalent investment in advertising, since they tend to be longer lasting.
In this example, a B2B digital consulting firm deploys data analytics and AI to enhance service and client retention, leading to impressive financial upside, without any new promotional or hiring expense.
DigitalStrat Consulting, a B2B digital consulting firm catering to mid-sized corporations, recognizes the potential of data analytics and AI in refining its service delivery to keep clients longer and foster referral-driven growth.
Strategy 1: Tailored Consulting Proposals:
DigitalStrat uses advanced data analytics to review past emails, past proposals, and feedback with potential clients and prior engagements. This helps them to create better proposals that resonate with specific client pain points, industry challenges, and growth aspirations.
The improvements contribute to a 25% increase in proposal acceptance. With a pipeline of 40 engagements from 200 proposals annually, this uplift results in 10 additional contracts. Assuming an average deal value of $500k, this creates $5 million in incremental annual revenue.
Strategy 2: Enhanced Client Servicing:
DigitalStrat uses data analytics to monitor client feedback, project progress, and the effectiveness of implemented digital strategies. Predictive analytics alerts the consulting team about potential project bottlenecks or areas of client dissatisfaction, enabling proactive adjustments. Additionally, the firm measures client satisfaction during engagement wrap-ups and business reviews, and across the entire client base using a new survey tool.
As a result of these improvements, client satisfaction rates soar by 20%. At the same time, the increased satisfaction improves retention by 20%. Given that DigitalStrat’s churn is 5 clients per year, a 20% reduction nets an additional client annually with average deal value of $500 thousand of revenue retained.
Strategy 3: Referral Cultivation:
DigitalStrat implements a referral campaign along with the proposal, onboarding and servicing enhancements. Their sales teams are offered a referral bonus, which still nets good margins on deals considering that referred deals have a lower cost of acquisition compared to non-referral new business.
They are able to boost referred deals by 30%, netting 3 new clients via referral, resulting in an additional revenue of $1.5 million.
Overall Results Combining All 3 Strategies:
Tailored Consulting Proposals = $5 million
Enhanced Client Servicing: $500 thousand
Referral Cultivation = $1.5 million
Total = $7 million annual incremental revenue
Ready to Create Advantage with Customer-Centric Strategy?
In today’s economy of unlimited choice, noise, and disruption, being customer-centric is the most reliable and cost-effective source of advantage – especially for B2B service businesses.
At Bevelroom Consulting, we believe in an approach that works for the business and the customer. Our approach to marketing brings in a healthy dose of design thinking that optimizes for both the customer experience and business outcomes. We combine several modern marketing practices including — design thinking, data insights, experimentation, growth hacking and smart technology — to help you grow your business.
We help B2B businesses who:
- Are unsure where to start in marketing their business
- Don’t know how well their marketing is doing
- Want to be more customer-centric and data-informed
- Need to prioritize limited resources for the biggest return
If you’re looking to grow in a more customer-centric way, we’d love to speak with you.