How rising customer experience expectations are impacting this Aussie B2B company's marketing plans
- 03 August, 2017 14:57
Rising expectations around customer experience is a common topic of conversation among consumer-facing brands. But as consumers come to expect faster delivery, greater personalisation and a more enjoyable overall purchasing experience, even the far reaches of the B2B industrial sector is starting to notice the difference.
Chris Knowles has spent the last seven years working as the APAC sales and marketing manager for US-based industrial equipment maker, McLanahan Corporation, which provides solutions for tasks such as crushing rocks and water management. And even this heavily-industrial sector has witnessed the increasing pressure of rising customer expectations.
“In the B2B space there are many more stakeholders, and a myriad of layered influences,” he tells CMO. “Customer expectations change because they are competing in a global marketplace and are either driving to find new opportunities or reacting to them.”
The increased pressure on B2B organisations was a key finding in the 2017 Green Hat/ADMA B2B Marketing Report. B2B marketers surveyed raised customer experience as their major challenge, with optimisation rated one of the top three objectives.
Manufacturers in particular are looking much further into their downstream supply chain than simply the company they are selling to. Knowles points out most manufacturers in Australia are enablers to other businesses, with their products helping customers deliver value in turn to their own customers.
“Each of our customers has their own specific value proposition,” he says. “Somehow, our product and process needs to feed into that value proposition. Understanding how we fit into the value chain for each customer is our challenge.
“We will always be asked to provide a faster, lighter, more powerful, more efficient, lower resource intensive component, service or system. And yes ... at a lower cost, 90 per cent of the time.”
While speed of supply is critical, Knowles says the key consideration now is around certainty. To this end, McLanahan’s recent investments have been in supply chain, data systems and integration strategies that allow it to better guarantee performance.
At the same time, customers are seeking greater certainty that McLanahan’s supply chain is secure and well-managed, with transparency of its production capacity over the longer term.
“The customer expects evidence of risk management, cash flow management, insurance cover, and in most cases, a list of subcontractors we may consider using,” Knowles says. “The client will also want to discuss KPIs for delivery as well as quality. Early and regular engagement between manufacturers and customers is designed to pre-empt and avoid shocks in the system. Again more open communication in a timely fashion is an expectation.”
While local manufacturers might have once been able to rely on quality as a differentiator, Knowles says this advantage has declined as low-cost manufacturing destinations have roboticised their manufacturing lines, and simultaneously improved quality while keeping costs down.
While the focus for investment at McLanahan’s is on providing information back to clients, clients also expect the equipment they are purchasing can deliver back enhanced performance data.
“It now requires more real-time data on component wear, average and peak power loads, standard deviations on condition monitoring and correlation with upstream and downstream process,” Knowles explains. “The aim is to provide predictive behaviour that allows the customer to assess optimal operating conditions and model scenarios for maintenance, shut downs and peak production windows.”
This in turn, gives greater certainty to customers that they can meet the expectations of their own customers, and eliminate costly surprises, such as shutdowns due to unscheduled maintenance.
But the longer-term focus for Knowles is the current trend to manufactured goods-as-a-service. He gives an example of a goods train, which is paid for based on tonnes of goods transported or kilometres travelled, rather than as an up-front purchase.
“This has been going on since the first Nokia was sold in B2C, but is somewhat new in many B2B applications,” Knowles says.