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Customer-Centric Design Powers the B2B Digital Experience

Creating the optimal customer journey for manufacturers and B2B companies starts with understanding your customer personas and their unique paths to purchase

July 28th, 2022 / Tags: ,

A hand building a customer journey map on a pinboard.

Building the right digital experience for B2B customers is much more complex than crafting a user-centric B2C experience. We know because we’ve done it for companies ranging from heavy-duty truck fleet operators to tow truck drivers, construction contractors and architects, commercial welders, retail shop owners, and more. The same streamlined, efficient experience is expected by B2B customers, but their personas can be difficult to define, and the hyper-personalization that has come to define B2C shopping is difficult to achieve in B2B. Many a poor customer journey is built on assumptions – do you really know your customers and what they want, or are you just guessing?

Straight from the horse’s mouth is an old expression, and its longevity can be credited to its veracity: There’s no better source for what your B2B manufacturing customers actually want than hearing it directly from them. Without understanding your customer’s needs, wants, and goals, you’re not going to create a digital platform that leads to sales, encourages customer self-service (which frees up your salespeople to focus on more important things), or that your customers will even want to use.

The only way to understand customer needs is only through research. Then those learnings have to be translated into customer personas so you can build great digital experiences tailored to each persona’s customer journey. Hearing directly from your customers not only informs your user experience but solidifies your client relationships.

For manufacturers and other B2B businesses, customer-centric design is what’s going to convince them to adopt this new platform, help them access their account info and make purchases, and keep them coming back for more. It’s not a do-it-yourself proposition, picking the right expert partner is essential.

Read on to find out where many B2B companies go wrong when creating their digital experiences and how you can offer the best in customer-centric design.

How the B2B digital experience can go sideways

Let’s not make light of the task: These are the most complex user experiences that exist. You can’t just purchase a technology platform and create an experience based on what you think your customers want. This is the biggest mistake your competition is making, and you don’t want to repeat it. Yes, your sales team knows their customers well, but have they ever asked them what they want in a digital experience?

Building a great digital experience requires a confluence of user needs, business goals, and technology objectives. It’s a matter of balance. What is your organization trying to achieve, and what products and services will get you there? What technology is already in-house, and what is needed? What about the data you need to capture and leverage that will create optimized, personalized customer journeys?

Rather than belabor what you might be doing wrong, let’s talk about how you can do it right and squash the competition with your customer-centric digital experience.

Start with personas

We talked about how you think you know your customer. You probably know a lot about what they value in product features, but developing personas that accurately model their digital experience across the customer lifecycle requires more of a deep dive.

Creating personas starts with your viewpoint – what you understand about your customers and how you interact with them. After all, you know your business, you’re great at it, and your sales staff, customer service agents, marketing department, and tech team are all rich sources of information. Gathering all their viewpoints is essential to learn how things work now and where the pain points are for internal teams and customers – all with the goal of creating optimized customer-centric experiences.

Next, we spend hours and hours talking to the actual customers who will be engaging with your customer journeys. It’s essential to learn about their day-to-day processes and how they’re engaging with you and your competitors. What are they trying to do when they contact you? What features and functionality do they want in a digital platform? What do they need and what are they trying to achieve?

The answers to these questions can’t be covered by a survey alone. It takes one-on-one interviews.

Sometimes personas are thought about as someone with a specific job title within an organization or something like that. But that’s a job description, not a customer persona. We group people explicitly by what they’re trying to do and what is most important to them when they’re engaging with an experience. So, it might be people that look very different in terms of job title, but once we start to uncover what those people are really trying to do, they may need very similar things. Personas are built out based on their mindset and what they’re trying to do when they engage with the experience.

These interviews help create personas that inform your digital experience. Once pain points are identified, solutions and functionality can be developed, whether they are self-service portals or notifications about order progress. Then there are the essentials for each persona: The functions needed to deliver what they want when they engage with you and specific features that capitalize on the opportunities that lie within that persona. It’s hard to reach a destination without a map, and customer-centric design requires a map of each persona’s customer journey to create the ideal digital experience for that person.

Mapping the customer journey

Now that personas have been defined and you know who your customers are and what they’re trying to do, it’s time to follow their journey. This involves taking a deep look from initial awareness all the way through to purchase and how they interact with their account in the future. How are they engaging with you? What are they thinking, feeling, and asking? What platforms or experiences are they engaging with and where are their pain points? Where can you be doing better?

Examining the customer journey is a journey within itself, broken into stages, mapping not only the practical parts of the digital experience but also understanding emotions. Are they really happy? Is part of the process inherently a bit stressful or hard or difficult or complicated? This is where we note how we can improve those emotions and support needs.

It’s during this phase that we discover how many individual customer journeys you have to map. You could have six personas, but that doesn’t mean you have six journey maps. Perhaps four personas are going through the customer journey the same way, and the other two each have their own specific journey. You may find that many of your personas have similar journeys because they’re coming at the engagement from a similar point of view, even if they’re driven by different things and have different must-haves.

Creating the digital experience

Creating the best customer-centric design for manufacturers or other B2B companies starts with benchmarking and inspiration. While your company is unique, some companies (particularly B2C) offer stellar customer experiences with functions that can be used as examples for your own digital platform. It’s about looking at what others are doing right (and wrong) and learning from their experience.

Benchmarking helps get the creative juices flowing, but more importantly, it helps align everyone on where things are headed before getting into the actual design and development phase. It can offer a great deal of enlightenment and surprising efficiencies. For example, after going through the customer research process for one manufacturer, we found that 50% of the features that were internally considered valuable to their customers weren’t being used at all.

This highlights the need to understand what your customers and prospects are actually doing, what they need, and what they find valuable. There’s often a disconnect here between internal expectations and those of the customer.

This brings us right back to the beginning, and the research necessary to turn what you already understand about your customer into a fully fleshed-out persona that powers your customer-centric digital experience.

At Shift7 Digital, we understand manufacturing and B2B. We’ve done this for everyone from heavy-duty truck fleet operators to tow truck drivers, construction contractors and architects, commercial welders, retail shop owners, and more. We understand your customers, how they fit into your organization, and we partner with you to get where you want to go. We’ll turn your digital experience into one that others use as a benchmark. Reach out today.

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