The most important element for increasing leads and sales

Recent articles have proclaimed the “consumerization’ of all things business, most notably of B2B marketing, IT, and sales. David Edelman, a McKinsey consultant, has described consumerization and B2B sales and marketing as a “massive disruptor” that is on the horizon.

It’s important to take a step back and ask what “consumerization,” in the context of business, means exactly. What are B2B professionals trying to mimic in terms of consumer marketing and selling?

The suggestion was not that software vendors run print ads in Vogue or that machine-tool manufacturers invest in flashy TV commercials for The Golf Channel.

On closer inspection, the move towards consumerization appears to be a simple matter of embracing a key concept that B2C brands have long sought: minimizing friction in the buying and promotion process.

Minimizing friction is the reason why consumer products are sold in single-serving microwavable containers. It’s also why gas pumps come with credit card readers. It also explains how convenience stores thrive within a few blocks of the closest supermarket, even though their prices are higher.

Amazon’s 1-Click order is arguably the best way to ensure frictionless consumer commerce. After a visitor to the site has filled out their online shopping cart, Amazon will know the preferred payment method, credit card information, shipping address, and even the preferred shipping mode. There is no comparison with a typical B2B transaction.

Amazon is beginning to have a profound impact on B2B buying. In the last year, almost half of B2B customers purchased business products from Amazon Supply. This is because their usual suppliers do not offer online purchasing channels.

Businesses that want to survive this “massive disruption” will need to compete with Amazon in ways other than price. They may offer flexible payment options, volume discounts, product expertise, or value-added services. As other online retailers have discovered, Amazon’s challenge will be greater for low-value commodities.

Friction can take many forms, even outside of online purchases. Even though many complex, high-value B2B products are not suitable for online purchasing, vendors will still strive to reduce friction to increase competitiveness.

These are some of the sources of friction.

Sales and Marketing Friction

  • Low visibility online More than 90% of B2B sales begin with online research. Maximizing the online presence of B2B vendors is essential. Business buyers will not buy vendors with low visibility on search engines and social networks.
  • Lack of or hard-to-find content. B2B sites need to offer different information types based on buyer personas and specific topics or concerns. Each member of a buying committee has their own questions and information requirements. When such information is not readily available or difficult to locate on the vendor’s website, friction is likely to arise.
  • Mixed message. When, as your grandmother might have said, “the left-hand doesn’t understand what the right-hand is doing,” friction occurs. If prospects receive inconsistent or different messages and answers from employees within your company, they are less likely to purchase. Social media has made virtually all employees “client-facing.” To avoid such confusion, it is important to have strong leadership at the top and implement effective training. You can also use internal social communication tools like Chatter or Yammer.
  • A high initial price. Often, it’s easier to sell customers a basic offering at a lower price and then add features later than to sell them a full-featured system that is expensive right away. This reduces the risk to the buyer while also reducing costs. This is how many subscription-based software products are sold today. Many vendors offer a “freemium” or “free but with added features” model. Customers can sign up for a low-volume, stripped-down service and then upgrade later to a higher-volume, more-functional fee-based service.

Customer service Friction

  • Limited contact information. A “contact us” button should be one of the most prominent items on every page of a B2B website, and the contact page should include physical/mailing addresses, fax and phone numbers, email addresses (or addresses–preferably multiple, by department), and social media accounts. You might also consider an online chat feature (but only if the visitor initiates it and it is not a pop-up). Reduce friction by making sure that prospective buyers can contact you using their preferred method.
  • Inability to respond to questions More than 81% of Twitter users expect brands to respond to tweets within 24 hours, yet many B2B suppliers fail to meet this standard. This is a huge missed opportunity. 71% of buyers say that a prompt response from a brand on social media will make them more likely to recommend the brand to others. The response time is important regardless of communication channels (social media, email, telephone, etc.). Responding quickly increases confidence in your business. Slow responses create friction.
  • Automated telephone answering systems. Although efficient and convenient for vendors, these computerized systems can be annoying to all callers. Instead, provide both the main contact number and department-specific numbers. An actual person on the other side of the phone can both be a powerful difference-maker and reduce friction.

Product and Service Fraction

  • Partial Solutions The ease of buying a complete product (e.g., software, equipment, and installation services) from one supplier (also known as “one-stop shopping”) reduces friction. All-in-one sites like Kayak, Orbitz Expedia TravelZoo, and Travelocity, which combine travel services, are very popular. Friction increases when the buyer has to put together a solution by combining multiple vendors. B2B vendors can solve this problem by building, purchasing, or bundling to create and support an entire product.
  • Complex implementation. Expert on-site installation is required for certain products (e.g., machine tools, conveyor systems); however, “products” can be delivered online. Cloud computing is the delivery of a server via the internet. Growth rates are projected to be 26% per year through 2016. Software is increasingly delivered as a software service with integrated consulting. This model is almost universal in the market for marketing automation software.
  • Business interruption. A purchase causes less disruption of business activities, and therefore, less support or assistance from other departments, such as IT, will be required. Software vendors increasingly deliver their applications online, including pre-built connectors for popular software suites.
  • Use of complexity While many B2B product areas, such as technology and communications, industrial automation, and transportation, are complex by necessity, this does not mean that they must be difficult to operate. A modern automobile, while a complex machine, can be operated by a teenager who has little training. A better example is that most of us only have a basic understanding of how a smartphone works, but any grade-schooler with a moderate amount of intelligence can operate one. B2B products need to be as complex as necessary but also as easy to use as they can be.

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