We all know the importance of a good first impression – be it with a new friend, partner or a prospective customer, it sets the tone and ground rules of your relationship moving forward.
For Business to Business (B2B) customers this is more important than ever due to changing expectations influenced by B2C onboarding. Suppliers need to create a positive first impression of their product or service through an onboarding process which reaffirms the customer's purchase decision and sets the partnership on a path for success.
A successful onboarding experience brings significant opportunities, with a Harvard Business Review survey finding that 85% of executives agree it will lead to long term customer loyalty (HBR, 2016).
If your perception of a B2B relationship is that you’ve won over the customer once they’ve signed the contract, you could be overlooking a crucial stage of the relationship for generating loyalty and reducing churn.
From sign-up to first success
The onboarding experience revolves around the actions and processes involved in familiarising or integrating people with a new product, service or organisation. For B2B customers, onboarding is usually framed by two key milestones, the ‘sign-up’ and the ‘first success’.
That is, the time between when a customer signs on the dotted line and when they are first able to realise the value from the product or service that convinced them to make the purchase in the first place. A great onboarding experience progresses people between these two points as effectively as possible.
Onboarding sets the foundation for a happy and successful B2B relationship and these are the three areas we believe that every company should focus on.
1 – People
People are at the heart of experience design, and their needs must be at the core of onboarding. What complicates B2B onboarding is the typical breadth of stakeholders involved in the relationship; each with their own needs, expectations and definitions of success. Remember, people buy and use the same product for different reasons. Unmet needs during onboarding may leave negative impressions and sour the relationship from the start. To design an effective onboarding experience, you must understand the needs of impacted stakeholder groups, beyond traditional requirements. You should understand their short-term goals, pain points and how they intend to use the product or service by conducting interviews, shadowing and group workshops.
2 – Transparency
Transparency and ongoing communication are key components for a successful B2B onboarding experience with HBR (2016) finding that only 54% of customers knew what to expect during onboarding. A lack of transparency in onboarding activities means that customers often find it difficult to know when they can expect value from the product or service. To the contrary, the growing trend in B2C onboarding is to continuously show customers the value they are receiving (HBR, 2016). We find that sharing and agreeing onboarding activities with your customer early helps set expectations, minimises negative surprises and maximises the positive experiences. One way of doing this is to agree a set of goals with your customer which, when achieved, mean your customer is receiving the service they desire.
3 – Outcomes
Outcomes are the real measure of success and this is no different in B2B onboarding. Onboarding has been traditionally modelled as a time-based activity with interventions, communications and milestones targeted at predetermined points in time. To this end, the onboarding phase may officially finish before the customer has realised any true value from the product or service. A focus on outcomes rather than time underpins a relationship where the money and effort invested by both parties are focussed around creating and sustaining demonstrable value. We encourage defining Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) with your customers upfront, with the early definition helping to establish a mutual end to the onboarding phase. If your customer fails to achieve the value they seek, you are more likely to fail in maintaining a long-term relationship.
B2B onboarding should be focussed on supporting your customer to a point where they can realise the value of your product or service. This should be done in a transparent way that celebrates your client’s successes and that takes into account the different needs of the stakeholders involved. Building a people focussed onboarding experience will help build stronger relationships with customers and increase the probability of positive long term partnerships.
Learn more about how NTT DATA can support you in designing a B2B onboarding experience that creates mutual value for both suppliers and customers by contacting Paul Barwick-Copeland Paul.Barwick-Copeland@nttdata.com, Head of B2B and Employee Experience.
BRINGING VALUE ONBOARD: OPTIMIZING THE B2B CUSTOMER ONBOARDING EXPERIENCE. (2016). [online] Harvard Business School Publishing. Available at: https://hbr.org/sponsored/2016/10/bringing-value-onboard-optimizing-the-b2b-customer-onboarding-experience [Accessed 22 Aug. 2019].
Kieran Panchal, Senior Consultant, NTT DATA UK
Edward Spear, Senior Consultant, NTT DATA UK