In a 2022 survey, McKinsey found that B2B customer loyalty is fragile. Customers are jumping to partners that offer them fast, easy, omnichannel buying and customer service experiences. 

In this survey, when asked their priorities, B2B buyers’ key wants were highly focused on digital experiences:

  • 74% product availability shown online
  • 72% real-time/always-on customer service
  • 72% ability to purchase from any channel
  • 72% consistent experience across channels
  • 68% prices available online without negotiation
  • 65% ability to easily order via mobile phone

Your customers are seeking out partners that make their work life easier. They want to be able to manage a lot of the research and buying process independently, and they want to reach a human as soon as possible. McKinsey defines new customer expectations as a “rule of thirds” - a mix of digital self-service (websites, apps, chatbots), remote/virtual human interactions (phone call, email, virtual meetings) , and traditional (in-person meetings, fax, direct mail). In the most current reporting (December, 2021), B2B buyers were pretty evenly divided between these three approaches. 

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How can you influence these three ways of interacting? As a marketing leader, your goal is to make every touchpoint with your brand as positive and consistent as possible. In this increasingly omnichannel world, how do you manage this?


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From a branding perspective, this means that ensuring that style guide and brand guidelines are applied in all of your experiences. How are you meeting and exceeding customer expectations? 

Digital Self-Service Checklist

How complete are your digital self-service offerings? Assess this by looking at the list below and asking whether your partners can perform the following tasks independently, online, and without associate intervention:

  • Discover your website online (SEO, digital advertising, social media)
  • Access your website on desktop or mobile (website, apps)
  • Research, build a cart, and place their order online
  • Find detailed product information (e.g. specs, product and price comparisons, CAD drawings, PDFs)
  • Create a quick order
  • Save a cart, and send a cart for approval
  • Manage billing, shipping, and invoicing
  • Return, refund, or re-order past orders
  • Create users and manage different user groups, access, and purchasing capabilities
  • Build a quote, send it for approval, view submitted quotes, and approve quotes
  • Interact with online chat and chatbots
  • See inventory, availability, and time to ship
  • See order history, quick reorder, and view invoices
  • Create and manage subscriptions and payments
  • Manage returns, refunds, and replacements
  • Buy physical and virtual products
  • Schedule, reschedule, and cancel services

Are these experiences branded and consistent? Do they elevate your brand?  Are the following rules adhered to:

  • The digital experience is accessible, meaning it meets, or exceeds, common accessibility standards defined through the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or the government's Section 508 standards? Is it accessible to those with permanent (e.g. loss of vision) and temporary disabilities (e.g. traumatic injury)?
  • Are your digital properties easy to use? If your site is intended to promote eCommerce purchases, does it do it? If your app is designed for quick research, do you have robust search?
  • The design and content experience is consistent; for example:
    • Fonts, colors, and logos are consistent in all digital touchpoints, regardless of the device or application.
    • Buttons are simple, similar, and in the same position.
    • The navigation is universal (or consistently customized for the user).
    • The voice and tone is aligned with your brand, relatable, understandable, and at a reading level that matches your target audience.

Remote Human Interactions Checklist:

McKinsey defines “remote human interactions” as covering the virtual engagements between your customers and your marketing and sales activities. This includes:

  • Phone calls
  • Video conference calls
  • Emails
  • Online chat
  • Social media messaging
  • SMS/text messaging

Branding can become difficult to control as rogue salespeople modify presentations and marketers experiment with email messaging, but there are guidelines you can develop to help ensure these remote experiences align with your overall brand experience. 

Have you developed the following?

  • Scripting for boilerplate messaging for phone calls and messages
  • Branded backgrounds, waiting room settings, calendar messaging, and user profiles for video conferencing
  • Branded presentations for consistent remote presentations
  • Branded email templates for marketing messaging
  • Scripted sales templates for sales outreach via email or social media messaging
  • Guidelines for SMS/text messaging

Traditional Interactions Checklist:

Looking back to the quote from 1977 that this white paper opened with: traditional methods are still a significant part of your buyers’ sales process, and include:

  • In-person meetings
  • Direct mail
  • Fax
  • Catalogs
  • Print advertising, circulars
  • Swag/merchandise

Historically, manufacturer marketing budgets were heavily weighted to these traditional forms of customer acquisition and engagement. In your organization, your catalog and circulars may be the data and design source for your digital experience. The legacy of your brand may live in these systems, which is likely technically a headache for your digitization programs, but this can also be the historical, valuable, and differentiated brand experiences your customers and prospects know you by. 

You can keep brand consistency through:

  • Branded meeting materials (folders, pens, stationary) as well as templated presentations
  • Consistent branding (font, colors, logos) in your printed materials, swag, and merchandise
  • Branded fax confirmation receipts, eFax options

If you’ve ever driven by a Sherwin-Williams truck, you may have noticed something. On the back of each is a logo of an earth being covered in red paint. No right-minded focus group would approve this logo, asit’s almost shockingly anti-environmental looking. And that’s because it was developed at the turn of the 20th century. That the brand has kept it is an interesting choice. The logo is easily recognizable as not of this time, and in a way that is kind of exciting and rule-breaking. Sherwin-Williams strayed away from this “red paint covering the globe” logo in the mid-1970s, and then returned to it in the 1980s.

Sherwin-Williams truck blog graphic

We write this to encourage you to find the gems within your brands catalogs, print materials, and old logos. See how they can be translated into your remote and digital experiences as well.

Assessing the Need 

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Risks

Partners are doing more business elsewhere.
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Challenges for Change

As a marketer, you now have responsibility (and influence) into more channels for experiencing your brand. Keeping the experience customer-focused and consistent requires an upfront and ongoing commitment to understanding your customer and designing their experience.
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Opportunities

Knowing that your customers and prospects are using three core approaches (digital, remote human, and traditional), you can leverage journey mapping to understand their methods, uncover roadblocks, and discover chances to make your business as easy and pleasurable to work with as possible. Creating a holistic style guide for both digital and print helps you refine and control your digital experience. From logo usage, to colors, fonts, boilerplate, and scripting, marketing is uniquely positioned to articulate and influence the brand experience in every touchpoint. Done well, this makes your creative team work more cohesively and efficiently, and enables your sales team to quickly pick up on-message scripts and templates.
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Considerations

  • For these three approaches (digital, remote human, and traditional) what does white-glove service look like?
  • Where are there opportunities to elevate the brand experience?
  • Where does your team need better tooling, more training, or more resources to meet your customers’ expectations?
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Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

  • Customer retention
  • Market share
  • Digital self-service adoption
  • Revenue, margin, retention, and acquisition by approach (digital, remote human, and traditional)

About the Author

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Sarah Falcon

VP, Marketing Global

Sarah is a nimble and creative marketing leader with 15 years of experience in a mix of agencies, B2B, and B2C enterprises. She brings a background in building and driving impactful marketing practices and processes for growing businesses. Sarah has expertise in brand, content marketing, lead generation, and marketing operations. She’s a co-author of the 2019 book on B2B eCommerce Digital Branch Secrets: eCommerce Playbook for Distributors.

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