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The SiriusDecisions Summit has become one of the pre-eminent events in North America for product, marketing and sales leaders at B2B companies. Held last week in Nashville, Tennessee, the 2016 event focused on the theme of “the art and science of intelligent growth” and featured more than 50 sessions from SiriusDecisions analysts and 100 case studies.

SiriusDecisions Summit 2016 - recap

The big takeaway from the summit? B2B customer experience matters, and it’s increasingly becoming the biggest competitive advantage for leading brands. I attended the conference with several of my colleagues. Here’s a summary of the business lessons we took away from the four-day conference.

  1. Get a clearer picture of your customers.

Many speakers reiterated the importance of embracing audience-centricity. Marisa Kopec, vice president of innovation and product management at SiriusDecisions, said companies must move from a product-centric approach in their go-to-market strategy to one that is more audience-centric.

“The reality is that many B2B companies don’t naturally have 20/20 buyer vision,” Kopec said. “They can see their products and solutions, but they have a hard time seeing their buyers.”

To move to an audience-centric approach, Kopec recommended prioritizing buyer personas, defining buyer needs and mapping a company’s portfolio accordingly.

Concluded Kopec, “Don’t assume you know who your buyer is…make sure you are using both art (qualitative) and science (quantitative) to target and cross-functionally validate that your sights, and investments, are focused on the right audience.”

  1. Engage with your current customers to uncover customer needs.

In their presentation, Jeff Lash, VP and group director of go-to-market strategy at SiriusDecisions, and Rachel Young, research director at SiriusDecisions, said that in order to succeed, companies need to look beyond short-term and obvious customer needs.

“Companies focusing only on obvious needs miss out on the broader landscape of potential needs that could be addressed,” said Lash. “The ability to find and address customer needs is the foundation of marketing.”

Before they even think about building a new product and bringing it to market, companies must first do something fundamental: set a common definition of customer needs.

Explained Young, “Though the concept of a need may seem so fundamental that it doesn't need to be described, our research shows that companies struggle to understand and act on customer needs because they lack a common definition of exactly what a need is."

Once a definition of a need is clarified, companies should then engage with their customers. According to Lark, current customers should be the primary source for discovering what constitutes a customer need and how to meet it.

  1. Don’t ignore the post-sale experience.

While the summit featured a lot of content about lead generation and pipeline acceleration, many speakers emphasized the need to focus on the experience of current customers.

Megan Heuer, vice president of research at SiriusDecisions, gave a compelling presentation on why B2B companies need to significantly improve their CX strategy. A 2016 SiriusDecisions study shows that CX is critical for customer growth, retention and advocacy and could potentially make or a break a company’s success.

Research from SiriusDecisions shows that up to 80 percent of buying decisions in B2B are “based on a buyer’s direct or indirect customer experience.” Only 20 percent are based on the price or the actual offering.

The bad news: most B2B companies are failing to meet post-sale CX expectations. Forty-five percent of the B2B customers that SiriusDecisions talked to indicated that they aren’t getting the value they were promised. As a result, 42 percent indicated that they’re not sure about renewing with their vendors—and 61 percent aren’t willing to recommend their providers. The study also shows a widening gap in terms of how executives and customers perceive the post-sale experience.

In her keynote, Heuer said B2B companies must focus on three things right away to improve the B2B customer experience. The first step is something that Lark and Young already discussed: establish a deep understanding of customer needs. Customer intelligence should also be part of the mix: companies need to leverage customer engagement to gauge perceptions of the post-sale experience and how it can be improved. Companies should consider co-creating the post-sale experience with their customers.

“Far too often, b-to-b organizations portray themselves as customer-centric without really understanding what customers want after they buy,” said Heuer in an accompanying press release about the study. “In order to keep current customers, attract new ones and ultimately grow revenues and profits, B2B companies must listen to customers, find out where there are gaps, then take meaningful action on what they hear.”

  1. Build a community to improve the B2B customer experience.

In his keynote, the celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson, a familiar face from Food Network shows Chopped and Top Chef, reiterated the importance of focusing on the B2B customer experience and revealed how building a community can help companies drive results.

“No one goes to a restaurant because they’re hungry,” he said. “People go because they want an experience. If you can’t give an experience that exceeds expectations and is something to talk about at the water cooler or post about on Facebook, then you don’t have a business.”

Samuelsson shared that tapping into the local community has been integral to the success of his businesses.

He explained, “Through Red Rooster, I’ve been able to articulate my dream and vision about the local community and what the word ‘restaurant’ truly means. It means to restore your community. Our job is to tell stories about our community through hospitality.”

Final thought

The message from the 2016 SiriusDecisions Summit is clear: just like their B2C counterparts, B2B marketers need to think about the end-to-end experience of customers. Companies need to pay particular attention to the post-sale experience—to make sure that they understand the wants, needs and pain points of the customers they serve.

For more info on how to improve the B2B customer experience, watch The Rise of the Chief Customer Officer, a webinar with CX pro Jeanne Bliss. 

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