Last updated: The secret to building an amazing B2B customer experience strategy

The secret to building an amazing B2B customer experience strategy


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If given the option of having one of your favorite sweet treats now, or waiting and getting two of those treats later, which would you choose? That’s the question professor Walter Mischel of Stanford University asked in the early 1970s, when he and his colleagues conducted the now famous Marshmallow Experiment. In the experiment, he offered children a choice: a small, immediate reward (a marshmallow or pretzel stick, depending on their preference), or a larger reward later. It was a question of instant vs. delayed gratification. What does this have to do with building a B2B customer experience strategy? Stick with me (choose the delayed gratification of seeing this through).

As adults, we face this dilemma in countless ways:

  • The instant gratification of rest vs. the delayed gratification of the health benefits you get from finishing a hard workout
  • The instant gratification of letting your favorite Netflix show auto-play, vs. the delayed gratification of getting ahead of a big project so tomorrow is less stressful
  • The instant gratification of scrolling through your phone at night, vs. the delayed gratification of turning it off and getting a full night’s sleep

The two-marshmallow approach of B2B CX

Until recently, the wholesale distribution industry has been built on a foundation of long-term customer relationships, driven by long-term contracts which promised long-term benefits (or, delayed gratification).

But over time, it became difficult to track success. Customers started feeling like the delayed gratification wasn’t paying out as-promised.

Meanwhile, in the B2C world, technology changed the game to one where the customers call the shots. It wasn’t long before B2B buyers started demanding a more ‘one marshmallow now’ approach.

9 ways your B2B customer experience strategy can reward your customers, now

While buyers seek out experiences that deliver the instant gratification they want, distributors must find ways to “reward” them. It could mean the difference between retaining a customer or losing them to a competitor, so you need to be sure you’re focusing on immediate value as well as long-term value when crafting a B2B customer experience strategy.

  1. Anticipate needs
    Consider the customers’ needs before they do. Can you offer additional goods or services to make their lives easier? Offer recommendations before they ask.
  2. Provide a complete catalog
    The less ‘shopping around’ the customer needs to do, the better. Try to deliver as much of a one-stop-shop experience as possible, with a wide variety of goods and services to meet their every need.
  3. Deliver on their terms
    Deliver the goods when and where the customer wants it.
  4. Don’t break the channel
    Make the experiences as seamless and easy to navigate as possible, regardless of what department they engage with.
  5. Ensure bottomless supply
    Avoid the ‘out of stock’ issue so customers can get what they want, when they want it.
  6. Lower prices
    A tried and true differentiator – if you offer the lowest prices, customers will instantly feel rewarded.
  7. Offer limitless information
    Make it easy to find all the information about a given product or service in one easy-to-access place.
  8. Personalize interactions
    Provide a personalized, 1:1 experience that customers have come to expect.
  9. Offer value-add services
    Can you provide extra services that add value to my purchase, such as removing any repetitive or manual processes?

A distributor’s ability to keep abreast of evolving customer desires and continuously add value to meet or exceed expectations is critical.

Factors influencing B2B buying decisions

When McKinsey recently compared survey results of 300 distributor customers and suppliers to understand the importance of value-added activities in the supply chain, the results spoke for themselves. Above all else, responders from both distributor customers and suppliers shared that product range and availability are critical factors when making B2B buying decisions.

“Above all else, product range and availability are key factors for B2B buying decisions.”


McKinsey:  The coming shakeout in industrial distribution

Customers rated customer service, relationship with a sales rep, quick delivery, and pricing as “high importance” when making purchase decisions. Suppliers ranked client relationships, a quality e-commerce platform, and logistics highly when choosing a wholesale distributor partner.

Notably absent from the top 10 list are the more traditional differentiators, such as incentive programs, order automation, and reverse logistics abilities. It appears that these standbys now play less of a role in B2B buying decisions.

Distributors who fail to reimagine their differentiators to best meet the needs of today’s sophisticated and data-armed customer will continue to drive away business for the likes of Amazon and Alibaba, and likely be cut out of the value chain.

3 ways to enhance your B2B customer experience strategy

Applying lessons learned from the marshmallow experiment and subsequent research about qualities driving today’s customer experience, here are three areas wholesale distributors should consider investing to realign the way they engage with customers and become valued partners:

  1. Provide a bottomless supply: Customers are demanding a wider range of products with a shorter delivery time and more delivery options. Offering a complete catalog of goods with a bottomless supply will ensure your customers keep coming back for more.
  2. Enable agile customer interactions: Customers are looking to distributors to collaborate and provide complete solutions for their specific business needs. Enable your customer service and sales professionals to personalize interactions by recommending anticipated products or value-added services and build relationships that will last a lifetime.
  3. Offer value-centric pricing: Customers have ample data at their fingertips to compare apples-to-apples products when it comes to pricing.  Make it easy for your customers to consume pricing information using the channel they prefer and offer buyer-friendly payment terms or financing to help make the decision even easier.

To thrive as a wholesale distributor today, you need to be in tune with the customer behaviors and preferences driving bottom-line performance. Happy customers lead to increased sales and margin growth, increased loyalty and retention, and increased share of wallet. All in, it may be worth throwing your customer a marshmallow or two.

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