Welcome To The World Of Business-To-Everyone

Has the death of a salesman become a reality? It wasn't long ago when purchasing decision-makers relied solely on sales contacts to learn about the new products and services they were considering buying for their companies. But today, thanks to the rise of mobile and social technology, the days of relying exclusively on a sales team are behind business shoppers. B2B buyers, like B2C shoppers in a mall or online, now have a wealth of information right at their fingertips. So how are enterprise buyers utilizing these new channels?

I spoke with Florin Rotar, the chief technology innovation officer at Avanade, about a global study he commissioned on this topic. The research involving 1,000 C-level executives, business unit leaders and IT decision makers looked into the impact that new technologies are having on B2B shopping behavior. We're well aware that consumers are exploring social networks and online expert reviews to inform purchasing decisions, but are B2B buyers following suit? Florin's study came back with a resounding yes.

According to the research, B2B buyers are now mimicking consumers when they make business purchases. And more information from a wider variety of sources means the relationship between B2B buyers and sellers is shifting beyond the reach of a company's salesforce. In fact, Avanade's research showed 61 percent of business decision-makers 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. But that's not the only surprise to come from the global study.

Customer Experience is King
For years, the price of a product or service was one of the most important factors when making a purchase. But this new research found that there's another compelling reason fueling purchase decisions in business - the customer experience. Customers report that they are willing to pay up to 30 percent more for a superior customer experience.

Taking the Human out of Interactions
Avanade's research revealed that seven out of 10 executives believe that technology will mostly replace human interaction with customers in the next decade. That doesn't necessarily mean we'll soon interact with robots and computers instead of a vendor's sales team. However, it does mean that businesses are seeing huge promise in mobile sales channels, automated sales processes and more digital self-service options. This also means IT will play an ever-greater role in the sales and customer support processes. Currently, 83 percent of businesses say departments such as IT, marketing and manufacturing now play larger roles in directly managing customer experiences than they did three years ago.

What does this mean for B2B sellers?
While technology is the catalyst for these changes, it's also seen as the solution. Sellers need to put a renewed focus on improving customer experience by modifying existing sales processes and organizational roles, while making a stronger investment in technology. The good news for customers, a majority of companies recognize that this shift needs to happen. According to a previous Avanade survey, 70 percent of companies have changed at least one business process to capitalize on the rise of mobility and consumer technologies at work. Companies are also making the necessary technology investments and organizational changes - they are investing in customer sales and support technologies (44 percent), expanding the number of employees interacting with customers (40 percent) and building greater automation into the sales process (32 percent). Encouragingly, businesses that have incorporated new technologies and processes are already seeing big benefits especially in the areas of increased customer base, loyalty and revenue.

It's now B-to-Everyone
As enterprise buyers prioritize premium customer experiences through the lifetime of a product or service, sellers need to keep the customer top-of-mind. The barriers between the business and consumer no longer exist, and negative reviews of customer experiences can go viral very quickly. Mick Slattery, a colleague of Florin's at Avanade, sums it up nicely: "Businesses have lost control of the sales process, and B2B and B2C buying models are merging. It's no longer business-to-business or business-to-consumer. It's business-to-everyone. Those businesses that understand the nature of today's complicated customer relationships are creating longer-term and more lucrative relationships with customers."

Avanade's research shows that not all businesses are catching on to this trend. Some are ill-equipped to navigate this new customer journey. It is imperative that businesses take a critical look at the current experience they are providing customers and drive improvements. Ultimately if a customer isn't receiving a positive experience from your company, they'll find someone else who can deliver it better.

If you are interested in learning more about the new customer journey, you can dig into the full results from Avanade's research.