B2B Voice-of-the-Customer: Integrating Decision Influencers’ Views

b2b customer experience decision influencers

Picture this: in deciding whether to rebuy from your company, the customer's general manager and purchasing agent are neutral, the end-users are supportive, the safety department gives their approval, but the facilities manager rejects it. Your company loses the sale. Because your team was focused on the end-users and general manager, everything looked like it was on-track for renewal, yet one influencer of the buying decision derailed your relationship and your anticipated revenue. After that happens, it's difficult to get another chance. It's best to be aware of all the drivers and factors, and manage them proactively.

Why Customer Data Integration Matters

Remember that "it takes a village" in most B2B buying decisions, because of the extensive impact of the purchase on the customer's safety, quality, financial, regulatory compliance, shipping and packaging for reliable yet easy receiving, preferences among those who will be handling the product in their day-to-day work, overall fit with the company's or plant's strategy (including long-term relationships with their customers and other stakeholders, environmental stewardship, etc.), scientific specifications, and downstream customer concerns, as explained in the recent article: Business-to-Business Customer Experience: What's It Like?

If your investment in voice-of-the-customer (VoC) is intended to help you grow revenue, then VoC in business-to-business (B2B) situations should represent all of the influencers of buying decisions, As shown in the recent article in Understanding Business-to-Business Purchase Decisions, only a third of B2B companies are identifying and collecting inputs from all of the buying influencers. And still fewer are consolidating the viewpoints to create a holistic picture of reality.

One of the reasons for this gap is the reliance on dedicated account teams who are charged with figuring out who the influencers are and managing them one by one. But this obscures insights that could be useful to other functional areas within the company in playing their role to set up the account team for success. Especially when those insights form patterns that could be leveraged across the target market. Patterns are typically most visible when data is collected in a uniform way across a sample of the population, and when that data is integrated.

Integrating data is one of the big challenges for customer experience management. And it can open the door to the greatest opportunities: the more complete your view of customers is, the more accurate and proactive you can be in guiding buying behavior to grow revenue.

Ways to Integrate B2B Influencers' Views

Should every buying-decision influencer be given equal weight in their expectations and views by averaging their VoC ratings? Probably not; they each play a certain role, and the way you present data about their roles should reflect reality.

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How can you help managers in your company grasp the full picture and its implications? VoC managers might borrow ideas from marketing segmentation: some segments have unique interests, and some have overlapping interests. When designing offerings and messaging for customer segments, marketers try to address the overlapping interests first, and accommodate the unique needs separately. VoC managers might also borrow ideas from customer journey mapping, flow-charting, cause-and-effect diagramming, activity network diagramming, or interrelationship diagraphs.

In any case, nesting and weighting the influencers' responses can help paint a representative picture of what's going on across your customer base, within a customer account, and across each type of influencer.

A more accurate way of integrating or segmenting customer experience data is along the lines of common "expectation sets". Poor customer experience means reality did not match expectations. Conversely, good customer experience means reality matched or exceeded expectations. Therefore, we should be paying more attention to expectation sets rather than demographics and psychographics, functional areas and job titles, when integrating or segmenting customer experience data.

Share Your Integration Insights

The more people across your company and its ecosystem that you share the patterns and insights with, the more they'll be able to see their jobs within that context, and contribute collectively to your customer experience excellence quest. Our study of customer experience practices indicated that companies with the best business results were integrating on many levels: helping managers of various aspects of customer experience touch base with one another, using customer experience insights as determinants of corporate strategy, presenting customer experience insights to all employees and expecting action plan follow-through, and encouraging cross-organizational collaboration for improving customer experience.

Customers tend to look at a supplier company as "one." They expect unity and consistency. We can help meet those expectations — and grow our revenue — by taking our game to a higher level in understanding our customers holistically.

Research findings are from the ClearAction Business-to-Business Customer Experience Management Best Practices Study.

Image licensed to ClearAction by Shutterstock.

Lynn Hunsaker (CCXP) centers your business on customers. She led customer experience (CX) transformation and marketing for many years at Applied Materials and Sonoco. She authored 3 CX handbooks (Kindle), taught 5 years at UC Berkeley Extension, and is past president of Silicon Valley American Marketing Association.
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