Relatable AND Reliable? Sounds like a Lioness! — Lionesses of Africa

By Lionesses of Africa Operations Department

So much of our membership is B2C that we tend to concentrate all of our attention on that, and assume that new ways of doing things, all really great ‘touch points’ and omni-channels for customers are driven by the B2C customer wants. Yet this is not so it would appear…B2B uses many of the same touch points as B2C but with differing needs these touch points, or as some call them ‘Omni-channels’, are often used with different emphasis. For our many members in B2B, this weekend we turn to you!

Assuming that B2C is hip and cool and B2B less so, more stuck in the mud, more traipsing into offices or driving up and down main roads to many meetings each day, turns out to be wrong. B2B as an essential part of what makes the world move is also adapting fast into the 21st century, and with this pace the options for businesses to purchase through multiple suppliers or easily change to new suppliers is growing. Indeed there are some major names upping their already large investment in B2B, such as, Amazon; Alibaba; IndiaMART; Walmart and Mercateo so there must be something in it!

But does this increased attention by these giants mean that B2B will just be a rush to the bottom as they outspend to buy market share and “pile ‘em high to sell ‘em low?” Will there be no room left for those B2B Lionesses who offer personalized service, knowledge of their customers, deep understanding of their products including all the technicals and the ability to suggest and provide interesting solutions based on their decades of experience with the industry and customer?

Alibaba says that B2C is ‘relatable’, whereas B2B ‘reliable’. To a certain extent this is correct. They suggest you think of B2C as Facebook, Instagram, where you can ‘relate’ with the customer (and without doubt these are good touch points for B2C), whereas B2B has to be ‘reliable’, especially these days with all the supply chain problems in the world. If your customer needs a particular paint, or adhesive or silicon and you can’t supply it one month, in spite of having all the connections with major manufacturers (who often will only supply a small number of distributors and even then will control the pricing), then your customer may have to stop production. The knock-on effect of that in lost production, lost jobs, etc., can be huge, even more so if your customer’s ‘widget’ is central to the production of an even larger production line in another company.

But B2B is not ‘just reliable’. If it were ‘just reliable’ then these giants would wipe the floor with all of us in the B2B market. The B2B market relies far more on the personal touch than they would have us believe. The understanding of our customers and a deep knowledge of our products and how this can be brought together to solve issues and deliver solutions to our customers still has a central place in the modern world of instant gratification. That does not mean that in-person will remain forever and so we have to be aware of the changes going on and adapt with them, but currently this is still a central part, albeit only a part. This is shown by the changes over the past 7 years in the differing number of ‘touch points’ or ‘omni-channels’ that B2B uses…

In answer to a large survey by McKinsey (here), with the following questions – How do you research new suppliers, evaluate suppliers, order and reorder? A few points stick out in the answers as to how life has changed (or not) since 2016 for the B2B world. One is that there has been a marked increase in the number of channels used since 2016, from 5 to now 10. ‘E-mail’ is the number one route and has been since 2016. The other is that ‘in-person’ and ‘phone’ have remained the number two and three respectively throughout. ‘Trade Shows’ make a brief appearance in 2019, but then Covid-19 killed them off – it is doubtful that they will ever return in their original form since many have learnt that saving a flight and expensive hotel room by logging in via a web based portal is now entirely possible for all but the most in need of a personal experience. Who knows, perhaps this will be an opportunity for the Metaverse once it is past its trial and explanation phase?

But what is not in doubt is that the more touch points offered (on the condition that they are professionally provided of course) the higher the results. That does not mean that we should rush round trying to be all things to all people, just because one customer wishes to send you messages by Carrier Pigeon does not mean we should overnight rush to buy in bird feed and create a (small) landing strip on your roof. However we do need to keep abreast of the changes happening around us otherwise we shall start to lose customers to more nimble competition. In case you think McKinsey just concentrates on surveying the USA and other western countries, they do point out that in India B2B purchasers now enjoy 11 active channels through which they can supply their business, so they are ahead of the pack!

In this ever changing world what is that makes a customer leave us, or to put it another way, what is important to both keep old and attract new customers?

Mckinsey have found there is a top tier of 5 ‘must haves’.

  1. Performance Guarantee (full refund). No real change there over the years – but you must have a way of checking that the product really is faulty and that the customer has not simply fed their machine wrong….

  2. Product availability shown online – time to hook up your warehouse – now we are really going to test your stock counts! In fact most systems allow for a minimum quantity beyond which it will say either ‘Sold Out’ or ‘Call To Check’. That avoids the really embarrassing situation of having 10 of a product, selling those and then having to search through the most dark and dusty parts of your warehouse for the 10 and only finding 8… That is a serious no-no.

  3. Ability to purchase from any channel. Think ‘Whatsapp’ is a no-go for sales? Remember such a message can always have a fail-safe in the form of ‘No order accepted unless confirmed via email’ kind of small print, although in reality customers will expect more as time goes on.

  4. Real Time (always on) customer service (you can see why it is so expensive for the SME world to compete with the big names such as Amazon).

  5. Consistent service across all Channels. Here is the Brand and professionalism part. Each ‘touch point’ represents you and your company. If you cannot offer what you really want in a particular channel, far better to leave it until you can.

Interestingly given that ‘Free Shipping’ is such a successful winner for B2C sales, this is way down at no.12 for B2B. But the real ‘couldn’t care less’ items were 3-D Virtual product demos (phew – they are very expensive to film!) and loyalty programs earning points/rewards.  

One part to consider is having a log on for your customers whereby they can see all the products they have previously purchased with a helpful ‘Buy Again’ button – how many times have we had a call along the lines of: “You know that piece I bought 4 months ago – I have forgotten the name, can you send me another…”. Yes, we have all been there! Plus items that their industry is purchasing plus some items that you (knowing their business and their industry), you would suggest them trying. Sounds too much? At the end of the day, if there is no way of differentiating you from the Amazon types, then sales will simply over time gravitate to them…

As a recent SalesForce survey of over 6,000 purchasers showed (here): “84% of customers say being treated like a person, not a number, is very important to winning their business.

Continuing…“Eighty percent of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services.

This experience is essential. When it is done well it increases sales, when done badly it not only loses customers, but these customers will talk to others. 

Perhaps Alibaba should have said that B2B customers want suppliers to be ‘reliable’ AND ‘relatable’, both attributes that we can safely say all Lionesses reliably relate to!

Stay safe.

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