Survey says that we want to do it all by ourselves.

A recent study by McKinsey & Company looked at B2B sales trends. You know, a real beach read. One of the biggest trends they identified is a desire for self-service options along the B2B buyer’s journey.

This stat jumped out: The survey found a 90% increase in preference for self-service in the Research phase of the buyer’s journey between 2016 and 2019. In the Evaluate phase, they found a 120% increase. In other words, early stage buyers don’t want to talk to your salespeople — yet.

As a millennial, this stat resonated. (Remember, millennials are no longer fresh college grads. We’re in our 30s and well on our way up the corporate ladder.) When I’m a B2B prospect, I don’t want to talk to someone on the phone early in my buyer’s journey. I want to do as much research as I can online first. Once I have my short list of options, then I’m ready to talk.

What does this mean for B2B businesses and their marketing teams? It means you need to evaluate your customer experience with the self-service prospect in mind. Can someone research and evaluate your offering without talking to a salesperson? And is that experience enjoyable?

Note that this McKinsey study was conducted before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the economy. This shift towards virtual and self-service buying will be expedited in this world without in-person meetings or conferences.

So what can you do as a B2B business to meet your prospects where they are in this self-service landscape?

4 ways to optimize your B2B customer experience around self-service

  1. Develop and maintain a great website experience

  2. Incorporate live chat or chatbots

  3. Add video

  4. Provide on-demand webinars or product demos

1. Develop and maintain a great website experience

Both B2B and B2C buyers are simply used to good website design at this point. They expect a clean and easy-to-navigate user experience.

Hubspot found that the most important factor in the design of the website is not a beautiful layout or interactive elements. A whooping 76% of people just want to easily find the information they want.

If you haven’t recently done a website audit, now’s the time.

    • Start by checking out these B2B website best practices from New Breed marketing and seeing if your website is up to snuff.
    • Then look at your analytics. Where are prospects entering the site when coming from different channels? Once they’re on the site, what do they try to do? You can use a website heat mapping service like Hotjar to see where your site visitors are clicking.
    • As part of your audit, revisit your website’s search feature — if you even have one! Mike Moran recently argued in favor of search on a B2B site. He points out that no one goes to Amazon and starts clicking through categories to find what they want. No, we jump straight to the search bar and type in what we’re looking for.

Taking cues from the B2C customer experience doesn’t mean that you need to start offering e-commerce or next-day shipping. Instead, it serves as a good reminder that B2B buyers are B2C buyers after 5pm. They have the same user experience expectations for any website they visit. Make sure your website is easy to navigate and well-organized.

2. Incorporate live chat or chatbots

The McKinsey survey asked B2B buyers what their top three requirements were for an ideal supplier’s website. One-third ranked live chat as one of their top requirements.

Live chat provides expertise at the speed buyers expect. Buyers are doing their research now. They don’t want a response to their question within 48 hours.

If live chat isn’t an option for your company, chatbots can provide a similar but far less expensive option. A chatbot can’t provide the same level of support or expertise as a live person (yet), but they can assist a self-servicing prospect along their buying journey.

Many marketing automation platforms are starting to include chatbot options in their platforms. Even a simple option to schedule a meeting without navigating to a contact page or sending an email reduces friction for the buyer.

3. Add videos

Just because B2B buyers don’t want to talk to a salesperson at the beginning of their journey doesn’t mean they only want to read text. Incorporating more video into your site increases time on page and provides buyers with easy-to-digest information when and where they need it.

When Wyzowl asked customers how they wanted to learn about a product or service, a whooping 66% preferred video over text, infographics, webinars, or sales calls.

Video is on-demand, easy to digest, and can help you stand out from your competition.

If you are considering adding more video to your site but don’t know where to start, I recommend our series about using video throughout the buyer’s journey, starting at the Awareness and Consideration phases.

4. Provide on-demand webinars or product demos

The traditional B2B sales process requires buyers to contact a salesperson for a product demo. While this method has a lot of advantages, mainly customization and a personal touch, it also can be a barrier for a prospect inclined to self-service.

Consider offering a recording of a basic product demo. This simple, low-budget walkthrough can be just enough to help the prospect decide whether the product is worth considering, and if it’s worth committing 30 minutes to a live demo.

These on-demand demos can always be gated if gathering prospect information and protecting proprietary information is necessary. Once the prospect confirms their interest in the product, a salesperson can follow up or a good marketing automation system can help you incorporate them into a nurture campaign.

Webinars have long been a hallmark of B2B content marketing for lead generation and conversion. Offering previously live webinars on-demand supports a prospect that wants information now, not next Thursday at 1pm ET.

That said, offering an on-demand webinar option doesn’t mean you should stop offering live webinars as well. Recording and posting a webinar allows you to continue generating leads passively. You’ve done the work, now maximize the benefits.

B2B companies can’t afford to hide from the increasing move to self-service among buyers. At the very least, B2B marketers should place a renewed focus on the customer experience. Us millennials will thank you.

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