Andrew ArdronAndrew ArdronDecember 8, 2017
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9min116

SMEs have long been the masters of a personalised approach to business, but with larger organisations making the most of e-commerce to personalise the customer journey, smaller businesses must keep up or risk losing out on their home turf.

Business-to-business (B2B) customer expectations have long mirrored the business-to-consumer (B2C) customer journey, with SMEs traditionally looked to for the most personalised of B2B shopper experiences.

With the rise of e-commerce however, personalisation has become increasingly synonymous with a great online experience and one most successfully offered by larger, B2C organisations.

Now is the time for B2B SMEs to embrace the movement or risk losing out to larger corporations who are already maximising the use of technology and data, to put the customer back at the heart of their operations. SMEs are, after all, the experts when it comes to providing a personalised Customer Experience and technology doesn’t have to hinder their continued success, unless they let it.

Personalisation

Historically, many SMEs have relied on the friendly local corner shop owner approach – whereby they know every customer by name and go over and above to provide outstanding customer service. Take, for example, a local store that orders an obscure product for ‘Mr Jones’ on a fortnightly basis.

That one single customer, Mr Jones, who has been a loyal customer for a decade, while grateful for the efforts gone to by his local store, no longer has to wait two weeks for his order. He has instant access to e-tail giants like Amazon, where next day delivery and easy re-ordering is the norm.

The rise in e-commerce means that these singular efforts made by businesses are no longer enough of a differentiator to retain customer loyalty.

Despite this, some B2B SMEs are still focused on providing personalisation where it isn’t necessarily needed the most. Many businesses have held on to the old-fashioned shop front as a key differentiator between themselves and larger organisations, placing a strong emphasis on a face-to-face service with a dedicated account manager, no matter the query.

While some have found success with this approach in the short term, many are now finding their customers, much like in the B2C world, are looking for greater 24/7 accessibility, speed, and efficiency, all of which can be better received through an online store.

Advancements in technology and the meteoric rise and success of e-commerce have paved the way for automation of transactional tasks to be applied with ease. Thus, creating a new style of personalisation where automation, data and algorithms are king and human interaction is valued, but targeted and largely received upon request.

Technology

So, why have many B2B SMEs been reluctant to adopt the technology to date? Aside from digitisation, at first appearing counterintuitive to a personalised service, the implementation of the technology required to automate certain parts of the customer journey has historically been seen as a large investment, subsequently reserved for larger corporations.

Some smaller businesses have tentatively begun the journey to omnichannel by introducing an online store, but many organisations aren’t aware of the true value of integrating their online presence with integral back office systems.

But, the tide is changing and many SMEs operating within the B2B space are seeing the benefits of integrating their existing systems and utilising the Cloud to create fully integrated and scalable CRM, e-commerce, and accounts solutions that optimise the data input to create a personalised customer journey.

If integration is done well then the e-commerce experience can be more personalised. Data can be pulled from the CRM system allowing customers to see previous orders they’ve made, whether that’s online, face-to-face, or over the phone, and they’ll also be able to access their existing payment terms and other important account information – making the whole interaction and navigation through the site seamless.

The benefits of employing this approach extend throughout the entire business debunking any concerns that a business might lose touch with its existing customer base. There are a higher percentage of transactions that a customer can do online and therefore the time and expertise of teams throughout the business can be spent on more valuable activity.

Account managers and sales teams can engage in activities that cannot be automated – the things that SMEs pride themselves on, understanding and proactively responding to its customers’ business objectives.

And, in turn getting the customers to place orders they don’t yet know they want to place through upselling or cross-selling. Teams can be managed and deployed more effectively if they have time to focus on say, a new marketing drive to bring in new business or a more complex customer service query.

Experienced resources are invaluable to smaller businesses and if an organisation can free up their employees’ time so that well-trained staff don’t become tied up carrying out administrative tasks and taking re-orders, they have more time to spend adding real value to the business.

The B2B SME

B2B SMEs have historically had the upper hand when it comes to providing a service that is personalised. However, advancements in technology and systems today are allowing larger corporations to a similar, if not better, experience online. The majority of customers across the consumer and business landscape are used to – and, perhaps more importantly, enjoy – being able to purchase goods and services via e-commerce platforms.

