Most B2B companies aren’t giving customers the digital credit they deserve — and the customer experience could be hurting for it.
Customers are savvy whether they’re B2B or B2C. They all research online before they buy. They all look for answers online before they ask. They all try to fix problems online before they complain.
And many B2B customers aren’t finding what they want.
Not keeping pace
In fact, 97% of professional customers think user-generated content — such as peer reviews and group discussions — is more credible than the information the company puts out there, a Keylan poll found. Yet, many B2B companies don’t provide online tools so customers can interact. And some of those that do, aren’t keeping pace with their B2C counterparts.
A B2B network can’t work exactly like a B2C one. Among the reasons: There just aren’t as many customers contributing. Customers’ level of interest and expertise for a B2C and B2B product is quite different. B2B passion is usually more practical than B2C — after all, ball bearings and cloud storage don’t tend to elicit the same emotions as late-night tacos and toilet paper.
For B2Bs, customers usually need technical information, not anecdotes. They need professional answers more than social engagement. They need reassurance more than relationships.
So how can a B2B build and maintain an online network for customers that enhances their experience with the company?
First, don’t try to replicate B2C online experiences, say Harvard Business Review researchers Allesandro Di Fiore and Simon Scheinder. Instead, build it based on three key elements that appear consistently in B2B organizations that have successful online networks:
Professionals participate in online communities for different reasons than consumers. They get active because the network helps build their reputation in a larger professional community. Consumers are usually driven more by the social connection.
B2B users look to learn, share and sometimes gain professional benefits from being an active part of an online community. B2C users aren’t as interested in education.
For instance, the researchers shared this success: A large German software company saw a huge jump in user activity when it added “reputation points” to its Community Network. Users gave their peers points in appreciation for good content and insights. Some customers have gone on to note those points in job applications within the industry.
2. Broad range of topics
B2B firms that have strong online communities provide a broad range of content. They don’t focus solely on their products or services. They include research, white papers and commentary on subjects relevant to their customers’ business.
For instance, a software provider has more than two million active users, mostly gained by allowing users to expand topics beyond what the company found interesting. Customers use the platform to share information that intrigues and helps them.
Researchers say the ideal B2B online community allows customers to be in control.
3. Open up
Finally, great B2B digital networks don’t stand alone. They partner and integrate with other organizations and networks to make theirs stronger and more useful to customers.
For instance, a European transport system partnered with events, job sites and industry associations to enhance its Q&A database, putting together a central hub for anyone involved or interested in the transportation industry. Partners keep their “front doors” (their networking or Q&A pages look consistent with their organizations’ sites), but the information behind the door is connected to all the partners. It has helped the transportation system boost customer engagement 35%. They now get and answer more questions than ever.