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Standing out in business-to-business customer engagement


Business-to-business (B2B) customer engagement presents unique challenges for industrial products organizations.

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Revolutionizing B2B customer engagement

Like their business-to-consumer (B2C) counterparts, industrial products customers demand better B2B experiences, products, and services. They expect to buy where, when, and how they choose, and the experience extends from search to the time of purchase and beyond. Yet, many companies lack the capabilities to meet their customer-experience aspirations.

Customer centricity requires enterprises to rethink their approach. Industrial product organizations need to address strategy and culture, channels, data and insights, technology, and organization and skills. With input from 375 executives worldwide, we explore how leading organizations are preparing for and executing customer engagement and experience and what others can learn from them.

The challenges of B2B customer engagement

Industrial products companies are feeling the heat from their B2B customers because of the changes in customer demands coming from the B2C space. Armed with access to information, B2B customers are more empowered and have much greater expectations in serving their customer bases. Business buyers want to purchase where, when, and how they choose-for example, online, through a follow-up phone call, via their local preferred distributor or dealer, or supported by a trusted business advisor.

For strong partnership relations, B2B customers are looking at personalization, automation, and smarter ways to enable seamless transactions and customer life-cycle efficiencies. B2B companies lag behind their B2C counterparts when it comes to customer experience; they tend to score, on average, less than 50 percent in customer experience index ratings, compared to B2C organizations that tend to score between 65 percent and 85 percent.

Identifying the gaps

These customer expectations are exacerbated by gaps in the effectiveness of industrial products companies’ most important B2B customer engagement objectives. For example, two-thirds of the 375 industrial products respondents who participated in our survey said it is vital to differentiate brand. Yet only a third told us their organizations are effective at it.

There are also large gaps between the importance that industrial products companies attribute to advancing objectives—such as increasing market share, decreasing existing customer attrition, and increasing share of wallet—and their current proficiency at acting on these objectives. Across these ten objectives, the average effectiveness gap is 21 percent.

Delivering a seamless experience

Based on those surveyed, few industrial products companies can deliver a seamless omni-channel experience. Only 17 percent of our respondents said that their organizations are very effective in executing a consistent experience across channels, and an additional 29 percent reported that they are somewhat effective.

This could be attributable to inconsistency in channel execution. Helping customers easily find what they want across all channels and providing the necessary support are critical for customer acquisition and retention. Respondents said the top purchasing channels for their customers are through traditional means: in-person sales and distributors/dealers/partners (74 percent and 68 percent, respectively). While 61 percent said that their customers purchase direct through their website, less than half are using third-party marketplaces, and even less are using call centers, mobile devices, or electronic data interchange.

In addition, industrial products companies are sharing both brand and product/service content with customers through established means. According to respondents, their companies are engaging through personalized recommendations, search engines, buyer reviews, and blogs. Only a little over a third are using digital assistants, mobile apps, and professional industry sites/third-party websites. And even fewer companies have recorded podcasts and produced whitepapers to promote themselves.

Meet the leaders

How can industrial products companies stand out with their B2B customer engagement? To help answer this question, we analyzed survey responses and identified a small group of industrial products “leaders,” consisting of 35 percent of study respondents. These executives self-reported having a high reputation for delivering an excellent customer experience.

Why pay attention to these leaders? Because they delivered better financial performance than industry peers—five times better for both revenue growth and profitability. And these leaders report that they are eight times better as an industry innovator. More important, the leaders are much more effective at the customer engagement objectives, being two-to-four times better than their peers.

Read more to learn how leaders are approaching customer experience and engagement differently.


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Meet the authors

Hans Bracke

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, Salesforce Industry Solutions Lead, Europe


David Dickson

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, Partner, Chemicals, Petroleum and Industrial Products, Global Industry Transformation and Global Mining Leader


José R. Favilla

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, Director, WW Industry Solutions for Industrial Products


Spencer Lin

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, Global Research Leader, Chemicals, Petroleum, and Industrial Products, IBM Institute for Business Value