B2B Marketers: Creating A Great Customer Experience

For decades, companies in the consumer space have invested billions developing brand experiences around their products, services, and people. These experiences help forge loyalty and create a purpose that resonates in profound, emotional, and lasting ways. Think Disney theme parks, BMW’s “Ultimate Driving Machine,” or a digital world powered by Apple.

Companies on the business-to-business (B2B) side, however, are typically less focused on creating customer experiences as a way to achieve competitive advantage. After all, success in B2B categories often depends on operational excellence and delivering against the “behind the scenes” needs of business customers.
But the attributes of B2B winners -- reliability, accuracy, quality, and ease -- are also the hallmarks of a great customer experience. Consider three B2B “trailblazers” that have developed experiences that both strengthened their brands and drove competitive advantage in challenging markets.




UPS has always received high marks from business customers for making package delivery easier and more convenient. In exploring customers’ emerging needs, it discovered that businesses increasingly wanted a partner to help with a range of shipping and logistics services. They believed UPS could be this partner because it did so well in making it easier for “business to focus on business.” Today, it’s a provider of choice for over 50 percent of the Fortune 500, with 22 percent revenue growth over the past five years despite a tough global economy. From “What Can Brown Do For You?” to its current campaign around “Loving Logistics,” UPS has cemented its position as a partner eager to take on and add value to important but peripheral elements of a company’s business.


GE has set an industry standard for defining a B2B customer experience. Its financing arm, GE Capital, discovered a key insight early in the development of its business model: Its largest customers wanted access to credit, but also needed to learn more about financing their growing business operations. GE Capital delivers an experience that follows the mantra “stop just banking, start building.” To this end, GE Capital offers Access GE, which allows customers to benefit from CFO webinars, proprietary cost-reducing tools, and one-on-one engagements with GE experts to resolve business challenges. GE Technology Infrastructure and GE Energy offer similar programs, all of which have helped make GE one of the world’s most-valuable brands.


Caterpillar, the $70 billion heavy machinery manufacturer, goes to market through a worldwide dealer network. About a decade ago, it realized that future growth would come primarily from emerging markets, which were already saturated with local competitors that also offered high-quality products and services. Caterpillar knew it needed to develop a second-to-none dealer experience. The company embarked on a year-long journey to understand the customer experience with current and lapsed accounts. Findings were folded into Caterpillar’s strategic growth plan, and became the foundation of the playbook against which Caterpillar now assesses its dealers globally. The payoff? Caterpillar surpassed rival John Deere in the 2011 Fortune 500 ranking. It also has capitalized on emerging markets’ investment in infrastructure, now earning more revenue and profit from outside North America than from within.

What Next?

B2B companies need to understand that the dizzying pace of change and increasing commoditization of many products will force them to develop customer experiences that form barriers to entry and drive price leadership. Furthermore, the attributes that drive purchase and loyalty in B2B categories can all be delivered profitably in the context of a customer experience.

Here’s how to think about it:

*Who are your most critical customers, now and in three to five years?

*Can their needs be met with only products and services, or would a new system (i.e., an experience) help them derive value?

*What customer insights can help inform the required elements of an experience? What role could new sources of inspiration (best practices, company analogs, ethnography) play in developing some powerful, unexpected insights?

*With which accounts could you “test and learn” around an experience before rolling something out to the broader organization?

In today's global marketplace, products and services will evolve and change, but the drivers of customer loyalty will remain the same. There is no better way to create this loyalty than to define, develop, and deliver an experience that defines the brand and makes competitors irrelevant.

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