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The Secret Ingredient for Successful B2B Digital Experience Initiatives

By Rick LaFond | March 19, 2021 | 0 Comments

MarketingCustomer Acquisition and RetentionDigital Marketing Strategy and Execution

Eighty-seven percent of senior marketing leaders from B2B or hybrid companies report that their organization is prioritizing customer-facing digital business initiatives to meet 2021 goals, according to the 2020 Gartner CMO Strategic Priorities Survey.

B2B brands have already been making digital experience strides in recent years. A Gartner analysis of more than 100 manufacturing brand websites validated that many organizations have already adopted a range of table stakes features. Examples include educational hubs, keyword search and product videos. However, customers are reporting limited impact. In fact, only 24% of B2B customers say they did something different after a recent branded digital experience, according to the 2020 Gartner Digital Experience Customer Survey.

If these table stakes digital experience features are having limited impact on changing customer behavior, then that begs the question: ‘what should B2B brands do next?’ More specifically, how can B2B marketing leaders direct their planned digital experience investments in ways that drive behavior change and brand preference?

Drivers of B2B Customer Course Change

Future digital experience initiatives can take many forms. Beyond website enhancements, options include interactive digital content, new sales or service delivery channels (e.g., e-commerce), or even digitally oriented product enhancements. That said, a recent Gartner survey of 1,101 B2B customers who recently interacted with a branded digital experience revealed that the driving force to prompting a customer course change has less to do with the format of the digital experience. Instead, customer course change is more closely associated with a customer’s perceptions as a result of engaging with that experience.

Gartner found five customer perceptions that are linked to customer course change:

  • Ease of Digital Experience (“The digital experience was easy to use and saved me time.”)
  • Cross-channel Seamlessness (“Interactions with this brand are consistent and personalized.”)
  • Negative Emotions (“I felt self-conscious, inexperienced, or worried.”)
  • Positive Emotions (“I felt skilled, focused, or connected to others.”)
  • Rational Engagement (“This brand helped me analyze, relate, or plan ahead.”)

The figure below shows the relative impact each of these perceptions has on driving customer course change.

The chart shows the impact of five B2B customer perceptions in response to a digital experience in driving a course change.

User experience functionalities represent a combined 26% total impact on customer course change. That’s nothing to scoff at. Ease of digital experience and cross-channel seamlessness are critical pieces of the puzzle. However, a customer’s own self-reflective learning in response to the digital experience has twice the impact. Customers change course when they reflect on how they’re feeling as they analyze information, relate to peers, and plan ahead to their next steps.

Reflective learning drives customers’ course change more than user experience functionalities.

Identifying Opportunities for B2B Digital Experiences that Enable Self-Reflection

Your team’s ability to identify opportunities to enable customer self-reflection through digital experiences is heavily dependent on a strong understanding of your customers. Specifically, the tasks they must complete across their journeys. Look across your customer journey map(s) to identify the customer tasks that are more closely associated with a customer’s reflection of their organization’s own needs, as opposed to tasks that are more transactional in nature.

Certain customer journey tasks are naturally more steeped in self-reflection than others. For example, within the buying journey, customer tasks associated with setting goals and identifying problems are more self-reflective than tasks associated with actually executing the purchase transaction.

Develop digital experiences that help customers analyze and plan their path forward. When executed effectively, these experiences can tap into customer emotions. For example, digital experiences can elicit the negative emotions associated with the recognition of an unsolved problem or amplify the positive emotions when a customer can begin to more clearly articulate their path forward.

BDC, a bank serving Canadian small and medium-sized businesses, offers a good execution of this approach with their online tool, “Quiz: Are you ready to apply for a business loan?”. The process of applying for a loan can be an anxiety-inducing task for entrepreneurs. BDC’s quiz can help their prospective customers self-reflect on whether they have the knowledge and the resources required for a smooth application process. It can also help resolve any associated trepidation among customers.


This research comes from a new Gartner study, “Redefining Marketing’s Role in Digital Business”. Gartner experts will present it during multiple 2-part virtual event series in April-November 2021. To register for these events and learn more about how to build course-changing digital experiences, contact your account manager.

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

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