I remember going to dinner with my now husband, who was about to fly back to Europe. We only had a few precious hours before I had to take him to the airport. On the way, we stopped at one of the top-rated Thai restaurants in the city, which was family-owned.
We sat down, and a very friendly waiter, who was the owner’s son, served us.
During our time, we learned WAY too much about this person, who kept interrupting our conversation with tales of:
- How terrible it was to own a restaurant,
- The horrors of working in a restaurant and;
- Why he toiled away at the restaurant instead of his sister, who we assumed was the favored child.
Throughout this awkward meal, my then-boyfriend and I tried to converse amongst ourselves, and the waiter was always there hovering, often interrupting. Even after we politely told our talkative, intrusive waiter that we wanted to be left alone, he didn’t take the hint.
By the time we left the restaurant, three things had happened:
- We found out that we weren’t being pranked.
- If we ever had any thoughts about owning a restaurant, our waiter’s grievances permanently turned us off from the idea.
- Our impression of the restaurant was extremely negative.
I don’t even remember what the food tasted like. But all these years later, I certainly recall feeling incredibly uncomfortable and annoyed during the meal. The unintentional consequence of our interaction with the waiter was neither of us would recommend this restaurant to anyone else.
No business wants to find out that a pushy employee sent their customers running in the opposite direction. That first interaction with consumers is pivotal for organizations to provide value. It’s an opportunity to leave people with a positive feeling that makes them want to come back.
The same applies to digital experiences. First impressions are everything. People want the space to evaluate products and services without feeling pressured or overwhelmed. Not giving people the autonomy to do this is detrimental to closing the sale.
What studies reveal about customer perception and space
In a series of studies, researchers wanted to understand whether a variation in the physical distance between salespeople and consumers affected perceptions about the business.
It posed two questions:
- Would the relationship between consumers and sales representatives be affected when varying the space between them and the purchase?
- How does this affect a customer’s perception of the retailer based on this distance?
On the one hand, when surveyed ahead of time, most salespeople believed staying close to consumers was a good idea. However, customers participating in the studies felt differently. Their survey responses revealed how they felt uneasy at the thought of a salesperson violating their personal space.
During the study, customers responded negatively to the salesperson and extended staff when the distance between the two parties was small (1-2 feet) to medium (5-6 feet). They also felt ambivalence towards the store itself. The studies’ results showed that not giving people room to make purchasing decisions independently without intrusion could “carry significant long-term consequences” for businesses.
Now let’s extend this to an organization’s digital presence. People interact with companies in all corners of the web, from Facebook to webinars. They are reaching sites via ads and general online searches. And their buying journey isn’t linear.
Acquiring the sale now means zeroing in on exactly what your ideal customer is thinking. What pain(s) are they going through? What products do they buy? How much time are they spending considering or buying from your competitors?
And are you using this data to create a personalized experience that doesn’t push too hard?
Jeriad Zoghby, global personalization lead, Accenture Interactive, notes how this information ties into how buyers perceive their experiences.
But doing this has become more difficult because consumers want less interaction with sales reps. They’re also more skeptical of these people and often don’t want them to be anywhere near them during the consideration process.
Making the sale now means businesses have to focus on trust building and prove that they can overcome prospective customers’ switching costs. Zoghby points out:
People will want to have the option to watch a video of a product case study asynchronously or download a white paper without having a sales rep follow up.
Personalized experiences expand on relationship building
Time after time, customers have said that they wished their shopping experiences online were more personalized. And if it were, they would likely become repeat buyers. As Peter Reinhardt, former CEO of Twilio Segment, said:
Businesses that know their customers and provide a personalized experience are more likely to achieve the brand loyalty they’re looking for.
Ways to personalize B2B experiences and take them further
Two main ingredients that improve online shopping are good data and segmentation. Both enable you to take product pages and recommendations from generic to specific. And turn customer portals into customized pages that make it hard to say “no” to a repeat purchase.
And here are a few suggestions on how to do it:
Provide content based on job title
Specialists, managers, and executives are all busy folk. They don’t have time to jump on a call to be sold products or sift through catalogs. But when your site or landing page provides content and messaging specific to those specific job titles, it gives them details they care about. You can drill down further by using interviews and surveys to provide them with more customized content.
Use smart CTAs
Smart CTAs outperform basic calls-to-action (CTA) by 202%! Instead of presenting site visitors with a generic message, each CTA could show unique content based on location, interest, or consideration stage.
Personalize orders and terms
In one report, B2B buyers were asked what personalization looks like to them. They wanted to see information specific to their payment terms, contracts, orders, and deliveries. Optimizing a website for this type of customization would include using localization to display shipping costs and lead times. To personalize the customer experience further, you could show product recommendations based on previous orders and viewed items.
By giving people more avenues to buy without interacting directly with sales teams, you’ll empower the customer to take control of their experience.
Personalized experiences give buyers the space they want
During the pre-industrial era into the 1950s, face-to-face sales made sense. Now we live in a time where consumers want more independence when buying. They don’t have the patience—or time—for a drawn-out sales process that forces them to have interactions they no longer want.
For B2B buyers, digital personalization is part of the natural evolution of relationship marketing. And it’s a tool you need to use in the quest to show buyers that you know them and understand what they’re looking for.