Becoming a B2B Onboarding Prioritizer

Engaging all employees to help understand the business-to-business customer, clarifying their specific roles in onboarding success, and increasing incoming and outgoing communication will drive sales and increase revenue.

You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression—it’s a time-tested adage that’s doubly true for businesses. Earning loyalty and repeat business by creating a strong customer experience, historically a consumer strategy, is becoming mainstream in business-to-business (B2B) sectors. This is particularly true in the critical onboarding period following a contract closure and before any new partnership enters a “business as usual” steady state. The initial delivery of accessible and uncomplicated customer interactions is essential to creating a positive experience. The B2B client onboarding phase represents a critical inflection point when trust and value will be won or lost. Companies that invest adequately in the onboarding period are much more likely to achieve success in solidifying strong customer relationships that lead to higher revenue growth and lower levels of client churn.

This idea is underscored in a global survey of business executives about B2B client onboarding, conducted by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services (HBR) and sponsored by North Highland. In the study, 85 percent of executives surveyed agreed that successful customer onboarding would ensure long-term customer loyalty.

In spite of this highly shared notion about B2B customer experience, the survey unveiled a few unfortunate realities:

  • 50 percent of respondents said they don’t do a very good job of delivering products and services when and where they are needed during onboarding.
  • Only a third of the firms rated themselves as doing a very good job of delivering accessible and uncomplicated customer interactions.
  • Only 49 percent agreed that their firms leverage data and insights to understand and predict higher-level customer needs.
  • 62 percent look at overall customer satisfaction to evaluate success, but less than 25 percent analyze and act on tailored metrics such as customer attrition rate, customer adoption rate, and cost to serve during this period.

The research identifies three major challenges business suppliers face during the critical customer acquisition and onboarding period:

Limited understanding of customer needs

Lack of alignment between functional areas

Poor communications

Overcoming these obstacles quickly and effectively is imperative in driving B2B client satisfaction, building value, and increasing sales and revenue opportunities.

A Bright Outlook

It should not come as a surprise that companies that proactively invest in the B2B customer onboarding period are much more likely to achieve success in overcoming these initial challenges. Firms that prioritize customer experience during onboarding report higher levels of revenue growth and greater success during the period. These “Prioritizers” are able to deliver an excellent customer experience from first impression through completion of services. They generate high-impact solutions, drive client renewals and referrals, and ensure long-term client satisfaction. Among the Prioritizer firms surveyed, the outlook is much brighter:

  • 64 percent said they leverage data and insights to understand and predict higher-level customer needs.
  • They were three times as likely to say they delivered “very or extremely well” on establishing an in-depth understanding of customer behaviors, feelings, and motivations.
  • They were far more likely to deliver experiences as a cohesive, consistent system.
  • They used common success metrics in the onboarding period, as well as customer relationship management systems and tools to ensure presale expectations are met.
  • They also assigned specific responsibility for customer satisfaction to an individual employee during onboarding.

Delivering Outstanding Customer Experiences

How does a business become a Prioritizer? Consider the three major onboarding challenges we noted previously and employ some straightforward mechanisms to support the delivery of outstanding experiences to new customers to establish long-term relationships:

Customer Understanding: Knowing your customer’s wants, needs, goals, and drivers is essential. Your business should strive to continually learn about your customer during the purchasing phase—and document those learnings to apply to future customer interactions.

Approximately 20 percent of executives reported that their organizations do not use customer-specific metrics for onboarding success. Customizing metrics based on your understanding of your customer optimize success, while giving them the opportunity to share with you who they are and what options they find satisfying. Proactive organizations continuously read, process, and adapt to their customers’ feedback to learn who to target within a client organization, and how to target them better than their competitors.

Alignment of Functional Groups: Certain functional groups in a business, including service delivery, sales, customer support, operations, and product and service development, play a significant role in determining a client’s first impressions during onboarding. Ensuring that your organization’s various functional groups work seamlessly to provide customers with consistency, clarity, and kindness will catapult first impressions from good to great. Melanie Wing, former VP of Strategic Marketing at Equifax, agrees: “Every employee is doing what they think is the right thing to do for their functional area, but sometimes that causes a poor customer experience. We need to get everyone to think like the customer.”

B2B onboarding winners take a 360-degree approach that emphasizes communication and ongoing touchpoints between functional groups and the less client-facing roles such as marketing, finance, and IT to lessen any potential surprises or mishaps. This behind-the-scenes effort will help your organization more fully understand the individual roles needed for successful onboarding and how they contribute to cross-functional efficiencies and success.

Communication: Communication is an important part of any human experience. A surefire way to sour a new customer relationship is to give them the impression that the company they just hired cannot clearly communicate, and may not produce the outcomes it was hired to deliver or the needs it was hired to solve. Clear and consistent communication is an important success factor.

Internally, increasing the frequency and quality of communication among your business units and sharing positive and negative feedback among all departments supports a test-and-learn environment of ongoing improvement. Increased communication may take the form of newsletters, e-mail updates, customer service responses, and internal social media forums (e.g., Slack or Workplace). Improved quality means sharing feedback in the context of those you are communicating with—helping them see the client impact and empathizing with the client’s frustration or need for improvement. Allow critical feedback to be internalized for growth and improvement and ensure that positive feedback fuels best practices and morale. Similarly, these avenues may be refocused for external communication to provide new customers with several channels to share their input.

When it comes to customer onboarding and important first impressions, adaptability and learning from trial and error are essential to company growth. Allison Bennett, chief marketing officer of Business at JPMorgan Chase, shared during the B2B onboarding research: “We have to honor expectations, and sometimes we have to remind them to enjoy all the benefits that are available to them.”

Engaging all employees to help understand the B2B customer, clarifying their specific roles in onboarding success, and increasing incoming and outgoing communication drives sales and increases revenue. Investing in first impressions and successful customer onboarding is a reliable and proven way to prioritize your business success and growth.

Rob Sherrell has 20 years of marketing strategy and customer experience expertise. With an extensive cross-channel customer experience background, Sherrell specializes in helping clients expand their market presence by delivering experience-based differentiation. Sherrell leads North Highland’s Global Customer Experience practice and is a founding partner of Sparks Grove (2006), the Experience Design division of North Highland. Previously, Sherrell served as director of Worldwide Marketing Communications for Delta Air Lines. Sherrell is a graduate of LSU, where he received a Bachelor’s degree in International Trade & Finance. He also holds an International MBA from the University of South Carolina.

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