Unmet expectations are a relationship killer. They wreak havoc in friendships, marriages, and, yes, trust between customers and brands.
This isn’t solely true when customer success is bending over backwards to keep customers happy. It’s true from the very first interaction with a prospect and forever thereafter.
So what do your prospects and customers expect, and how can you give it to them?
Here’s our answer, guiding revenue leaders not only to meet–but also exceed– customers’ expectations for a long, happy, and mutually-profitable relationship with your brand.
Improve customer experience to increase sales
A few years ago, high expectations for personalization, engagement, and streamlined experiences were unique to B2C. Today, they apply to the B2B sales journey as well.
How well companies can meet those expectations is a huge predictor of their success, not only in winning, but also in keeping, business. In fact, for 80% of customers, the customer experience is just as important as the quality of the product.
Salesforce’s study “State of the Connected Customer” offers helpful context, straight from business buyers, on what they’re looking for:
- 75% – Connected processes, like seamless handoffs and contextualized engagement.
- 76% – Demonstrated understanding of how they use products or services.
- 73% – Instant, on-demand engagement.
- 72% – Personalized engagement.
- 69% – Amazon-like buying experiences.
If they get what they’re looking for, the rewards are significant. Good experiences not only open doors, but they lead to larger deals and personal referrals. 74% of business buyers are willing to pay more, and 77% will share good experiences with others.
If they don’t get what they look for, they’re willing to leave you high and dry. 67% have switched vendors for a more consumer-like experience, and 63% will share their bad experiences with others on the way out.
In other words, working on improving your customer experience is critical to growing your revenue, increasing deal size, keeping existing customers, and making sure reviews and social media mentions are positive.
You know, just a few small things.
Shifting your mindset: Looking at the customer journey vs sales funnel
We want to start out by saying that “sales funnel” isn’t profanity. You can continue to use that language, if it’s part of your team’s culture.
The important thing here is not the terminology; it’s the intention. Who is the focus of your sales process: you or your customer?
The traditional sales funnel is very company-focused. Salesforce defines it as “the ideal path companies hope buyers take to become customers.” The four orthodox steps are: awareness, interest, desire, and action.
And many sales teams using this model will have specific steps in their sales process, which relate to where the buyer is in their funnel. This isn’t bad, as it’s how sales teams have functioned for a long time, and it’s cleaner and smoother for your team to ask customers to follow a defined process.
The trouble is that your customers don’t always want to do that. In fact, only 19% of buyers want to talk with a salesperson during the awareness stage. They want to enter your process when they darn well please.
The majority (60%) prefer to speak to someone at the consideration stage, after they’ve conducted their own research and have a pretty good idea of what questions they want to ask and how to talk about what they need.
In other words, a lot of buyers want to feel like they are in control, seeking out solutions to their problems, rather than being “sold.” This is why it’s fruitful for companies to switch to a customer (or buyer’s) journey, which focuses on the buyer’s path from the realization of a need the whole way through a purchase.
No matter what you call that journey (even if it’s still a “funnel”), your mentality needs to shift from emphasizing your process to prioritizing their path and providing a flexible, personalized experience.
How to think about your customer (or buyer’s) journey
Hubspot breaks the customer or buyer’s journey down into three major steps: awareness, consideration, and decision.
Each of these stages is much broader than the customer’s familiarity or interactions with your brand. It encompasses their entire experience, including the thoughts and actions you’ll never see. In other words, it’s all about them.
For instance, awareness starts with the prospect experiencing pain of some kind, and then wanting to seek out a solution. Your sales team can be helpful here, if you’re doing outbound sales, by demonstrating that your reps understand that pain. Maybe your prospects can’t put words to the problem, but your reps can.
The earlier you appear in their buyer’s journey, the more questions your reps should ask, and the more language your reps should use to show empathy. “Value” at this stage is helping your prospect to identify the problem and trust that you get it.
They move into the consideration phase when that problem begins to clarify, and they start the furious process of researching potential solutions. Again, this shouldn’t be specific to your brand (at least at first). It’s more about broad methods or product types.
Having value propositions ready for this stage, which spell out the benefits of certain solutions, is helpful. That “value,” however, should remain educational. They’re not ready to close, and you’ll lose them if you’re too pushy.
It’s only at the decision stage that your brand moves to the front and center. You’re probably one of several candidates that they’re evaluating, and you want to be their first pick.
To win that coveted position, you not only have to convince them that your product wins on all of the traditional margins (price, quality, social proof, etc.), but you also have to provide a better user experience with your tech, process, and communication methods.
The right tools bring your process up to speed
If you know your three major stages are awareness, consideration, and decision, and you know the sort of broad experiences your customers want to have (think Amazon), then you can start to map out what tools and strategies to use when.
Meeting prospects where they are, in the awareness stage
The awareness stage is a sensitive time, when prospects are often wary of anything that sounds like a traditional sales interaction. That’s why it’s important that your strategies and messaging here are helpful, not intrusive, and focused on articulating their problems back to them.
Use conversational marketing to guide prospects through identifying their problems.
