B2B sellers and supply chains tend to spend a lot of time measuring internal processes and not putting enough time into keeping external ones in check. Sales departments adopt a product or service-centered approach, meaning their key decisions focus on what they have to offer with the aim of increasing sales. When they do track their customers’ buying habits, it usually begins and ends with the purchase frequency, product type, and order history. This type of data, while valuable, doesn’t tell us much about customer sentiment and the health of our customer relationships – that is, where we could do better.
What is a Customer-Focused Strategy?
While seemingly obvious and easy to execute on the surface, understanding where you stand in the customer’s eyes requires you to have well-defined processes that start at the supply chain management level and end with the delivery driver. If these processes are well-honed, your customers will come back, purchase more of your product, and tell others about your brand. Furthermore, the data doesn’t lie, as customer-focused supply chains are outpacing their counterparts on all fronts:
How to Create a Customer-Focused Brand?
A customer-focused brand places the customer experience as the most important part of doing business. It involves optimizing every customer touchpoint, be it pre-sale, point of sale, and after the sale to ensure customer satisfaction at all times. We’ll look at six strategies supply chains and B2B businesses can use to improve their customer-focused approach.
1. Create a customer-focused culture
Building a customer culture is a concentrated effort that starts from the top of the organization – most specifically with management. Strong customer focus stems from policies and technologies that make it easy for employees to form relationships with customers. Everyone on the team must have a firm understanding of how their roles affect the customer experience, and how their behaviors empower customer loyalty and engagement.
For a company to be customer-focused, it must first have customer-focused leadership. This is usually delegated to a CCO (chief customer officer) who is accountable for customer-centric strategies and processes within the organization. Customer officers act as customer advocates, communicating developments around customer concerns, and look for ways to optimize the customer journey map.
Make room for ideas
Go beyond listening to customer concerns and collecting feedback. Teach your employees to be proactive and identify what customers appreciate, value, and respond positively to. Set up brainstorming sessions to bounce ideas around. Your strategy can include things like personalization options, promotions, or a new approach to customer service, things a quality CRM system can help you with.
Break down silos
Knowing your marketing strategy, sales trajectory, and what your customers want will enable you to position yourself to better provide value. By sharing data between eCommerce, CRM, ERP, WHM, procurement, accounting, and other systems, you’ll get the ultimate visibility into operations. Conversely, being in the dark about these crucial processes will only hurt your ability to promote customer-centricity within your organization.
Invest in technology
Growing customer expectations are fueled by technology. Mobile is a large part of our lives, data-informed decision making is everywhere, and AI promises to take work off the shoulders of marketers, sales reps, and supply chain professionals. With the trends in remote work, self-scheduling technology, and the willingness to offer employees greater autonomy can also facilitate customer needs, and offer empathetic, proactive service.
Example of a customer-focused marketing strategy
Many customer-centric organizations encourage employees to go the extra mile to make customers feel great. Zappos famously empowers employees to do whatever they feel is the right thing to do to ensure customer happiness. If your budget doesn’t allow that, sometimes, even the smallest gesture works. “There’s a hotel that goes the extra mile to make guests feel extra comfortable,” shares Martin Schulz from Airfocus. “They place a good morning, good afternoon, and good evening mat at their door. This speaks volumes to customers who are there to unwind and get away from their busy lives. While a small gesture, it’s something they don’t get elsewhere, so they have more reasons to keep going back to the hotel.”
2. Gather and share customer data company-wide
Every organization is different and the way and type of data it collects on customers will vary. Whether it’s personal data, engagement patterns, transactional details, or customer feedback, data will help you be more customer-centric. That’s where your tools such as your CRM, eCommerce platform, marketing automation tools, and even AI chatbots can all play a role in encouraging more detailed, personal conversations.
Collect sales data
Your sales data holds the key to unique shopping experiences for every customer. Data such as the churn rate, the net promoter score, and the customer lifetime value are some general metrics that measure customer-centricity. By combining sales and feedback data from your CRM and eCommerce systems – and sharing them across departments – everyone understands how the customer perceives your brand.
Customer segmentation gives businesses a better understanding of their market and customers. Aside from knowing what type of customers purchase what product, segmentation gives brands an idea of customer engagement at a granular level. This can uncover untapped business opportunities, and help brands make strategic decisions without affecting other customer segments unintentionally.
