CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
January 18, 2020
Forward Thinking

Study finds disconnect in B2B buyer-seller relationship

B2B buyers are growing increasingly frustrated as sellers miss the mark when it comes to blending digital goals with the customer experience.

Buyers are growing increasingly frustrated with the business-to-business (B2B) buying experience, according to a recent survey from digital advertising and marketing agency Accenture Interactive, released this week. 

The study of more than 2,000 B2B buyers and sellers revealed that most buyers have switched suppliers at least once in a 24-month period and that improving the customer experience is a major opportunity for sellers looking to regain ground.

"Today's B2B leaders are struggling with how to effectively integrate human interactions with digital experiences that enhance customer service," Glen Hartman, head of Accenture Interactive North America and global digital marketing lead said in a statement announcing the findings. "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."

According to the study, 80% of frequent buyers have switched suppliers at least once in a 24-month period, primarily due to a lack of attention to their needs and a failure to connect digital strategies with the human side of the buyer-supplier relationship. For example, the study found that many sellers have focused on digital upgrades only to find themselves "disconnected from meaningful dialogues with long-time customers," the authors wrote. On the flip side, sellers that have remained focused on traditional sales cycles are behind the curve when it comes to digital investments. 

The best companies balance these two investments, the researchers said. 

The bottom line? Companies that are embracing a higher standard of service are making big strides in the B2B world. For example, the study found that companies taking a "service-over-sales" approach are experiencing higher profitability and increased market share. The authors offered three steps B2B companies can take to capitalize on this service opportunity: 

  1. Leverage technology to unlock powerful data. Technology is most effective where it makes brands more human, the authors said. 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 centralized and regularly updated data sets that inform all service channels and conversations, personalizing offerings and improving engagement.
  2. Assemble a digital-human dream team. Digital tools and human interaction must work in harmony if a B2B company wants to be successful today, the authors said. The study found leaders place high levels of importance on facilitating a two-way dialogue with customers. This includes prioritizing digital tools like chatbots and augmented reality, as well as human-centric efforts such as field sales representatives and call center teams.
  3. Start change from within. Uniting digital tools and human talent to serve customers and instilling a customer service mindset requires internal change, according to the study. 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," according to 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 for their buyers."

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