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Why B2B Companies Must Shift Their Focus From Sales To Customers

Two coworkers high five each other.

All too often, B2B sales overshadow every other business metric – including the retention of existing customers. It’s a decent short-term strategy, but if you’re building a company for the long-term, you need lots of loyal customers. When done right, client experience can actually lessen the burden on sales teams because they don’t have to make up for lost sales on top of their annual goals.

I recently had the chance to talk with James Diel, Chief Business Development Officer at Capacity, for a new podcast called Practical AI: The Capacity for Good. Below is an edited transcript of a portion of our discussion that focused on the B2B sales cycle, how to improve the sales experience, and how to do more for existing clients.

James Diel: You’ve had a lot of experience in both B2B and B2C, given your resume of some of the companies you’ve worked with. So what are your thoughts on a common assertion that B2B customer service representatives face more complex issues than their B2C counterparts? Is that true? Then what are some of the common challenges that B2B customer agents face that might be different?

Dan Gingiss: I don’t think B2B is as different from B2C as it thinks it is. And I think one of the biggest problems is that B2Bs start with this false conclusion that ‘we’re different.’ And the reason why they’re not different is that you’re not selling to a building. You’re not selling to a logo or an enterprise. You are selling to a person. There is a buyer at the other end. There are users of your technology at the other end. And guess what? All of those people are consumers in their real life. And so they think like consumers because they are consumers.

And the truth is, whether you like it or not, if they went out last night to dinner with their significant other and had an amazing experience and everybody treated them like royalty and the food was incredible and the service was great, when they get to work the next day and they’re dealing with your company, they expect that same experience. And you may not think that’s fair. You may not want that to be, but that’s how people think. We compare every experience to the last great experience that we had. And I don’t think that consumers make a huge distinction between B2B and B2C as much as the B2B’s do themselves.

Related: B2B Customer Experience Examples: Think Like A B2C

I do think there is more complexity in B2B sales. Sometimes that is fairly earned. Sometimes that’s because we’ve made the complexity ourselves. And this is true in B2C too, right? Think about healthcare. Healthcare is incredibly complex. But I’ll argue it’s the healthcare industry’s fault that it’s that complex. It doesn’t have to be, but it just is. And that’s why we see so much focus now on patient experience.

I think B2B sales often leans into complexity because you’re dealing with technology, you’re dealing with many different use cases and customizations. And so, yes, I think it’s fair to say broadly from an agent perspective, that there probably is more complexity.

James: You have said that competing on price can be really hard to do. Typically, I think you’d call it a loser’s game. Right?

Dan: I do. It’s a loser’s game. It’s a race to the bottom.

James: Not a good way to get to the top. So how do you see the advent of the customer experience as really dominantly the thing to leverage for differentiation? How do you see that as being significant? And who are some successful people that you have seen employ the customer experience and stand out against competitors even when their price might even be a little bit more expensive, for instance?

Dan: I look at competing on price as a loser’s game because it’s a race to the bottom. Competing on a product or service is also really hard. Look, I know most B2B’s think that their product or service is unique and different from anybody else. At the end of the day, most of the time you’re doing something similar to a number of direct competitors. And so unless you have a truly, truly unique service that no one else offers, it is very difficult in the B2B space to say, we are totally different.

Related: How B2Bs Can Offer A Remarkable Client Experience

By the way, in B2B sales, if you are totally different, the challenge you’re going to run into is nobody knows they need you or you don’t know what department to go talk to because there’s no buyer for what you’re selling. 

So you take product and price out of the equation and essentially what’s left is experience. And that’s why I think it is such a differentiator, because every company can compete on experience. And one of the good things about experience is it’s generally delivered two ways. It’s delivered by technology, and it’s also delivered by your employees. No one else has your employees. So by definition, your employee base is unique. You can have a unique customer experience because it’s delivered by them. 

And so when we start to think that way and we start to think about how customer retention, customer stickiness, is so critical to success in B2B, we’ve got to make customers feel proud to be our customers. To feel like we’ve got their back. To feel like if something goes wrong, we’re going to be there immediately to fix it. To feel like when they sign a contract, they just made the best career decision of their lives. 

