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B2B is 
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Why B2B is best equipped for omnichannel marketing

In the fourth and final article in our omnichannel marketing series, we'll look at how B2B presents many possibilities for setting up and carrying out omnichannel marketing initiatives.

In recent years, Rasmus Houlind, the expert behind our current article series, has been working extensively with omnichannel marketing.

According to Rasmus, there are extensive opportunities for omnichannel in the B2B realm,
"At presentations and conferences, I am often asked whether omnichannel marketing is also appropriate for B2B businesses. In my opinion, even though it was indeed B2C that 'invented' the term 'omnichannel', most B2B businesses are better equipped to get into omnichannel than B2C businesses."

To illustrate this, we'll give you in-depth examples using the Omnichannel Hexagon Model.

Omnichannel Full

Customer recognition and permission gathering

Getting the foundation right is key to providing a personalised message, and they can be deceptively hard to master despite their apparent simplicity. In order to conduct omnichannel marketing, you must be able to:

  • Identify your customers
  • Have permission for 1:1 communication with them

This might not sound like much, but again - it is absolutely crucial.

"We use data and insight to create relevant and coherent customer experiences across channels, so that customers can switch channels without having to start over again. As a consequence, they will recognise that it is they who are at the centre – then they will buy. –Rasmus Houlind, founder of the Omnichannel Institute

As depicted in the Omnichannel Hexagon, the first stage is:

  • Being able to recognise individual customers (Identification)
  • Building up a reasonable quantity of customers and prospects (Volume)
  • Maintaining a commitment to communication with the entire customer base across channels (Engagement)
Omnichannel Customer Recognition Permissions

An example of a B2B company that works with this is Pfizer. Like many other companies, Pfizer wants to communicate with their customers in a more relevant and cost-effective way.

When they gather permissions on, they try to determine whether they are dealing with a nurse or a doctor, as well as identifying the individual's speciality. In doing this, they recognise that a customer is not just a customer and that individuals can have various roles in their day-to-day work and in decision-making processes.

Data collection

Data is the company's 'tool' for getting to know customers.

Omnichannel Data Collection

The knowledge you gather from data can be used to provide a coherent customer experience, regardless of the channel. The more you know about each individual, the more relevant your communication can be.

"They [customers] will thus find that it is they who are at the centre - then they will buy." –Rasmus Houlind, founder of the Omnichannel Institute

The unique thing about data collection in a B2B framework is that everything is bought 'on account' and rarely as an anonymous cash purchase. Because of this, there is automatically a certain amount of data available on customers; without it, you would not be able to send an invoice to the company. This is a clear advantage compared to B2C retail, which starts with a blank slate in the form of an anonymous transaction on a credit card terminal. It is also why B2C retail is obliged to set up customer clubs and other initiatives with the goal of luring customers into identifying themselves.

But as soon as data collection rises above the level of combining transactional and CRM data, the challenges become the same as for B2C:

  • How to integrate customers' daily digital footprints
  • How to use that data when communicating with and servicing an individual customer
  • How to link such data to third-party data
  • etc.

B2B businesses have especially good opportunities for comparing their own data with that of national and international registries. But what about the customer's customers? Could B2B businesses profit from building data collection directly into their products? One example of this is Bam Labs, an American supplier of equipment to the healthcare sector. Among their products is a pressure-sensitive mattress that collects a number of data sets on the patient when in use. The patient lies at home, instead of in an overcrowded hospital corridor, and the mattress sends data to the hospital on the patient's pulse, breathing, length of time in bed and whatever else might be useful. This is all data that can be used by both Bam Labs and their customers, and the patient benefits from this as well of course.

It's time to consider data collection in a broader perspective than previously done.

Data discovery

Both business customers and ordinary consumers are using an increasing amount of digital channels, products and services. This means that, quite naturally, the volume of data is growing exponentially. There is a golden opportunity for companies to discover data that can predict whether customers will remain loyal or are on their way out. The means of seizing this opportunity is data discovery.

With respect to data discovery of both customer and third-party data, B2B faces more or less the same challenges as B2C. However, one small advantage for B2B can be highlighted: B2B generally has more experience with CRM and automated transaction data. Additionally, the ability to integrate third-party data from company registries means that B2B should be able to get off to a quicker start.

