PwC investigates the need for organizations to compete on experience, cost and responsiveness.

Consider this scenario: an industrial product manufacturer has an end-to-end value chain that engages its customers similarly to how Amazon interacts with its shoppers, offering visibility into availability, delivery time and progress. The manufacturer delivers supply chain transparency and real-time tracking like FedEx and SenseAware. Its ecosystem works together in a way reminiscent of how Apple connects and bundles its products, services, app developers and customer support. And its products are supported by human-centred design on par with what Warby Parker provides to customers shopping for glasses.

The common thread that links these new ways of thinking about the B2B customer is a differentiated and valued experience. Yet for many B2B organisations, experience has meant a focus on product characteristics and the promise of customisation; these companies often lack an end-to-end view of their customer interaction along the value chain. Instead, the ability to provide best-inclass delivery (responsiveness) at a competitive cost has traditionally been the winning combination for industrial manufacturers and other B2B organisations that have outflanked their rivals.

Increasingly, however, such optimisation has become ubiquitous in many markets. At the same time, COVID-19 has triggered supply chain disruptions, shifts away from face-to-face relationships towards always-on digital experiences, and changes in customer needs and buying patterns. The B2B value chain evolution started before the pandemic but is now imbued with an even greater urgency.

The priority for B2B organisations will be to identify and implement balance: understanding how, when and where along the value chain the customer experience can be enhanced efficiently. This is critical because even as B2B companies recognise the need to embrace experience, they cannot do so by sacrificing hard-won efficiencies in cost and responsiveness.

To achieve the right balance, B2B leaders should focus on several key areas. To start, they’ll need to rethink the way they define and deliver experience at each stage along the value chain. They’ll need to create a cohesive ecosystem that supports all customer interactions. They’ll also need to foster an understanding of and high-quality engagement with the individuals who represent their customers, for example, those working in procurement, maintenance and distribution. To develop this understanding and effectively incorporate experience into the value chain based on the needs of each customer, leaders can focus on six strategic priorities.

Experience spans the customer life cycle, permeates the end-to-end value chain and ecosystem, and is manifested throughout the product’s lifetime and beyond. It can be delivered in different ways by multiple employees and partners, and a variety of factors should be considered in its design.

B2B and industrial organisations need to ground every decision—including design, sales, planning, production, delivery, service and support—in an intimate understanding of markets and customer segments, and they need the agility to deliver a great experience for each of these segments. For example, companies must understand the occasions during which customers have needs and make decisions, and who makes these decisions. They must tease apart the specific needs of each customer and segment, particularly where current offerings leave needs unmet. They also must assess how the company will interact with the customer after the initial product delivery and measure the impact of each decision based on how the customer will realise value.

It’s also important for B2B players to fully understand the user perspective—otherwise, providing a great overall experience will be difficult. This may require special effort for customers, distributors and employees, because B2B industrial manufacturers often know their immediate customer but lack user insights.

What does this comprehensive approach to experience look like when mapped to the value chain? From the manufacturer’s perspective, the value chain can be seen as a continuum. But for the purpose of illustration, we can consider it to begin with the product or offer, then move along a familiar path from presales and customer acquisition to sales, to operations planning and production, to delivery and installation, and then to after-sales and service (see Exhibit 1, page 4). Points of interaction occur at these stages, as well as in the experience of repeat customers and through the influence of marketing.

Download the full report here.