The way companies do business has shifted dramatically as a result of the pandemic, and there’s every reason to believe that whatever the “new normal” is, buyer habits and preferences won’t be returning to how things were before.
In a recent study we conducted examining how the pandemic shifted B2B buyer preferences, we found that 37 percent of businesses are primarily purchasing through digital channels. This is up from 29 percent prior to the outbreak and is expected to continue to rise to 40 percent post-pandemic.
So how do you keep track of changing customer desires, especially when sitting down face-to-face is figuratively, and literally, off the table?
[ Are you making the right decisions for your customers and employees? Read How to rethink customer and employee experience: 4 strategies. ]
Here are three critical strategies your business can adopt to make sure that when things move for your customers, you’re not only aware of it, but able to anticipate and be there ahead of them.
1. Get to know your customers
The first step is the most obvious, but it is often overlooked. Ask yourself and your teams: How well do we really know our customers?
Start with creating a good buyer persona. This will enable anyone who creates content (or products) for that audience to understand who they are, what they care about, and why they would want your product. While there are plenty of third-party tools and advice out there for persona creation, no tool will help if your marketing, sales, and product management teams don’t actually create a persona and update it on a regular basis.
Most critically, any persona must reflect two key points. Remember that your customer has their own objectives and needs. Beyond their employer, what matters to them? Customers generally operate within a large collaborative team with many departments, so mapping those interactions on a regular basis will enable you to better understand what’s driving decisions and to stay ahead of changing priorities.
For example, in the past, the security and governance team may have been relatively uninvolved in the decision-making process. New legislation could mean that your product is suddenly on this team’s radar – and missing that change (and the associated new scrutiny it invites) could be disastrous for your product.
[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]
2. Stay ahead of customer needs
You have an active role in helping your customer meet their needs, which brings us to the next important step: Focus on responding quickly to changes in their world and the things they care about.
Our study indicated that 70 percent of buyers are looking at changing vendors, and the most pressing problems they cited were a lack of competitive pricing (40 percent), supply availability (39 percent), and a better digital purchasing experience (35 percent). Simply put, the vendor was not able to respond to changes in the buyer’s expectations.
What your customers want and need from you has probably already changed as a result of the upheaval in every global market. So re-evaluate what matters to your customers now – whether it’s through conducting a customer survey, offering 1:1 support with video calls, hosting a webinar including a customer Q&A, or other methods to engage directly with customers and hear feedback. This way, your customers will feel heard and you can pivot to meet their needs so that they don’t look elsewhere for a better solution.
3. Engage with customers the way they want
Once you understand your customer clearly and can respond in an agile way to their changing needs, it’s important to make sure you can engage with them the way they want to be engaged with, both now and in the future.
The explosive shift to e-commerce has changed the relationship between customers and sellers. Customers are driving the buying process more than ever before, yet they still have needs and preferences for how they buy. While they want to increasingly source and purchase goods through digital channels, they also still want the option to speak with an informed and knowledgeable salesperson.
Think about the unique expertise you can offer to your customers that they wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere. Without being able to meet with customers face-to-face, you must be able to adjust by offering your insight in other ways that foster trusting partnerships despite the new virtual world of business.
For example, at PROS we have been offering free pricing management consulting – advice that was essential to businesses dealing with rapid and unusual disruption to demand in their markets for the first time. By being able to offer value and consulting to both customers and non-customers, we’ve been able to help build trust and awareness that ultimately delivers long-term value for our business too.
Businesses must be able to effectively integrate human interactions with digital experiences, especially in COVID’s new normal; those that don’t risk losing to competitors that can. Bringing these three steps together will create a rich landscape of customer insights that you can use to better understand what your buyers care about now. You can then deliver the offers they want today and anticipate their needs for tomorrow, which will place you well ahead of your competitors.
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