B2B Needs to Align Digital and Humans

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Business-to-business leaders need to combine a human-centered approach to sales with investments in digital tools to improve the service experience for customers and achieve lasting growth, according to research from Accenture Interactive.

There’s a growing rift between business buyers and sellers, Accenture Interactive says in its “Service Is the New Sales” report. Four-fifths of frequent buyers report that they will have switched suppliers at least once within a two-year period due to a combination of factors.

Specifically, the research cites the following:

• Not meeting buyers’ needs: To survive in the digital ecosystem, some B2B sellers have focused on digital upgrades only to find themselves disconnected from meaningful dialogue with longtime customers. Conversely, other sellers remained focused on traditional sales cycles without making the digital investments critical to modern commerce.

 Failing to marry technology and human interaction: With so much focus on scaling up digital platforms, it appears that the high-touch, relationship-driven side of the business has taken a backseat in the B2B space. The lagging sellers in this survey were more likely (62 percent) than those with a service mind-set (48 percent) to invest in sales plays that lacked salesperson support.

• Organizational disconnect: The majority of laggard sellers (69 percent) identify “cultural resistance to change at the board level” as their primary challenge, while leaders are more than four times more likely to have complete senior stakeholder buy-in for digitally enabled customer service efforts.

Many organizations don’t have the proper human-digital alignment, says Jason Michaels, Accenture’s managing director and B2B marketing lead. As a result, companies are charging their technology providers across technologies to achieve the right balance.

That balance is different across industries, Michaels adds. High-tech leans more toward technology-based interactions, while manufacturing relies more heavily on human interaction, though they all have some measure of both humans and technology to handle B2B sales.

In determining the balance and choosing solutions to help meet it, companies are focusing more on customer desires and less on choosing solutions and then forcing buyers to use them, according to Michaels. However, any solution or choice of the right human-technology mix depends in no small part on C-suite support, something technology leaders usually have and technology laggards usually lack.

Michaels adds that leading companies tend to see their technological solutions as parts of longer-term strategies, while lagging companies tend to have a shorter-term focus.

Accenture recommends the following steps to overcome the buyer-seller rift:

• Leverage technology to unlock data: Technology is most effective when it makes companies more human. Leaders who adopt a service mind-set are more likely than laggards to employ new technology platforms to overcome service barriers and twice as likely to have centralized and regularly updated datasets that inform service channels and conversations, personalizing offerings and improving engagement.

• Assemble a digital-human dream team: The report points out that digital tools and human interaction must work in harmony if businesses want success. The study found leaders place high importance on facilitating two-way dialogues with customers. This includes prioritizing digital tools like chatbots and augmented reality, as well as human-centric efforts such as field sales representatives and call center teams.

• Start change from within: Uniting digital tools and human talent to serve customers and instilling a customer service mind-set requires internal change. Leaders are more than twice as likely as laggards to have fully integrated marketing functions across channels and are more likely to have partially or fully integrated their sales and marketing teams to collaborate on most objectives.

“Our findings highlight a clear misalignment between buyers’ needs and sellers’ offerings, which requires both technology and the human touch,” Michaels says. “To succeed in today’s B2B ecosystem, sellers must invest in both digital and service-oriented customer experiences that will help drive powerful outcomes for themselves and for their buyers.”

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