A great way to do that, which also delivers on the experiential expectations your buyers likely have, is through conversational marketing.
That’s another way of saying:use artificial intelligence (AI) to engage with prospects online, through targeted and engaging chat bots. One of our clients and partners, Drift.com, is a leader in this space. (We love you, Drift!)
There are countless use cases for conversational marketing, but at this stage, the common goal is to engage with users, 24/7, to ask questions and share relevant information to move them forward–at their pace–in the pipeline.
You may recall that today’s business buyer wants instant, on-demand engagement (73%). This isn’t possible through any other means, unless you want to set up a customer care center that is “on” 24 hours per day, 365 days a year.
Conversational marketing is also very personalized, remembering site visitors and giving repeat visitors different messaging, often addressing them by name and welcoming them back, versus how it addresses first-time guests.
At the awareness stage, you want to have a general bot that serves as a concierge, asking questions to connect customers to whatever other pages or resources they need.
This “tour guide” function addresses a huge need; 43.7% of B2B respondents said they are frustrated by how hard it is to get answers to simple questions or to easily access business information.
Allowing a bot to guide customers through frequently asked questions, site navigation, and other transactional information, you give them instantaneous answers while saving the time reps spend with customers for those interactions that count the most.
No matter what use case you choose, responsive playbooks give your prospects constant choices to go in the direction that most interests them. They’re in the driver’s seat, discovering helpful information, while you’re conversationally gathering qualifying information that helps you to determine how to engage them next.
Use sales execution platforms for personalized, thoughtful outbound interactions.
Sales execution platforms allow your company to have personalized outbound conversations (though they start as one-way interactions) that step into your prospect’s awareness stage with helpful information.
We have spent a lot of time in other pieces diving into personalization within your SEP, so we won’t camp on that here. This piece covers the basics and, if you’re looking for a deeper dive, you can review our sales messaging playbook template.
At the awareness stage, there are two major strategies for outbound messaging. If you have a high-intent prospect, who you believe is already investigating solutions (but has not yet spoken to anyone at your company), then you can move more quickly into a messaging strategy focused on solutions.
Or, if you’re not sure about intent (which is the case most of the time), then you can leverage your cold outbound sequences or cadences to create awareness. It’s okay if you contact them before they’re really looking into ways to fix their problems.
If your sequences or cadences are well written, your messages will make them say, “You’re right! That does really suck.” These moments are powerful. To strike this cord, though, you have to focus on their pain first.
When you do that well, and use the right call to action, you will significantly increase your chances of starting a genuine conversation. This is an area where a lot of experts disagree, but our general recommendation is to make sure at least the first few of your outbound emails end with softer calls to action.
Soft calls to action might ask if they’re interested in a conversation, if you can send further information, or if they’re the right person on the team to have a conversation about what you’re discussing.
Harder calls to action, which directly ask for time or meetings, should typically be saved for the end of an awareness stage sequence or a sequence or cadence designed for the consideration phase.
Keep in mind that these are general recommendations. We always recommend A/B testing calls to action to best understand your specific audience’s preferences.
Providing relevant information, in the consideration phase
The consideration phase is all about providing critical information, at the right time, that pushes your brand to the front of the line as a trusted authority.
Some teams will conceptualize this as the “middle of the funnel,” or that next stage of the conversation, when you know they’re interested, and you’re trying to keep them engaged long enough to get to the “decision” phase.
Either way, you can use the tools we’ve already discussed (conversational marketing and sales execution) here, too, but with a different strategy.
Conversational marketing tools share deeper information, on demand.
Your chatbots on the awareness pages are all about steering potential customers to your consideration stage bots. These exist to move them to a stage of seeking deeper information about your brand.
Ideally, these bots will share whatever the prospect wants to hear and then keep them engaged, until they agree either to schedule a meeting or to connect with a live rep to continue the conversation.
Here are a few common examples of bots or use cases to get there:
- Resources pages: If you have any sort of content marketing department, and you have resources posted online, your chatbots can help people find exactly what they are looking for to answer their questions.
- Skip the form: If you have interest forms, demo requests, downloads for gated assets, or other forms that demonstrate a deeper curiosity about your brand, then it helps to have a bot ready to capture that information. You can still make the form available, but some customers will prefer to rapid-fire share that information with a conversational bot.
- Services pages: By the time someone is on your services page, they’ve moved into the consideration stage. You will want to have a bot ready to answer their questions about exactly what you provide. This bot should either direct them to a live conversation, schedule a meeting, or provide a specific resource recommendation that suits their interests.
Your SEP isn’t just for cold outbound. Trust it with your warm prospects, too.
Your sales execution platform should be ready with sequences or cadences for those folks in the middle of their journeys. Don’t fall for the all-too-common myth that SEPs are just for cold outbound.
Consideration stage sequences or cadences should focus on sharing specific information to address the interests they’ve already demonstrated. Send case studies, white papers, blogs, customer stories, or any other social proof they need–focused on the value propositions you already know resonate–to continue to demonstrate that your solution can help them solve their problems.
