Retail Can Learn Valuable Lessons from B-to-B

3-simple-strategies-to-improve-in-store-experience

I began my career at ADP, the largest payroll processing company in the world. Our customers were not consumers, but other businesses. We had a large sales force spending long hours to acquire new accounts.  Immediately after a client signed on we had internal meetings to learn everything about the newest customer; its business history, objectives, services ADP would provide and who our key contacts would be.  We discussed their personalities in order for us to provide match the appropriate internal associate with the client to help facilitate a stronger personal relationship.

We had an implementation team that trained new clients and got them off to a successful start. We made sure during the first six months our accounts received special attention. Our success rate was stellar and if a client was lost, we discussed the how’s and whys in order to prevent losses in the future. Every account was critical, especially the new ones.  We treated our clients as “gold,” and understood their importance.

My experience with retailers is they lack the processes, policies, and training specific to first time consumers.  There are no steps in place to onboard a new customer so they will purchase again. Customers are anonymous.  If there is any focus at all, it is for an associate to provide individual attention at the time of the transaction to generate a better customer experience.  What happens after the interaction, either at a brick & mortar store or on e-commerce is a free for all:  junk marketing emails sent everyday, no follow-up, no customer appreciation.

Retailers would be wise to take direction from successful B-to-B enterprises and learn how to handle new customers, how to better serve the consumer, and mirror the way new business accounts are valued and coddled.

Replicating the three sales phases for B-to-B for a retail environment would be make an excellent first step.

Pre-Sale:

B-to-B: Acquiring business accounts is a relentless pursuit.  A dedicated sales force sometimes literally knocks on doors, initiates prospect calls, and holds meetings.  Time and dollars are spent to pursue and secure new accounts.

Retail: The same is also true of course for retail.  The average investment for every new customer varies per segment; electronics, apparel, consumer products, etc. However, some studies put the number at $10 per new consumer. And while you may think technology advances would reduce the effort, the price of new gadgets to attract consumers keeps getting higher. Social media doesn’t manage itself.  Staff must respond even with the most advanced technology monitoring sites.  Bottom line:  the expense to acquire new customers is a heavily weighted line item on any retail balance sheet.

First-Sale/Transaction:

B-to-B: When a new business account places their first order, the process is carefully watched and monitored. Some businesses have special implementation teams to ensure a perfect and trouble-free start to insure fluidity.

Retail: The same is not true in retail.  In my research, very few merchants pamper a new customer. Ninety percent of retail associates never even ask a consumer if this is their first purchase. First time customers require special attention.  They need to be welcomed to the brand or retailer and provided with additional useful information. This is a catalyst for getting customers to return. Less than one percent of sales associates ever communicate to the customer that they want to see them again, even after providing a good customer experience.

Post-sale:

B-to-B: Many industries have Customer Success teams to ensure new accounts receive special attention during their first six months or year. Companies understand that training and continuing to educate customers is an ongoing process. Companies also realize new customers might opt to go back to a former supplier if things do not go smoothly.

Retailers: Most retailers have lack-luster plans in place for associates to stay in touch with consumers after the initial sale other than to send weekly or sometimes daily emails that soon become considered junk by the customer or the email platform. The majority of retail sales associates don’t have a business card with their name and contact information.  Can you imagine that ever happening in a B-to-B environment?

What can retail learn from B-to-B?

Many things.  Retailers know the cost to attract new customers is on the upswing.  Competition is fostering skyrocketing marketing outlays. Retailers should learn and copy how B-to-B onboard new customers, show them they matter and their business is appreciated.  It’s rare that businesses that sell to other businesses lose a large percentage of their customer base. The have mechanisms in place prevent that from happening. Retailers need to wake up, think of customers as gold, and create a process to keep them coming back. That must be a priority.

For those who think changing the paradigm for retail to closely match how new clients are onboarded and communicated with in a B-to-B environment is not possible, I say you better change your thinking, to survive. The current way is not working.  No need to recreate the wheel – just move forward.

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Comments (2)

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  1. Stephen Fox says:

    Very good, Richard! You hit another important nail squarely on the head. When I’ve asked retailers what their brick-and-mortar customer follow up processes is, I mostly received blank stares. Even if they had an option to email the receipt, no methodology was in place to pursue follow-up as you describe. Even today, the mindset sadly absent in typical retail establishments. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. Hi Stephen, thanks for your comment and for sharing your valuable experiences. Retailers are in trouble and as you say, there are many tools available for retailers to show customers they matter, but unfortunately they don’t use them effectively or at all. Richard