Every stage of the customer journey must be monitored often and adjusted to maintain the customer-focused approach. By keeping a close watch on customer journeys, you can uncover trends, dips in engagement, or friction points, and work quickly to rectify them. Over time, this can build loyalty and long-term customer satisfaction, which will result in more referrals.
A customer focus strategy requires the right tools
Putting data at the focus of their customer-focused strategy has paid off for B2B communication consultant GetVoIP. After implementing a CRM to help gather and analyze relevant customer data, tying it up to an email marketing tool and Google Analytics, they got an unprecedented view of customer activity. This knowledge allowed them to build an email list of over 100,000 subscribers, boost site traffic, and increase revenue.
3. Invest in the user experience of online channels
In order to achieve success in your customer-centric initiatives, it’s crucial to understand the motivations and desires of your customers. As the share of online B2B sales increases, customer expectations around the user experience grows and shifts with it. Regardless of what industry you’re in or who your customers are, if the user experience is lacking, they’ll think twice about doing business with you down the road.
A personalized recommendation or discount might attract a B2C shopper, but B2B buyers look for more. Organizations are interested in eCommerce self-service portals that are personalized to them. Businesses want their own product catalogs, pricing, and checkout preferences. Not only does it save time, but it increases convenience and helps them purchase or repurchase the right items quickly.
Transparency isn’t just about assuring customers that raw materials come from sustainable sources. It’s about communicating crucial data at the right time. When you indicate out of stock items on product pages or list approximate restocking or shipping times, customers have less reason to get frustrated. An ERP integration can help you update inventory data to your eCommerce site.
Customer service, just like personalization, isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. It requires the right customer service tools and giving employees autonomy to provide the best support possible. For example, OroCommerce allows eCommerce staff to log in on behalf of the customer to better understand any issue at the customer profile level.
Customer service as part of a customer-focused strategy
“A couple of years ago we won a contract with a company that ended up bringing us more than $100,000,” says Simone of Growing Together eXponetnially Ltd. “It was no easy feat, as it took us three months to get the contract. This time was spent understanding the deeper realities of the business and interviewing each member of the sales team as well as the directors. We did all this for free and without guarantees of winning the contract. In the end, we were able to create a customized proposal that put us on top of other more credible candidates.”
4. Prioritize customer retention
It’s well known that keeping customers is easier than acquiring existing ones. Thus, tracking your indicators of customer retention is critical for customer focus. Your churn rate, repeat purchase rate, existing customer growth rate, and the effectiveness of relationship-building strategies will tell you how well you are doing. Growing these metrics requires keeping a close watch of your customer’s long-term needs, and acting quickly to assist them as their needs change.
Utilize a CRM
One of the reasons why many businesses struggle to get customer-centricity right is the overwhelming amount of customer data now available. Many organizations simply don’t have the right tools and technologies to help them accomplish this. A customizable CRM system is one such tool that allows brands to segment, profile, and target customers with the right messages.
Train for success
In order to be customer-centric, sales teams must change how they think about sales. Metrics such as pipeline and revenue streams are important, but so is helping, being empathetic, and understanding customer pain points. Many customer-centric companies practice whole company support. They get not only sales, but marketing, product, and engineering teams get a break from their tasks and learn about common customer objections.
When most people talk about aligning sales and marketing, they are suggesting unifying the lead management process across departments. This means being on the same page of tracking and managing revenue opportunities, whether prospective or current – from generation to its conversion into a customer relationship. Integrating a CRM and eCommerce tools together improves lead visibility, which increases the effectiveness of marketing, sales, and customer success efforts.
Customer focus built on customer trust and reciprocity
It’s a great feeling when customers trust your ability to deliver quality no matter what. “Foundational to our approach is building trust and accountability with our clients from day one and it has paid off multiple times,” says Maggie Bolt of The Poirier Group. “In one engagement, we focused on ensuring the clients’ needs were met even at the expense of our own profit. This client noticed this effort, which resulted in them re-engaging with us many times, referencing us to other clients.” This approach has given them repeat customers during economic downturns – customers that could have easily gone to competitors.
5. Sell based on value, not products or price
Instead of beefing up the product or lowering the price, focus on how you deliver value to customers. Since salespeople are at the frontlines of customer interactions, they must adjust that value according to the customer and situation. If customers are interested, they’ll want to know what the product does, how it can help them, and what the results of that help will be, in real terms.