Many teams decide to have a different sequence or cadence for each product-line they offer, so they can place someone into a targeted sales play. Then, they use manual email steps and calls to provide a higher level of personalization to those prospects who are in a higher tier or who work for target accounts.
Alternatively, in teams where there’s a clean handoff between awareness, which is handled by a sales rep, and consideration, which is handled by a closer, there are different sequences or cadences created for each type of end user.
For instance, an account executive sequence or cadence might start with a handoff or introduction, which is highly personalized, and then go on to share a series of customer stories and case studies with strong calls to action for a demo or more advanced-stage sales meeting.
Note: Sequences and cadences at this stage can be much more complex than awareness stage plays, which tend to be more general. If your team needs specific help with closer sequences, our team of content strategists is standing by to help.
The consideration stage is perfect for video messages.
A lot of our clients are working video messaging into their sequences and cadences, but they’re not quite sure about best practices.
We’re all for using video messaging, and we use it a lot for our own demand generation. However, we also know they take a lot of time to create and send. So we recommend being thoughtful about the times your reps spend to send a personalized video.
For instance, our team sends personalized videos to prospects who open our in-sequence emails many times. Maybe they haven’t replied yet, but we know they’re clicking around. So, we send a video message to try to get the conversation rolling.
Or, maybe someone finishes an awareness sequence or cadence, and there’s no reply, but they’re a high-value account. Because they’ve gotten all of your emails, and maybe opened one or two, they know who you are.
Sending a video message, while they remember your name, can foster just enough familiarity to create a bridge from pure research and to a conversation.
The decision phase is all about strong calls to action
Interactions at later buying stages are very personal and likely very manual. Gone are the days of any sort of generic messaging. Your sales team’s goal here is to stand out for your personal touches, attentiveness, and integrity.
We recommend using your SEP here for process-focused sequences or cadences that guide customers through the end of their journeys. If they’ve completed a final demo, then the sequence or cadence may pick up there, prompting the salesperson to send a proposal right away. Then, it might remind them to follow up two days later, then another two days later, and so forth, until they respond with questions or a request for a final contract.
This process will vary with every company, but the goal is the same. You want to have a flexible, interactive, personalized sequence or cadence shell that balances structure for your salesperson with the prospect’s unique needs.
If they say not to reach out until after a board meeting, then pause the sequence until the day after. Or, if they tell you they prefer phone communication, skip email tasks and call instead.
This is a spot where it’s critical that you understand the right amount of structure for your sequences and cadences. Provide enough scaffolding to support your team without limiting their creative relationship-management skills.
Integrate your tools for a data-driven customer experience
You may have many more tools than the ones we’ve covered. Maybe you’re also using marketing automation tools, a CRM, or countless other potential solutions.
No matter how “thick” your tech stack is, the important thing is that every tool is integrated properly. This means that if a prospect opens or responds to a marketing email, a sales rep who talks to them 3 months in the future should know about it. Or, if they mention a specific problem or interest in a sales call, the CSM who eventually gets assigned to their account will know what they are looking for in your solution.
Remember that 3 in 4 business buyers expect connected processes, like seamless handoffs and contextualized engagements, and a demonstrated understanding of how they will specifically use products or services.
If sales, marketing, and customer success house this information in different places, and your team “drops” a critical piece of information, then you are setting yourself up for churn. (Or, if it’s earlier in the pipeline, a lost opportunity).
That’s one of the main reasons teams make the migration to revenue operations (RevOps), which consolidates tools and data in one spot, for all customer-facing teams. In this piece, we cover the benefits of RevOps and explain how a well-functioning sales execution program gets you there.
But if you’re not ready for a RevOps transition, then, at the very least, integrate your CRM and SEP. If your other tools are communicating with your CRM, as your source of record, then connect that to your SEP so your salespeople have maximum visibility for their outreach. And then, when it’s time to handoff an account to customer success, the CSM will be able to review the CRM, seeing full activity from the SEP, to create a contextualized experience.
Remember that this is a continuous learning experience.
Remember that customers’ expectations and industry best practices are constantly evolving. That means that, even for the experts, this is a learning process that never ends.
So no matter where you are today, even if you have the most rigid sales funnel ever and you’re using fax machines to send your outbound messages, there’s no need to scrap your whole process. You can take this one step at a time.
So please put away your wrecking ball, have a glass of water, and take a moment to chuckle at this ridiculous cat.
The transition to a more customer-focused sales process, which typically leverages emerging technology, is a process.
What’s one step you can take, in the next week, to move the ball forward? Here are a few ideas, but we’d love to hear yours.
- Organize sequences or cadences in your SEP to identify which stage in the buyer’s journey they best suit.
- Write at least one sequence or cadence that suits customers who are later in their sales journeys. Don’t just use your SEP for cold outbound!
- Investigate a conversational marketing tool and let us know if you need help with writing playbooks. (Yes, we do that, too. We’ve got quite a full bag of tricks).
Reach out if we can help. We promise our partnership won’t involve wrecking balls or screaming felines. Just thoughtful co-creation and (if needed) cat treats.