Customers are happy to endure a self-serve experience as long as they can access all of the information they need to carry out simple, transactional tasks. It’s important that smaller businesses don’t shy away from the golden opportunity to optimise and automate their online offerings, ensuring that they can continue to focus on replicating that personalised experience in other areas of the business.

An omnichannel approach to B2B operations is both achievable and affordable. If an organisation makes an investment into a cloud-based e-commerce solution that can integrate with back office ERP accounts and CRM systems, there’s the opportunity to open up functionality that goes beyond an online store-front and competes with the experiences that some larger organisations are offering.

Take for example a field sales representative that sells a new product to a customer during a face-to-face meeting. If the customer is happy with the product and wishes to reorder, a fully integrated e-commerce solution will streamline that repurchase.

It will show the customer their last order, the quantity, and any special discounts that were applied by the salesman, without the need for an account manager or sales rep to revisit the customer site.

In today’s market, that’s the kind of personalisation expected by a customer and the seamless Customer Experience that should make an e-commerce site a great sales tool, well-organised PA, and customer service stage all rolled into one.

Conclusion

Exemplary customer service has always been and will continue to be a key differentiator for SMEs. Some of the shop-fronts may need updating, but if smaller businesses get a handle of their online presence and use it to enhance personalisation, they will certainly retain their charm and the loyalty of existing and prospective customers alike.


Andrew ArdronAndrew ArdronSeptember 1, 2017
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6min183

Investing in the correct CRM vendor is crucial for any business; Andrew Ardron, Managing Director, ProspectSoft reveals his top tips to make sure that decision makers are taking the right action towards securing the best CRM solution for the business.

1. Be Upfront About Business Challenges and Objectives

Before starting to look at potential vendors it’s important that the wider business challenges and objectives are identified. Indicating the key business objectives is important for the CRM system’s success. For example, if one objective was to increase sales by 50%, an organisation would need to understand how each potential vendor was going to help the business achieve this.

If those challenges and objectives can be described to a potential vendor they will have no choice but to work harder, and advise on the best solution within budget taking into consideration the wider business objectives.

2. Understand Your Business Processes

 Not all businesses have the same requirements, therefore there is no one-size-fits-all CRM solution. The best way to assess if a vendor is the right fit? Make sure the CRM system broadly covers all the areas of functionality that are seen as important to the business.

Consider things such as offline accessibility, language and currency options (if the organisation has international operations), data quality and within this, the ability to identify duplicates. Following that, a chosen specific scenario or objective can then be discussed in detail to ensure the vendor is flexible enough for the system to be customised.

Customisation is a key component when it comes to choosing a vendor; a business has to understand how compatible a solution can be with their organisation.

3. If a Free Trial Is Available, Take It!

 Signing up to a free trial is a great starting point ahead of a demo, and also gives an indication of the level of service support available. More importantly it’s free!

Don’t shy away from asking for help from the vendor at any point during the trial. Even if after a free trial it’s decided that the vendor isn’t right, if all the right questions have been asked it won’t have been a waste of time.

A free trial is the perfect time deepen your understanding of what to expect, therefore the requirements can be fine-tuned before moving into the demo phase.

4. Utilise the Demo

 Once you’ve found a vendor that you feel comfortable with it’s time for the demo. The demo provides the perfect opportunity to get an overall feel of a CRM system with all the help of a vendor’s expertise.

The demo may only just scratch the surface of the CRM solution’s capabilities especially when it comes to customisation and flexibility, but it will still allow a business to gain a deeper understanding of functionality and will help to better understand the business requirements.

Briefing the vendor to focus the demo on a particular scenario provides organisations with the opportunity to then return to the free-trial afterwards, using this particular scenario and company data to ascertain a deeper insight into its potential.

5. Write Clear and Concise Requirements Documents

More often than not, most businesses will have attempted to create the requirements document long before choosing potential vendors. Whilst this is great for larger organisations that have a CRM project manager on board, most SMEs will have a decision maker who isn’t first and foremost a CRM expert. In those cases, it is best to utilise the vendor’s expertise and wait until after the demo phase. When compiling the document the trick is to not focus too heavily on every last detail.

The danger of writing a detailed specification before engaging with potential suppliers can lead to setting an expectation that’s too low. If a business has worked closely with a vendor during the demo phase and that vendor has listened to all of the business objectives outlined at the start, a requirements document should be redundant.

