McKinsey reported earlier this year that two-thirds of businesses surveyed said digital engagement of customers was among their top strategic priorities for 2019. No question, I’m seeing that first hand in my B2B marketing recruitment practice. Five years ago, calls and emails from B2B’ers accounted for maybe one quarter of my searches. Today, fully one-half of my practice is B2B, and there have been brief periods this year when it reached as much as three-quarters or more. B2B marketing continues to be the fastest growing segment in the digital landscape.
B2B Customer Engagement Remains Sub-Par
According to Gallup, only 29% of B2B customers are engaged with the companies they do business with. As we all know, the B2B buying process has been turned upside down. What was once a relatively simple linear practice is now a complex buyer “journey,” and it takes a different kind of expert to convert these leads into sales. My number one search right now is with a food manufacturer that has come to a stark realization: Either we get better at making it easier for our customers to do e-business with us, or our competitors will do it for us. What was also significant was a comment made by the global head of marketing, who stated that many of their buyers are Millennials. “They consume personal products and services online,” he went on, “and they’re telling us that this how they prefer to conduct business.”
What’s interesting is that this push didn’t come from just the CIO to whom this position reports. It came out of a series of meetings at the highest levels of the company’s executive branch, spearheaded by the CEO himself who declared that delivering a subpar customer experience was no longer an option. They’ve already been transacting online for many years so we’re not talking about a seismic cultural shift here, but this particular manufacturer takes product to market through thousands of distributors, dealers and wholesalers, not to mention their own sales force and also some direct to end-user. In this environment, managing customer engagement is truly multi-dimensional.
What an exciting challenge!
I’ve heard many B2B hiring managers give example after example of how online customer experience is cumbersome and inefficient. Lack of speed and visibility is huge. Post-sale customer service is sub-par. No fault of anyone’s really because more often than not, in large B2B marketing enterprises that responsibility often falls under IT. Customer engagement, of course, is an art and science all of its own. Account based B2B marketing also requires it’s own special set of skills.
Using the example of the search I am working on currently- Director of Ecommerce and Digital Transformation as we’re titling it- this will report directly to the CIO, putting this position on par with his other IT department heads. By extracting this function from software developers and systems integrators, and putting it in the hands of an expert who’s done it before in a similar business environment and who knows how to lead internal change, customer centricity can truly prosper.