B2B versus B2C – How is Business to Business Contact different to Business to Consumer?
In this article, we consider the differences – and the similarities – between B2B Contact and B2C Contact to establish how B2B specialist Contact Centres can add value to the right business relationships.
We spoke to two industry stalwarts from very different Contact Centres and asked them about their approach to B2B work. Anne Bagnall is Managing Director of Phonetic Limited, a flexible Contact Centre with a core of B2B and some B2C clients amongst the client list, allowing her to give an all-round perspective. Paul Fletcher is MD of CC33, a boutique Contact Centre focused on inbound and outbound B2B calls including appointment setting and lead generation, working hand in hand with clients to deliver and end-to-end solution. These two industry leaders shared their experience and honest opinions with us.
By Phil Kitchen, Director, the Contact Centre Panel
When most people think of Contact Centres, they think of B2C outbound contact and customer service. There’s no doubt that Consumer contact is a huge and important slice of the industry, but Business contact remains a consistent and rewarding area for Contact Centres possessing the right mix of skills, experience and tools. We put three key questions to our B2B experts to identify what it takes to provide a top-level outsourced B2B Contact service.
What are the biggest differences between your approach to B2B Contact, compared to your experience of B2C work?
Anne Bagnall talked about the sheer lack of knowledge and familiarity of B2B brands and buyers with regard to potential outsourcers: “The biggest B2C brands have used Contact Centres for years – they know the outsourced providers and the outsourcers tend to know them too. B2B clients tend to be nervous because the business has tried and failed to do the work before and is looking at outsourcers to fix the problem. Quite often the clients look for a Cost Per Acquisition or some other kind of risk & reward model, because of this nervousness.
“Typically B2B work uses a much lower number of seats than a B2C contract: 8 seats can be a large team for B2B! Despite the smaller teams, much more hands-on management is used than for B2C teams because the approach tends to be less formulaic and more flexible. Smaller, more targeted audiences mean that a very proactive approach is needed. It’s not an easy environment but with a high ratio of management per agent and a close relationship with clients, we can achieve great results.
“On a positive note, good B2B clients enable you to put roots into their organisation. We have a list of very long tenures, ultimately down to building relationships on trust and performance. This means we can deal with challenges together, like last year’s introduction of GDPR for example. The close working relationship that’s needed to achieve good results can really help to grow successful partnerships with clients.”
Paul Fletcher’s experience is slightly different, but there are definite common threads in the conversation: “We find it important to be extremely realistic with our B2B clients. We’re very heavy on our management ‘mothering’ clients but by working closely, we can really improve the results clients receive compared to initial expectations.
“Working with B2B clients on a closely-managed cost per hour basis, we can build a value-led quality assured operation, which isn’t often possible with the cost-per-acquisition model.
“One huge benefit of working in B2B markets is the availability of enhanced data. GDPR has helped, but in B2C sectors you can’t usually obtain extra data about the risk of a contact. For B2B data, on the other hand, we can check for financial indicators which can be very important when it comes to leads moving through our clients’ sales funnels… by checking for financial risk information up front, we can maximise the convertibility of leads we pass through.”
Why do you think more organisations don’t outsource B2B Contact work?
Paul from CC33 echoed Anne’s earlier comment when we asked this question: “Fear. Many buyers have been burned before. What most buyers don’t know is that the industry has changed a lot from a ‘bums on seats’ model with high client churn between Contact Centres, towards a much better appreciation of what really works for B2B clients.
“Potential clients aren’t always aware of the extra things a good Contact Centre can do to help a B2B brand achieve better results. Great data quality, transparency and working hard together with the clients to find the right approach can all make a big difference. Being up front with the client about how they can influence the results is important, too. It’s our job to make our buyers look good!”
Anne Bagnall identifies some different reasons that B2B operations have for keeping things in-house; “Some brands may have already built a specialist in-house team. If they’ve done this, there are barriers to disbanding this and if the work is done well, it can be cheaper than outsourcing. On top of this, there can be perceived loss of control when thinking about moving an in-house operation to an outsourcer.
“On the other hand, some clients already have a good in-house operation but don’t have capacity to expand or handle spikes in activity. This is where a good outsourced Contact Centre can help by adding a layer of lead generation, passing or hot-keying leads to the internal team and improving their success rates.
“As outsourcers, it’s our job to educate B2B organisations about how the right outsourcers can enhance an in-house team, rather than offering a complete alternative to it.”
Is there such a thing as a perfect B2B agent, as opposed to a B2C agent?
Anne from Phonetic uses agents on both B2C and B2B contracts, so she should be in a good position to compare the best characteristics needed to succeed in each area. “For B2B work the perfect agent shares many traits with a good B2C agent, but some are more important for business contacts. Someone who is intelligent and has a lot of common sense will work well in both B2B and B2C work, but an ability to listen and communicate well is great for B2B work because agents need to rely much less on scripts and more on a less structured call guide. The flexibility to adapt to training and guidance is more essential in B2B environments as conversations tend to be more exploratory and less scripted.
“Talking to business contacts whilst they are working can actually be much less stressful than B2C work when it’s done well, as the business people a B2B agent is calling are in their work environment rather than at home trying to avoid calls. A polite and articulate agent might have to arrange another time for a conversation, but finding a better time can result in a positive outcome, so it’s often worthwhile establishing a rapport over a longer timescale.”
What Does This Mean For B2B Organisations?
With B2B-specialist skills in evidence in some established Contact Centres, outsourcing is definitely an option for B2B brands who are considering a new approach, or who need additional capacity to help their existing team to meet demand. Adding a layer of lead generation or qualification is also a real option to improve the performance of an already-successful internal contact team.
Knowing which Contact Centres possess great B2B competence and infrastructures shouldn’t be expected, thankfully here at The Contact Centre Panel it’s our job to make sure that Brands and businesses find the best Contact Centres to meet their needs. An in-depth knowledge of the sectors we work with, coupled with our rigorous selection process and network of over 80 outsourced Contact Centre providers, means that we can work with brands in B2B environments to find the right partners.
We offer a free, no-obligation assessment of your current Sales and Customer Service Contact provision, so just contact us by email or call 0114 209 6120 to talk about your needs. We won’t push: we will only help if you need it.
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