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The new customer journey for business buyers

How well do you know your customers’ buying habits? Recently, we’ve seen a significant change in the way B2B buyers purchase products and services, brought on by new technology and greater access to information through mobile and social channels.

Just as we’ve seen consumer technologies such as mobile and social tools storm the workplace and change how  IT departments operate, we’re seeing a similar shift in the consumerisation of B2B sales. The B2B purchasing habits are reflecting this shift as businesses begin to mimic consumer buyers.

Typical consumers do their research before buying a product. They read reviews, talk to friends, visit third-party sites and gain information through social channels, and B2B buyers are showing these same behaviours. According to a recent global study by Avanade, 60 per cent of Australian B2B buyers report third-party sites and feedback from business partners, industry peers or social channels as more important than conversations with a company’s sales teams when making a purchasing decision.

Armed with their own research and expectations, customer experience is now most valuable for business buyers in Australia – even more important than price. Business and IT decision-makers are willing to pay up to 21 per cent more for a product or service that offers an improved customer experience, making delivering a top-notch experience much more crucial for businesses.

What does this mean for businesses?

Businesses need to evolve their approach to B2B sales. This isn’t just limited to big businesses – SMBs equally need to change their customer focus and often have a greater opportunity to strategically deliver a standout customer experience. While change can’t happen overnight, this new customer journey for purchasing presents a real opportunity for improvement.

Many businesses are already on track to change the way work gets done, with processes that enable more agility, faster responses to market changes and greater customer satisfaction. We’re seeing a “work redesigned” approach by businesses that are enlisting new people and departments to manage the customer experience. Compared to three years ago, customer service and call centres, IT and marketing are the leading groups now playing a larger role in customer experience.

In redesigning the way they work, more than 84 per cent of Australian companies have changed at least one business process in the past three years to better interact with customers, specifically by increasing sales and support technologies (50 per cent), increasing the number of employees interacting with customers (46 per cent) and adding automation to the sales process (32 per cent).

Companies have also invested in customer sales and support technologies such as mobile devices (79 per cent), customer relationship management systems (57 per cent), mobile applications (54 per cent) and social media (50 per cent).

How should businesses adapt?

For those looking to adapt to the change in buyer behaviour, it’s crucial to closely examine customer experience and touch points, and to identify areas for improvement. Businesses should anticipate future customer needs by analysing internal and external data sources to help predict behaviour patterns, market trends and customer demands.

The value of a customer relationship is no longer defined by a series of transactions, but rather the complete experience a seller offers a buyer at the time of purchase and throughout their time with the product or service.

At Avanade, creating an engaging experience is a key way we are seeing our customers differentiate themselves and create lasting consumer relationships.

With customer satisfaction in mind, it’s also critical to have a consistent experience across channels and appropriate training for employees providing the right tools, processes and information they need to engage customers, solve issues proactively and increase customer satisfaction.

The benefits of adapting

The good news is that businesses embracing new sales complexity report significant benefits including longer-term and more lucrative relationships with their customers. Specifically, the Australian companies investing in technology to support better customer service and modifying internal roles are experiencing increases in customer base (62 per cent), revenues (60 per cent) and customer loyalty (43 per cent).

Clearly, IT is becoming a very important player in the new B2B customer journey. Since embracing new technology is part of the equation for improving the customer experience, IT is at the epicentre of this change. It’s therefore critical to stay on top of developments in this space and I encourage businesses to look at how IT can help them advance in response to new B2B buyer behaviour. For inspiration, Avanade’s Technology Vision 2014 illustrates the art of the possible and how digital processes can optimise business.

About the Author

Jeyan Jeevaratnam, Avanade country manager in Australia

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