The back of a pickup truck with a sign saying "Our clients are our best salespeople."

Think about what happens in a B2B when we sign a new contract. Almost every company has some sort of celebration. Either it’s a Slack channel or they ring a bell or they go out for drinks or whatever it is they do. They’re celebrating the win. That’s great. The problem is the people who made that win possible, your brand new customers, are not invited to the celebration.

So let’s think about what they’re doing instead. That person’s going home that night to their significant other, and they’re going home one of two ways. They’re either going home and saying, ‘honey, I just signed a $2 million deal today. I hope this works out, because if it doesn’t, my boss is going to fire me. I am really nervous. I think I made the right decision, but I don’t know.’ 

Or they go home and they say, ‘honey, I just signed a $2 million contract today. It’s going to get me promoted because I did all the research and I found the best company out there. And I love these guys because they’ve got my back and I know that they are going to deliver what they said. And I am so confident about this decision. I feel great.’

James: That’s powerful.

Dan: Two very different experiences, right? 

James: Right. 

Dan: So unless you’re doing anything to ensure the second one’s happening, what’s likely happening is the first one. And again, not to overstate the point that your buyer is also a consumer, this is what we call in the consumer world, buyer’s remorse. Everybody has it. We go buy something big and expensive, we’re worried we made a mistake. It’s very natural.

So for B2B sales, that moment when you’re ringing the bell and you’re having that party, bring that customer into that celebration, put a literal or figurative arm around them and say, ‘you just made the best decision of your career. We’re going to help you get promoted. We’re going to be with you every step of the way.’

And I’m telling you, you’re going to make a huge difference at the very beginning of a relationship when it matters the most.

James: I love that. That is one of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard in a long time about when that sale is over, what are you doing to actually make that customer feel really good about the decision they just made? That’s powerful good stuff. 

So you have said that any company can improve the customer experience by focusing on the best asset they already have, existing customers. So one of the things, especially in the economy we’re dealing with right now, is spending slowing. How do we continue to drive expansion revenue, especially for SaaS companies, when they’re looking at how we get more revenue out of our current customers. 

Dan: If your company is like most, if you look at the amount of money that you spend on sales and marketing and you compare it to the amount of money you spend on your existing customers, there’s like no comparison. It’ll be multiple times bigger trying to acquire new customers. Now, we’ve all seen the same statistics that show that it is a whole lot cheaper to keep a customer than it is to acquire a new one, and yet we don’t put the resources behind it. And part of that is because I think there is an over-focus on what you’re calling expansion of revenue or other people call cross-selling, upselling, et cetera. 

My first focus when I have a customer come in the door is making sure that 1000%, I deliver what I promise to them. Because they’re never buying anything else from me if I don’t. So the first thing we’ve got to do is do what we said we were going to do. And if we can do it in a friendly and human way along the way and make them feel good and all that, that’s even better. 

The second thing I want to make sure is that they stay with me for more than just however many months or years; that they renew. Honestly, I don’t care if they renew for more money or for the same money. I just want them to stay. Because if I could tell you today that 100% of your new customers will stay with you forever, you’ll never worry about upselling again because you won’t have to. 

Related: What Is Customer Success and How Is It Different From Customer Experience?

Part of the reason why we end up with this massive focus not only on upselling, but on new sales is because of something that I like to call the leaky bucket. And what this is, is we’ve got customers every day that are leaving us. Why? Because we didn’t deliver what we promised or their expectations weren’t met.

Now the worst people that leave us are the ones that leave us and don’t even tell us why. They just don’t renew. And you never get an answer. You’re sitting there saying, ‘well, what do we do? Was it something we said? We had no idea.’ And that really stinks because we can’t make any changes.

If a customer is going to leave, I much prefer they leave and give me all the litany of complaints because at least I can figure out how to prevent the next customer from leaving. But again, we’ve spent very little money in the B2B space on trying to retain customers, focusing instead almost entirely on B2B sales.

There’s so much of a focus on getting customers to spend more. Let’s get them to stay first, right? Because if they’re not here, they’re not spending anything.

Listen to the full interview on the Practical AI: The Capacity for Good podcast.

Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash.

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