A recent survey of 2000 executives about their 2022 priorities by SuperOffice showed growing momentum for a powerful trend in B2B (Business to Business) marketing.  The #1 priority of executives was not improving price and product quality; nor was it about improving pricing and margins.  The #1 priority for surveyed executives in the coming year?  Improving the customer experience (“CX”) — which is defined as everything that affects a customer’s feelings and perceptions of a business.   

This is not all that surprising.  We have long known that Millennials value experiences over “things”, and this is just further evidence of the Millennial generation’s growing influence.  

But how does one go about improving the customer experience in B2B markets that are generally more complicated than those of B2C companies?  B2B CX can be very intimidating due to its multi-layered value chains and a large array of stakeholders. 

If You Read This McKinsey Report, You Might Go in the Wrong Direction

And if you studied a recent McKinsey analysis on improving the B2B customer experience,  you might become genuinely overwhelmed.  McKinsey says that B2B buyers want your company to recognize them across up to 7 different communication, interaction, and sales channels.  We are sure the report is right; B2B buyers have growing expectations that are shaped by their own B2C (Business to Consumer) customer experiences. 

If you read McKinsey’s report, you might immediately head towards your IT department to figure out how to join up the 7+ channels highlighted.  Watch out.  You would also be going right past some “lower hanging fruit” that is ruining the customer experience for most multi-divisional B2Bs.

While you are trying to change your company technological infrastructure to join up interaction channels, your different divisional sales reps still pass each other in the parking lot on the way to call on the same customer! 

Each sakes rep delivers an uncoordinated sales pitch.  Meanwhile, buyers want you to save them time by coordinating the pitch, and leverage what each division knows about them independently to make smarter recommendations.  

Working on your technological infrastructure without solving this customer experience issue first is like an airline with a safety problem focusing on improving its meal service.  You must fix the safety issue before anyone cares about your fancy food. 

This fundamental B2B CX issue is relevant because live and virtual sales will continue to be an important part of the B2B customer experience for a long time to come.  B2B sellers that figure out how to coordinate the sales experience across divisions will reap huge rewards with contemporary buyers.

The Book That Proved B2B Customers Want a More Coordinated Sales Experience

Columbia Business School professor Larry Selden proved the financial benefits of a joined-up approach to a company’s cross-divisional customers.  In his book Angel Customers, Demon Customers, he studied the financial performance of the few companies that were coordinated in this way vs. the many that weren’t.  It wasn’t even close.

Customers vote with their budgets, and the coordinated group of B2Bs outperformed their competitors by a wide margin.  And why not?  Customers see no point in educating your different divisions separately about their needs.   Additionally, how many opportunities do you miss by not sharing what each division already knows about a shared customer? 

It’s the combination of these factors that make this coordinated experience opportunity so compelling.  But if you are not yet convinced that this is necessary, let’s look at another way that this problem is presenting itself.

Is Your Loss of Share to Smaller Competitors Due to This Problem?

Many multi-divisional B2B companies report loss of share to new, smaller competitors.  They attribute this to the sheer number of new companies entering their space.  It’s inevitable, they say.

But many of our clients, when they peel back the onion, realize that these smaller competitors are delivering a more coordinated cross-product approach.  Could this be a hidden reason for declining share?

“It’s easier for these smaller customers to integrate” bigger companies tell us, and they are right.  The tragedy is that larger, multi-division firms have more to offer customers across a broader range of product and services than these smaller rivals. 

Attacking this B2B coordination problem is a higher priority than completely focusing on your digital and technological infrastructure.  We want to provide some steps to get you there.  Additionally, at the end of this article, we’ll show you how solving this coordination problem actually helps fix your technical infrastructure.

Coordinating Your Cross-Divisional Customer Experience:  The Strategy Piece

Companies that successfully coordinate across divisions start with a strategic frame to view their shared customers.   That frame should be a needs-based segmentation approach.

Working together, divisions should define 4-5 segments according to the different ways customers make money or create competitive advantage in their markets, etc.  There are literally thousands of ways to segment customers in this way; the important thing is that all participating divisions are equally involved in defining the segment approach.

