The New Business Customer

One of the major trends in marketing is the way business-to-business (B2B) has adopted consumer strategies (B2C). Marketers are switching up the playbook. Video content for corporate consumption has gotten shorter, flashier and more shareable.

And just as B2C brands are trying to predict customer behavior, and deliver next best offers at scale, so B2B marketers are scouring online behavior for signals of intent. That goes deeper than seeing a user browsing some specific web-pages or white papers. When a target account is consuming information in a systematic way, that data can can be a highly accurate indication that the account is in market for a product or service.

On the customer experience side, this logic also applies. After all, business decision makers are also consumers. A younger generation is joining their ranks. As Avanade’s Peter Rivera pointed out in a recent One on One podcast, younger millennial professionals and Gen Zers have been exposed to best-in-class user experiences their entire digital lives, from Facebook to Instagram and various Google apps.

Does this shift in B2B marketing open the floodgates for B2C specialists? In the case of customer experience company Hero Digital, they recently acquired B2B specialist Bulldog Solutions. The client roster for Bulldog Solutions includes TD Ameritrade, Oracle, Symantec and others.

I recently spoke with Hero Digital CEO David Kilimnik about what this new move means in relation to his overall vision for the direction of B2B marketing, specifically customer experience.

There has obviously been talk about the migration of B2C strategies into B2B – but according to Kilimnik, this really hasn’t taken off across the industry. “Curiosity and courage,” he stated, “are really refreshing [attitudes] in the B2B space. In B2B there is still a lot of playing it safe. There’s a sameness between competitors. B2B marketers today are going to have to disrupt that.”

Kilimnik pointed to the digital customer experiences in the B2C realm, like the travel industry disruptor Airbnb. “Think about the users that use them,” he said. “They’re B2B buyers and expect a consumerized experience.”

Working with a wide array of consumer brands provides Hero Digital’s offering with breadth, while the Bulldog Solutions digs deep into the B2B customer experience, Kilimnik added.

“For B2B clients, the customer journey is way more complex than with their B2C counterparts,” he explained. “And this is part of what we wanted to solve.” 

With individual consumers, there’s a series of steps to make a purchase. Referring to the B2B journey, Kilimnik said this process is compounded by the fact that there are teams of multiple decision makers. And the journey can be a long one, creating multiple opportunities for brands to identify and track intent signals.

“There are multiple constituents, and these transactions last from months to years. Tackling that complexity in the buyer journey is part of it, but also when you broaden from B2B marketing to B2B customer experience, part of the customer lifecycle is post-purchase, as well. Clients interact with the brand through portals, and there’s an ongoing configuration and customization of products, so this is also a space where most (business) brands have a way to go in terms of digital enablement.”

Another tendency, brought on by the abundance of information online, is that customers are self-educating. Kilimnik estimates that a prospective client may not even contact a business until they are in the final third of their journey. Hence, the need for “more intelligent use of content, a higher velocity of content, and also better targeting of content based on where users are in their particular journey.”

Intelligent content is but another facet of well-crafted design. “I think you have a generation in the B2B audience who are coming into buying power, who are millennials or younger,” Kilimnik stated, “and they have a standard for human-centered design that is different than generations prior.”

As an example of human-centered experience, Kilimnik mentioned the office messaging tool Slack, which is “focused obsessively on the human center.” He explained, “They came up with a purpose: let’s make work less boring. They used a color palette that is bright, beautiful and fun. It’s a great experience that’s human-centered as a B2B experience, and they built the brand around it.”

As the B2B marketing and experience space continues to evolve, Kilimnik predicts “some of the most traditional and industrial-style brands will make themselves over in the next two, five or 10 years.” He sees them also “really putting their end customers at the center of their story, [and] brands will stop talking about themselves.”

If a brand is signalling intent, then responding to that intent with relevant confident helps that brand just as much as a relevant offer helps a consumer. There’s no arguing that customer-centricity is a value that customers would like to see carried out effectively, in B2B and B2C.

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