Essentially, perfection takes time! Making the most of all the tools available in the beginning including free trials, demos and the vendor’s extensive knowledge will ensure that the resulting CRM solution will be of benefit to the business.

Interesting Links:


Andrew ArdronAndrew ArdronMarch 22, 2017
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10min157

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.

Interesting Links:

 


Andrew ArdronAndrew ArdronMarch 8, 2017
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7min133

In the consumer world, eCommerce surrounds us and it’s raising our expectations of service to unprecedented levels. Every time we want to make a purchase, we venture online safe in the knowledge that the products and/or services we want are easily accessible with limited time constraints.

Yet in the realm of B2B, adoption of eCommerce has remained slow, especially amongst SMEs.

While selling strategies can be far more complex, it should be remembered that B2B customers are also consumers. They too are used to a certain standard of service in their everyday lives, and they will quickly grow tired of service that isn’t easily and often accessible as a result.

Whether to integrate eCommerce and CRM systems as part of a sales strategy should therefore be a crucial consideration for any business to stay competitive.

An Empowered Sales Team

eCommerce hasn’t killed the high street; it’s simply encouraged retailers to redesign services in line with a changing world. The notion that an eCommerce system will be the ‘death of the sales team’ is equally unfounded.

Equipping staff with tools that will help them to better do their jobs is empowering. Successful eCommerce not only complements the sales strategy, but the CRM can be integrated to ensure visibility of all customer actions. The most successful brands deliver consistent, joined-up customer experiences across all their channels, and sustain loyalty in the process.

Exactly like the high street, if a purchasing decision requires advice or consultation, traditional ‘people’ channels are still available. And, even then, dialogue with field representatives or telesales can be strengthened by eCommerce, notably the visibility of previous online engagement that’s held within the system.

Furthermore, once a purchase is made, it forms the basis for future orders and repeat business that can be quickly actioned via eCommerce mechanisms until a new consultation is required. This provides a better customer experience without sacrificing the personal service.

Integrating with CRM

When eCommerce is integrated with CRM, it can add even more value to your services.

As customer expectation evolves, so too must business processes, but it’s important that they are not developed in silos – the integration of eCommerce and CRM saves time and money for yourself and your customers.

For example, many SMEs are currently forcing their customers to go through unwieldy and inefficient purchasing processes that rob them of valuable time. From the telesales call that gets lost in translation and results in an incorrect order or the unnecessary one-hour rep visit that only culminates in the same order as last time, it can be a frustrating process for both parties.

What’s more, integrated eCommerce goes beyond improving customer experience. It can fuel productivity and efficiency gains for businesses too. With the online channel taking care of online purchases, companies can deploy their sales resources more effectively.

Telesales executives can be trained to provide more consultative sales support while field-based personnel can focus on business development rather than technical consultancy.

The administration burden of order processing is also lessened, which helps to further optimise resources. In turn, this reduces the cost of service – driving profitability or enabling greater pricing flexibility.

An effective eCommerce platform can also highlight a clear point of differentiation against competitors; the ability to respond quickly and accelerate delivery can be a valuable weapon against the overseas distributor who’s beating you on price.

Business Strategy

The strategic addition of eCommerce functionality can transform B2B operations. The most effective solutions fully integrate with your CRM and ERP/accounting systems. This is essential to ensure that client records – detailing engagement across all channels –integrate with stock control, accounting and supply chain operations to guarantee seamless service.

CRM and accounting systems in silos often lead to gaps in information that can disrupt order processes, blight communications and compromise the customer journey. Accounts-integrated CRM and eCommerce solutions on the other hand can bridge these gaps to ensure continuity and consistency of customer service – and deliver a unified omnichannel experience.

Moreover, by connecting CRM, ERP and eCommerce systems, companies can go beyond a standard ‘web shop’ that presents fixed prices, to an offering that provides differential pricing based on customer history, value or preference, as well as credit terms and other account services. It’s another significant value-add.

So, in a world immersed in eCommerce, online purchasing should no longer be seen as a ‘nice to have’ by B2B businesses. The integration of systems is fast becoming essential to keeping up with customer expectations, and creates vital efficiencies for businesses and their frontline staff alike.

Interesting Links:




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