From here, the divisions can begin a negotiation on how to approach joint customers with a coordinated pitch.  

This isn’t easy but it is the easiest part of the transformation (see below for the harder parts!).  However, when this segmentation is established, we’ve observed rival divisions actually brokering/negotiating agreement on a coordinated approach to shared customers for the first time ever.  This cooperation will continue if the other pieces of the initiative are in place.

Why Well-Intentioned Divisions Often Sabotage This Approach:  The Incentives Piece

If you are an executive who has tried and failed to get your divisions to cooperate in the past, you likely remember lots of head-nodding in the conceptual phase.  Who is going to say they don’t want to be a team player?  But when it comes time to execute, it all falls apart.  Cooperation doesn’t happen, and divisions become even more competitive with each other.  Here’s what happens.

The kick-off meetings go well.  The opening agenda item is usually a motivating speech from the CEO on why this approach will benefit all internal and external stakeholders.  From the CEOs perspective, the body language in the room is all positive.

However, early in the initiative, a well-intentioned division takes a back seat to another division on a project.  They feel that they could have sold more to the shared customer at the time, but they do the right thing for the team; and the customer is happy.

Then it comes time for the cooperating division’s internal financial review.  Gone are the mentions of “team play” from the executive team delivering the review.  Their entire focus is on why that division hasn’t done better individually.  Given this, should there be any confusion over why that division no longer cooperates with other divisions for the benefit of the customer?  Once bitten, twice shy!

We’ve observed — without surprise — the exasperation of CEOs when little to no progress is made on cross-divisional cooperation.  But the executive missed the part about creating governance, incentives and rewards that motivate divisions to do the right thing for the customer long-term.

Why You Have to Start Small and Create the Proper Governance

Finding incentives that motivate cross-divisional cooperation isn’t easy under your company’s current organizational alignment.  They weren’t designed to incent this type of activity.  Still, you can’t reorganize the company based on faith alone. The new cooperative approach must prove it’s worth first. 

The best approach is to start small and develop the proper CX “recipe”, including the right internal incentives, before re-aligning in ways that support customer-centric behavior naturally.  Pick two divisions with 1-2 shared customers and build a pilot project, complete with a segmentation approach and “experimental” shared metrics and incentives.

Learn what works, and then modify and expand the experiment to include different customers and more divisions.  You’ll gain momentum but will also have to watch out for another pitfall.

Eventually, division executives who are more protective of their organizational power than in doing the right thing for the customer will see the inevitable: a silo-busting reorganization will be a logical result of this initiative.  This will give them another reason to stop cooperating.

Can you blame them?  They still don’t know where this experiment is going.  They don’t want to fall on their sword prematurely. 

This is why an above-division executive has to be put in charge of the cross-divisional initiative.  Not only can these executives “safely” lead without fear of obsoleting themselves; they can also re-assure cooperating divisional executives of their place in the eventual new, more customer-centric organization of the future.   Be sure you reward the team players early and often.

More Benefits of Improving the Cross-Divisional B2B Customer Experience

Even though you should put your initial CX emphasis on this more fundamental aspect of the B2B customer experience, you will still have to improve your IT infrastructure in joining up the “McKinsey 7” customer touchpoints. 

The good news is that what we’ve describe in this article will also inform your IT infrastructure development.  Through working with you across your divisions, customers will show you how they want to navigate your digital content more holistically.  They will teach you about the broader based problems they are trying to solve which will further help inform your CX technical architecture.  

So now is the time to get started.  Cross-divisional cooperation won’t be easy — there are some real internal issues that must be dealt with.  But customers want this type of coordinated behavior from someone.  Just ask them.  The companies that do it will be successful in building a broadened scope of engagement with customers that will lead to longer-term relationships.

What’s not to like about that?  It’s time to stop accepting your divisional reps passing each other in customer’s parking lots (or Zoom waiting rooms).  Make cross-divisional cooperation the immediate focus of your B2B customer experience improvement program and you will win big while also learning how to design a great B2B customer digital experience. 

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