Listen to customers
Effective customer listening is a top competitive advantage. That’s why communicating and listening to customer feedback frequently and regularly should be every customer-centric brand’s priority. Whether that’s conducting surveys, allocating time for one-on-one sessions, or keeping an SMS line or social media account open to collect feedback, it’s important to always be on top of customer concerns.
With enough customer data and research under your belt, you can generate a detailed picture of what customers are looking for. Once that’s in place, you can place the customer’s interest in everything your sales team does. This does more than just create experiences that customers are likely to enjoy, as you can also discover tactics that generate predictable outcomes and repeat their use.
Businesses that place customers at the forefront understand the power of a pre-sale question. By asking the right questions, such as “How can I help you be more productive today?” customer-facing teams can not just make the sale, but learn more about the customer’s situation, and quickly connect the answer with something valuable that they can offer.
Solve a pain point
If you want to perfect customer communication, you can instruct your sales staff to combine empathy with addressing customer pain points. This takes nuance and craft, since it requires first identifying difficulties customers deal with every day while providing a solution that brings value to them personally.
Value-driven customer focus strategies in real life
One listening equipment retailer took a unique approach to its customer’s pain points. “It is very hard for churches, museums, and education institutions to choose assistive listening equipment as the features are jargon-laden,” says Will Ward of AssistiveListeningHQ. “Many institutions are thoroughly confused as to what equipment they really need. First, I addressed this pain point by creating in-depth guides specific to each of these institutions. Then, I added a toll-free number for free consultations. Once I help them out, they are more than happy to buy from my company, referring other customers to me in the process!”
6. Streamline the supply chain
Many customers demand lower costs, faster delivery, and greater transparency. Giving customers up to date information on their delivery remains a strong differentiator, such as when their items leave the warehouse, service center, and when it arrives at the customer’s destination. This trend is speeding up the digitalization of supply chains and introduces technologies such as real-time tracking, advanced analytics, and greater end-to-end visibility of all aspects of fulfillment.
Proper demand and inventory planning depend on careful analysis of your sales history, transactional data, as well as information from your inventory, suppliers, warehouses, and outside market trends. As any of these elements change, your demand planning forecast needs to be updated as well.
Visibility into customer orders helps eCommerce businesses determine how to fulfill them with the customer in mind. For example, orders can be fulfilled by each pick, piece picking, case picking, or pallet picking. The advantages and disadvantages of each method should be dynamically analyzed and optimized for current state conditions.
After an order is finalized, the packing and shipping processes can commence. Mismanaging these steps can negatively impact the customer experience. Your systems must maintain a perfectly crafted SKU numbering system, an exact picking process that gets the item shipped to its final destination as quickly as possible.
Multiple fulfillment channels
The “omnichannel” trend is taking not only the customer experience but the supply chain industry by storm. Many large retailers have already embraced omnichannel supply chains by offering the option to buy online and pick up in person at a specific location. Building in multiple parallel fulfillment channels make it easier to offer the speed and convenience customers might expect.
Customer focus examples in personalization
Some organizations take customer-centricity to the next level by building it into their product. “We want to provide a totally customized experience to each customer,” says Damien from AI-based identity verification company Shufti Pro. “From the trial plan to solution integration and pricing plan, everything is customizable. We noticed our leads increase as we grabbed the attention of many businesses that needed budgeted solutions. It also became our competitive edge, as the flexibility to personalize the whole product, from features to process to pricing made us truly unique on the market.”
Why does a customer-focused approach matter?
Customers nowadays are seldom prepared to purchase quantities suppliers would like to supply, at a time determined by the supplier, in the form preferred by the supplier. This is excellently explained in Tony Hines’ book Supply Chain Strategies, where he stresses the importance of customer focus and the “seven customer Vs” that businesses must offer to customers: value, volume volatility, velocity, variety, variability, visibility, virtuosity.
There’s no single strategy that demonstrates customer focus. In order to be successful, B2B sellers must focus on their culture, data, user experience, retention, value, and their supply chain structures. That is, organizations must not only consider their own customer-centricity but the customer-centric nature of others that make up the supply chain network. It’s only then brands can use the collective focus, strategies, and actions that benefit the end customer.