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Human-centric selling as a competitive edge

Humanising B2B experiences in a digital world

B2B relationships are inherently complex, with buying cycles that can stretch for months, with multiple decision-makers and influencers along the way. High-value deals—and company reputations—are often on the line. Yet B2B has always been, at its core, about people.

With insights from Deloitte’s latest research on customer experience, four customer experience and transformation professionals explain how industry leaders are deepening trust and relationships to quantifiably set themselves apart from the competition.

Trust, reliability and transparency

The adage says: Trust is earned in drops and lost in buckets. Deloitte’s research bears that out, finding trustworthiness as the most important attribute of customer experience, closely followed by reliability. Timothy Greulich, managing director, Deloitte Consulting LLP, points to the research to show their interconnectivity. When researchers asked whether participants would retain a relationship with recurring mistakes, 41% responded they would not. “Trust is built by delivering on promises and it’s eroded by mistakes.”

Michelle Wideman, chief customer officer, Onna, agrees, offering that in a sales cycle, trust needs to be built early by bringing in a customer success resource during the pre-sales phase. Whether a person or a team, the message to the prospect is clear: We will be your champions and advocates on this entire journey. “Build trust early and keep building it throughout the entire journey.”

“We have to demystify trust in the B2B world,” cautions Deepak Sharma, managing director, Deloitte Consulting LLP.  Is it about transparency? Capability? Reliability? Showing humanity? What Sharma calls “dimensionalising” trust in B2B is critical. Deloitte’s research indicates almost 66 per cent of B2B buyers will drop their vendor after one bad support experience.  

And because trust is earned, for Meenu Agarwal, senior vice president, Customer Success, VMware, transparency is hand-in-glove with reliability. “Deliver on the promises you make. There may be mistakes along the way but if you are sharing them with a goal to improve, you have the fundamentals to a strong business relationship and trust.”

Customer retention

For SaaS – software as a service – companies that run on subscription-based revenue, exceptional experiences are mission-critical. Done well and done right, customers will see value in what you deliver. And in a year like 2020, Wideman says, if you have taken the time to partner with your customers and truly understand their desired outcomes, “you are ensuring the stickiness of your product or service.”

Outcomes are the heart of the matter for Agarwal when it comes to customer retention. “Keeping a customer’s business healthy – by driving outcomes for them – is how you are going to win them over every single day. Every part of the business’s health needs to be good because if something goes out of kilter you could be in deep trouble.”

Because customer success teams are essential to building trust and retention, Greulich advises leaders in any industry to closely examine the capabilities of their support and services organisation. “There’s a fair amount that needs to be built in to ensure the team can deliver on the promises made to the customer.”

Emotions and big decisions

“In the end, decisions are more emotionally driven. This is now coming full force in our B2B world,” is how Sharma opens the conversation on the role emotions play in big, multi-million dollar transformations, where there can be 20 or more decision-makers involved, each with goals and agendas that might differ from their colleagues. Two data points from Deloitte’s research build a compelling case for why a human-centric approach in B2B buying and selling are essential:

  • Around two-thirds of B2B buyers said they would discontinue business with sellers that don’t tailor their outreach.
  • Only around one-third of all B2B sellers (leaders and laggards alike) believed tailored solutions were critical to sustaining business with an existing customer.

Where Wideman has seen B2B pre- and post-sales teams’ misstep is in not fully understanding who is part of the buying process and who has influence over it. “Everyone wants to be supported in a different way. Meeting the person at the level of communication that best fits their needs is super important.”

For Agarwal, teams also need to recognise that customers are coming to the table well-versed on insights and reviews, with a clear picture of what they need. “We need to embrace that and listen to what customers want. In some ways, doing so can actually make the sales cycle shorter.”

And while B2B buyers are emotionally attached to decisions, B2B sellers should be emotionally detached from the process and meet the customer in the ways and digital means they wish to connect, even if it strays from how things have been done. Greulich references the Deloitte finding that only 29% of the buyers really wanted face-to-face interactions in the sales process, while almost 50% of sellers thought in-person was really the only way to connect with the customer. “We need to listen to that and think more often about how we show up and engage.”

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