Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
B2B brands can build customer love and loyalty but they’ll need to shift the focus from price and quality to purpose, relevance and experience to get there, Mercer’s customer chief claims.
Speaking at the B2B Marketing Leaders Forum Asia-Pacific in Sydney, the superannuation and insurance group’s chief customer officer and CMO, Renee McGowan, said the nature of customer engagement in the B2B space has been transformed by digital disruption and consumer behaviour.
“Historically, differentiation in B2B has been the right combination of price, quality, service and availability and match to your audience,” McGowan comments. “That’s still important, but it’s a given.”
Today, it’s about relevance, purpose and experience, she said. And for Mercer, that translates to constantly meeting the end customer’s needs. For McGowan, three key trends are influencing the way B2B organisations need to approach marketing strategy and engagement. The first is the changing and transient nature of today’s workforces.
“You need to think about that in terms of way you ask who your organisation needs to talk to in those organisations you’re trying to reach,” she said.
The second is always-on connectivity, a phenomenon that has altered the way we all consume information and interact, McGowan said. “We use snippets of information to describe our lives, and while we remain social, it’s increasingly via technology,” she said. “That’s impacting society and how we feel as individual consumers and people.”
This is creating a greater need for brands to align behind a clear purpose, McGowan continued. “People are starting to crave more meaning. That’s contributing to why organisations are looking for purpose, and it’s flowing through to purpose-driven marketing activity,” she said.
The third, related trend is the change in consumer values. That is again impacting buyer behaviour, as well as the consumer’s expectations and emotional response to services and experiences.
“Business buyers are consumers first, and they’re likely to connect anything you say to their personal circumstance first, then business second,” McGowan said.
In light of these trends, Mercer is revamping its approach to customer engagement and marketing, reorienting its purpose towards the end customer’s needs and values, McGowan said. This transformation has not only seen the company invest in significant technology platforms, it’s also triggered a rethink across organisational structures and culture.
McGowan said the first step was uniting the organisation around a common purpose: Making a difference in people’s lives. The business the tagline is also, ‘make tomorrow today’.
“This has been profound for us, and it’s a big stretch,” she said. “It required lots of self-analysis, but also talking to customers as well... We needed to take a look at our organisation and how we make interactions more meaningful for customers.”
McGowan noted Mercer serves 1.3 million customers in Australia, a figure that translates to 2500 phone calls, 10,000 website transactions and 5 billion pieces of customer data daily.
“That’s people ringing to talk to us about their finances. Every conversation we have with them is personal,” she said. “We have an opportunity in every one of those conversations to go above and beyond what we can deliver to those people. It’s not just giving them answers today but anticipating what they’re going to need next as well.”
Rather than lead with a marketing campaign, McGowan said it was vital Mercer make significant organisational changes first. Work has been broken down into two main areas: People and purpose; and technology and conversations.
One big step was switching the focus onto Mercer’s customer’s customers. “The biggest challenge for our customers in B2B was how to deliver great solutions for their employees and members,” McGowan said. “We had to change the business to focus less on measures and important things for our organisation, such as managing your super, errors and the mission, and move to connections with your people, as well as how we prove we make an impact on their finances today and in the future.”
To do that, Mercer had to ensure its own staff understood their role in people’s lives. McGowan said this involved bringing in new hiring practices, training, and empowering employees.
“We stopped hiring for technical specialists and started hiring people who could make connections with people,” she said. “We’ve also redone training programs, and brought in a totally new customer service program.”
Mercer also brought all customer-facing teams into one unit under McGowan, a role which more recently expanded to include the CMO function.
Importantly, every one of Mercer’s 1200 A/NZ employees was asked to map their role against the impact they have on an end customer. “That’s easy in the call centre, but hard if you’re CPA in treasury to understand your role impacts on end customer,” she said.
“Then it was about putting every one of our people in charge of the customer relationship – if it wasn’t working well or we weren’t saying the right things, it was in their power to change that.”
On top of this, Mercer has worked to ensure it deliver exceptional experiences everytime. To do that, McGowan said it needed to know customers better, map internal staff to the right buyers and influencers in an end customer’s organisation, and equip them with a consistent brand narrative. Rethinking its retail infrastructure to deliver those end customer experiences was the result.
For the last two years, Mercer has been engaged in a large transformation program to bring in a host of new technology and digital capability. This includes Mercer Edge, its propriety system for customer analytics; Salesforce to help employees have relevant conversations with customers through all channels; next-best conversation algorithms to direct conversations; and Salesforce Marketing Cloud to realign the marketing and communications strategy towards more personalised engagement. Mercer is also working to ensure personalised and contextualised experiences extend through to its digital properties.
But none of this technology would be worthwhile without changing the organisational processes to leverage it effectively, McGowan said.
“Technology elements get a lot of focus and we get distracted a bit by that - we get excited by data the capabilities, digital, what the latest content marketing and automation innovations are,” she commented. “It’s important to know what’s out there and be on top of it as it changes. But as marketers, we have to be clear on the conversations we want to have with our customers, then use the right technology to enable that. Thinking that way has made it a lot simpler for us.”
Thanks to these efforts, McGowan said Mercer is able to interact with customers in a more relevant way, a process she aligned to three primary ingredients: Fact, insights and action.
“This is about having personal facts, insights into a situation, then helping those customers to take an action,” she said. “These simple tenets drive every one of our channel conversations and put the focus on the end customer.”
McGowan admitted the process was complex, hard and never-ending. “We have about 18 months to go in terms of full implementation of these platforms and realising the benefits from that,” she said.
“But it never ends, and it’s a constant evolution. The challenge we have as marketers is running the business while constantly absorbing and embracing the change as well.”