A global study released by Accenture Interactive at the annual B2B Online conference highlights the urgency for B2B leaders to combine a human-centred approach to sales with investments in digital tools to improve the service experience for customers and achieve lasting growth.
The study titled Service is the New Sales, surveyed 748 B2B buyers and 1,499 B2B sellers across 10 countries and 16 industries. It isolated B2B leaders from the laggards via weighted responses given to 12 questions across three key pillars of B2B transformation (organisational strategy, activities, and infrastructure) to distinguish between organisations leading the way and those falling behind.
“Today’s B2B leaders are struggling with how to effectively integrate human interactions with digital experiences that enhance customer service,” said Glen Hartman, head of Accenture Interactive, North America and global digital marketing lead. “Our study identifies prescriptive steps for B2B sellers to drive lasting growth by embracing service as a top priority, resulting in higher buyer satisfaction and longer term, more loyal relationships.”
The challenge: A growing rift between buyers and sellers
There’s increasing dissatisfaction among buyers in the B2B space; in fact, 80% of frequent buyers report that they will have switched suppliers at least once within 24 months. The study highlights several reasons for this growing frustration, including:
- Not meeting buyers’ needs: To survive in the digital ecosystem, some B2B sellers have focused on digital upgrades only to find themselves disconnected from meaningful dialogue with long-time customers. Conversely, other sellers remained focused on traditional sales cycles, without making the digital investments critical to modern commerce. The study finds that for the leaders, this is an “and,” not an “or.”
- Failing to marry technology and human interaction: With so much focus on scaling up digital platforms, it appears that the high-touch, relationship-driven side of the business has taken a backseat in B2B space. The laggard sellers in this survey were more likely (62%) than those with a service mindset (48%) to invest in sales plays that lacked salesperson support.
- Organisational disconnect: The majority of laggard sellers (69%) identify ‘cultural resistance to change at the board level’ as their primary challenge, while leaders are over four times more likely to have complete senior stakeholder buy-in for digitally-enabled customer service efforts.
The Opportunity: Connected Experiences, Better Service
B2B organisations that are embracing a higher standard of service have an opportunity to transform their businesses and overall buyer experience through intelligent, personalised interactions and a strong focus on shared success. The study finds that leaders taking a service-over-sales approach are already benefitting from their efforts, with 96% reporting higher profitability and 97% reporting increased market share.
The three key steps every B2B organisation can take to capitalise on this opportunity and reap the benefits seen by today’s B2B leaders are:
- Step 1 – Leverage technology to unlock powerful data: Technology is most effective where it makes brands more human. Leaders who adopt a service mindset are more likely (51%) than laggards (32%) to employ new technology platforms to overcome service barriers and twice as likely to have centralised and regularly updated data sets that inform all service channels and conversations, personalising offerings and improving engagement
- Step 2 – Assemble a digital-human dream team: Digital tools and human interaction must work in harmony if a B2B business wants to be successful today. The study found leaders place high levels of importance on facilitating a two-way dialogue with customers. This includes prioritising digital tools like chatbots and augmented reality, as well as human-centric efforts such as field sales representatives and call centre teams.
- Step 3 – Start change from within: Uniting digital tools and human talent to serve customers and instilling a customer service mindset requires internal change. Leaders are more than twice as likely as laggards to have fully integrated marketing functions across channels (48% vs.19%) and are more likely to have partially or fully integrated their sales and marketing teams to collaborate on most objectives.
“Our findings highlight a clear misalignment between buyers’ needs and sellers’ offerings, which requires both technology and the human touch,” said Jason Michaels, managing director and B2B marketing lead at Accenture Interactive. “To succeed in today’s B2B ecosystem, sellers must invest in both digital and service-oriented customer experiences that will help drive powerful outcomes for themselves and their buyers.”