The Internet of Customers: Technology and the B2B Customer Journey

Reading a recent blog post by one of our partners, NetSuite, I came across a very interesting point about how drastically marketing has changed in recent years:

“[T]he last five years have seen the rise of the era of integrated marketing, during which buyer behavior has been reshaped by the Internet. Buyers have changed the way they do their sourcing of information.”

– Kathy Contreras, research director SiriusDecisions

As consumers, we’ve all seen this: we “showroom,” or check our smartphones for more information on a product or service while in a brick-and-mortar store. We’re constantly sourcing as much information as possible on everything we buy while we’re in the middle of the shopping and buying process. We check a company’s website, use their chat client to ask about product details, and do a search for reviews. Detailed, intensive consumer research used to be reserved for bigger purchases, like a home or a car, but now with the prevalence of smartphones and the Internet, determining the best value for something as insignificant as scotch tape while in the school supplies isle is now a low-cost, low-effort proposition. This is the Internet of Customers.

Internet of Customers

In the blog post, after discussing that self-guided online research has created new trends within marketing, this was the directive:

“[E]ngage buyers in multiple channels, combine online and offline tactics and deliver content marketing to where buyers are.”

This concept is described in more detail with Google’s Zero Moment of Truth, which is defined, per Google, as the tipping point the Internet plays in a buyer’s decision to buy. This is part of the reason why we offer so much free, ungated content on our website: we understand a consumer’s desire for information (we’re consumers ourselves; we get it) and we want to provide as much information as possible so the best, most-informed decision is made. Information abounds on the Internet, and making it harder to get the right information only drives people to seek it elsewhere. As such, B2B companies have a unique obligation to be a thought leader in a way that B2C companies don’t always have to. Demonstrating knowledge and application of that knowledge is an important part of building credibility.

If you’re spending a significant portion of your IT budget on a new ERP or CRM system, for example, you’ll be doing your due diligence and comparing systems and consultants. Charles Industries discussed this during their recent webinar with us: the time spent to compare systems and implementation partners was longer than to actually implement the system. But that research was vital to making sure they got the right system and right implementation partner for their needs and within their budget.

“Engagement with the customer today isn’t just pouring a message down on their head and hoping they get wet. It really is understanding that you must be present in a conversation when they want to have it, not when you want to. Pre-shopping before buying has become a huge, huge part of customer behavior.”

– Bob Thacker, Gravitytank Strategic Advisor and former CMO of OfficeMax, Zero Moment of Truth

We saw this recently—needing to be present in a conversation when the prospect wants to have it, not necessarily when we want to. A potential prospect posted on a Salesforce User Group asking for a CPQ (Configure, Price, Quote) application that worked within the Salesforce platform and one of our customers gave our company’s name and product, saying she was very happy with the product. Rather than go through a sales rep or account manager directly, the prospect was intrigued enough by the peer’s recommendation to hop on our site, look at some pages—this is the Zero Moment of Truth, after all—and then send us a chat through the chat-client on our website asking for more information. After an ensuing chat over the next few minutes, she asked for follow up via email, not the phone.

This just emphasizes the point of ZMOT and describes the Internet of Customers: consumers can now drive the conversation, and you’ve got to be willing to engage with them in the way in which they prefer to communicate. For some, that’s the phone. For others, that’s email. For others, it might be chat.

Web Chat Client

As we’ve been told, it’s not our grandmother’s B2B marketing landscape anymore. Customers are often times driving the conversation, and we need to make sure we’re meeting them where they are using the channels with which they’re comfortable.

So what does that mean for those of us in the B2B space? Make sure you’ve covering as many channels as you can to meet your customers where they are.

For example, even though we didn’t know if our audience was interested in communicating via web chat, we implemented a website chat client less than a year ago to see if it would drive additional engagement. For those customers or prospects who would prefer the immediacy of chat versus email or the phone, we made sure we were available and easily accessible. The chat platform has been easy to use and we’ve been surprised at the number (and more importantly, the quality) of conversations we’ve had through the website—sometimes for product questions from potential prospects, and sometimes as a customer service channel.

Find out where your customers are—and it’ll likely be across several channels—and meet them there. Anticipate where your customers might be; technology is fast and fluid and there are easy ways to try things and measure their success. Look into a chat client for your website. Consider ramping up your social media efforts. Make sure you’re delighting your customers, in case they’re contributing reviews or participating in discussions in user groups.

Make sure you understand the Internet of Customers.