Walt Disney may not be regarded as the godfather of Customer Experience (CX), but his 1956 rallying call to Disneyland staff is perhaps an early pencil sketch. “Whatever you do,” he said, “do it so well that people will want to see it again and bring their friends.” More than 60 years’ later, CX has become the new battleground for competitive advantage.

Irrespective of whether we’re in consumer markets or B2B, our ability to ‘do it well’ is now considered the gateway to brand loyalty and business growth. So it’s surprising to reflect that in an era where we can move seamlessly between channels to buy our groceries, our B2B purchasing experiences are, by comparison, fragmented and inconsistent. This is largely because many B2B organisations have focused solely on enabling multichannel sales. The smartest are delivering an omnichannel experience.

Omnichannel is not just another buzzword – it’s the difference between a satisfied customer and a satisfied competitor. Most SMEs don’t do it well – but they’re losing business to the ones that do. Progress is complicated by the absence of a clear definition and a widespread failure to adopt a simple system that can help unlock it.

In a world of jargon, it’s not easy to know your omnichannel from your multichannel. But once you do, it’s possible to create your own Disneyland experience where customers ‘come back again and bring their friends’.

Certainly, the simple application of familiar cloud technology could transform the customer experience and script a fairy tale ending for B2B organisations.

Entering the Magic Kingdom

So how do you get to the Magic Kingdom? Let’s start with a definition. Omnichannel is the combination of a multichannel sales approach and an integrated shopping experience. It provides a seamless customer experience, irrespective of channel or device. Omnichannel commerce means customers get a consistent experience regardless of whether they’re shopping online, in store or on a mobile device, browsing through a brochure or talking to a call centre.

Although multichannel is at the heart of omnichannel approach, the two things are not the same. A company that provides purchasing options across multiple channels is multichannel. A company that has integrated all those channels so that each customer interaction picks up seamlessly where the previous one left off has reached the Magic Kingdom. Crucially, all omnichannel experiences use multiple channels – but not all multichannel experiences are omnichannel.

As consumers, we’re all familiar with omnichannel; we experience it when we’re booking a holiday, buying shoes or ordering the weekly shop. Yet omnichannel is not the sole preserve of consumer commerce – we expect it in B2B transactions too. Sadly, we don’t often get it.

Treasure Islands

The majority of B2B organisations have responded to modern buying behaviours by establishing multiple sales channels for their customers’ benefit.

Companies have typically augmented their traditional channels – field representatives and telesales – with the addition of eCommerce capabilities. Unfortunately, most have failed to join the dots from multichannel to omnichannel – and have instead created independent, silo channels that don’t share the same systems, data or back-end processes. This narrow, multichannel approach generates islands of valuable information but provides no means of turning it into shareable treasure. It ultimately leads to inefficient processes, inconsistent customer experiences and lost sales.

The scenarios created by poorly integrated multichannel sales are familiar. Primarily, face-to-face customer engagement suffers. Whilst conventional CRM systems allow field representatives to access a customer’s history for sales made via traditional channels, a lack of integration with eCommerce platforms means that they’re oblivious to online orders. They may not know that a company has placed an order online the day before and therefore doesn’t require a visit. Or that an unexpected fall in stock led to an interim order that means lower volumes will be required next time around.

Conversely, when eCommerce systems are not linked to the front-office CRM, account details are normally restricted to online history; the system does not know a customer’s historic ordering habits, their preferences, their product requirements or their payment terms. This typically leads to an uncomfortable buying journey where a client struggles to recall product codes or specifications, and subsequently orders the wrong thing or gives up altogether. Some eCommerce platforms do not enable payment on credit, forcing customers with pre-existing credit terms to pay online at the time of order. It’s hardly surprising that those same customers often abort their purchase.

Multichannel inconsistency is not restricted to ordering processes, it can extend into areas that significantly impact the brand experience. The lack of integration means that companies often provide different offerings depending on the channel; different prices, different delivery options/charges and even different products. It’s a far cry from a seamless, omnichannel experience – and it can motivate customers to shop around for better deals elsewhere.

From Neverland to Wonderland

So how do you make the journey from Neverland to Wonderland? The answer lies in the integration of CRM and eCommerce. B2B adoption of traditional CRM is mature – but if your eCommerce solution isn’t linked to your front-line CRM, you’ll never know what’s happening holistically across all your sales interactions, and you’ll never be able to provide a seamless experience for your customers.

To get there, companies must leverage Cloud technology.

It’s impossible to provide an integrated experience without moving your CRM data and processes into the Cloud – and then using it to drive all your different sales channels.

Just as Microsoft’s Satya Nadella encouraged businesses to think ‘mobile-first, Cloud-first’, SMEs should follow a similar principle if they wish to bring B2B customer experience into the 21st Century. Companies need to think ‘omnichannel-first, Cloud-first’; you cannot have one without the other. Omnichannel won’t work without the Cloud. But without the mobility of an omnichannel experience, the Cloud itself is worthless.

A Beauty, Not a Beast

The most progressive SMEs are embracing the opportunity of omnichannel by deploying an integrated eCommerce and CRM solution that seamlessly supports all sales channels from the Cloud. Though in some cases this may require replacing silo eCommerce and CRM solutions, these organisations have recognised the long-term benefits and taken a step approach towards creating an omnichannel experience. They know that their customers don’t just want a joined-up experience, they expect it – and they’ll go elsewhere to find it if they must. CX is, after all, the modern-day battleground of competitive advantage.

So it pays to remember Walt Disney’s timeless wisdom. “Whatever you do, do it so well that people will want to see it again and bring their friends.”

Done properly, omnichannel is a thing of Beauty. It doesn’t have to be a Beast.

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About The Author

Founder of ProspectSoft

Andrew Ardron is founder and managing director of ProspectSoft, a specialist developer and provider of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and eCommerce Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). Integrated into all major accounting software packages, such as Exchequer, Sage, Pegasus, Access, SAP and Greentree, ProspectSoft currently enables more than 5,000 SME users across the UK to extract their valuable customer information and make it accessible to the rest of the business for CRM or e-Commerce purposes. Since its establishment in 2000, Andrew has grown ProspectSoft into one of the UK's leading software companies, and the winner of numerous national employer awards.