Omnichannel Data Discovery

A good example of information usage is the Danish company Brødrene Dahl, who give their sales staff prioritised call lists on the basis of their own transaction data and third-party company data. In this way, sales staff automatically get support for deciding whom they call and what they should talk to them about. This means that sales can execute more efficiently while customers benefit from being put in centre stage.

So with this in mind, let's move to the next step: making optimal use of the knowledge gained from data discovery.

Communication and service

Data is only worth something if it is used properly. So how do you use your customer knowledge in your communications and services?

Omnichannel Communication Service

B2B often deals with niche markets, so mass communication is not an appropriate tactic. But if you do not have permissions for the right prospects, or enough of them, you will have to rely on paid media such as target ads on LinkedIn, cleverly placed outdoor advertising or direct mail.

If your B2B business has a high-volume customer/contact base, you also have the potential for automated, personalised customer communication.

But beware: using outdated CRM data can easily backfire. This happened to Jeanette Aaen who, in spite of being in her fourth year as CEO of Babysam, received a piece of direct mail from Microsoft Dynamics CRM that was addressed to her predecessor, and not her. Quite poor publicity for anyone wanting to sell CRM systems.

Performance analysis

Now that the customer is at the centre of the omnichannel methodology, it makes sense to measure in terms of customers, rather than channels. That is not to say that we should no longer measure and optimise conversions on each individual channel; of course we should. We have to measure both parts so that we can quantify on an operational and a strategic level. Again, the advantages of B2B over B2C are clear, because customer data is more readily available.

Omnichannel Performance Analysis

Two brands that are good at measuring in terms of customers are Trustpilot and Atea.

  • Trustpilot has incorporated customer lifetime value (CLV) in their measurements. They can find out whether their initiatives actually produce more profitable customers over time, as opposed to just a boost now and again. CLV can be difficult to work with, so many firms take shortcuts and instead ask customers about their willingness to be ambassadors.
  • Atea is an example of a company that consistently measures the Net Promotor Score. Above all, they continuously optimise on the basis of their results.

These two examples cover both the hard-core financial and more emotional customer perspective aspects.

Organising and management

Last but not least, we will take a closer look at why organising and management are crucial to your success with omnichannel marketing. Whether your business is B2B or B2C, you'll not get very far with omnichannel marketing if your internal agendas and personal bonus targets stand in the way of providing customers with a coherent experience across channels, lifecycle stages and contacts with various organisational entities.

All of the examples highlighted in this article are indicators of a growing movement. They show that there are companies fighting day after day to create coherent customer experiences, for the benefit of companies as well as customers.

Omnichannel Organizing Management

Our omnichannel marketing expert, Rasmus Houlind, says that the primary characteristics of the organisational challenges are due to

  • B2B businesses having a strong tendency to be product-orientated, or in the best case, sales-orientated. There are many companies that started out with an engineering approach to product development and a product that could perhaps be used in many industries and sectors. That can make it difficult to incorporate customer orientation in the culture.
  • In B2B, there is typically a greater conflict between marketing and sales than in B2C. The debate is often over when something is considered a lead. What is the quality of the leads? Do marketing departments just do branding and colouring, or do they actually manage to garner insights from customer data that can be used by the sales department in direct dialogue with customers (as is the case at Brødrene Dahl)?

How far has B2B come?

At the end of my presentation to the Episerver B2B Summit in Vejle, Denmark in March 2015, I asked the participants to indicate by a show of hands where they thought they were on the Omnichannel Hexagon. The result was that NO ONE thought they were positioned in the innermost ring. Rather, they distributed themselves about 60% in the outermost ring and 40% in the middlemost. So, although B2B businesses are better equipped, they have nonetheless, and to a large extent, not got off the starting line. I look forward to asking the same question in a couple of years. –Rasmus Houlind, founder of the Omnichannel Institute

At LanguageWire, we too look forward to following developments and being part of them so that you, as a customer, will come to feel that you are indeed at the centre of the universe!

All illustrations in the article are from the book "Make it all about me... and I'll buy it!" by Rasmus Houlind, founder of the Omnichannel Institute.