Thought Leadership

Four Takeaways: How Starbucks, Amazon, and Netflix Are Retraining Business Customers

By Jonathan Copulsky

How are the expectations and behaviors of business customers changing when it comes to choosing among vendors offering seemingly equivalent solutions?

We recently interviewed more than 40 senior B2B marketers, many of whom pointed to the increasing focus of business customers on customer experience, i.e., the “how” they buy and interact with vendors and not just the “what” they buy.

Other recent research on business customers echoes this finding:

  • 82% of the more than 2200 business customers surveyed by Salesforce Research in April 2019 indicate that they are willing to pay more for a great experience.
  • 89% of the respondents to the same Salesforce Research survey believe that the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services.
  • 73% of the 250 respondents to Demand Gen Report’s 2019 B2B Buyers Survey use more sources to research and evaluate purchases, 75% spend more time researching purchases and 61% rely more on peer recommendations and review sites than they have previously.
Competitive prices, effective solutions and compelling demonstrations of ROI are table stakes, not tiebreakers for B2B customers. To identify how to break ties among competing vendors, it’s useful to examine how disruptive consumer brands such as Starbucks, Amazon and Netflix have educated customers to think differently about customer experience.

So, what should business marketers consider doing differently?

  1. Speed matters; ruthlessly attack latency. Netflix went from shipping DVDs via the mail to always-on streaming. Amazon offers same-day shipping. Starbucks has the drink ordered via a mobile device ready when the customer arrives. Sixty-six percent of business customers agree with the statement: “I will take my business to Amazon if a company can’t match their shipping speed and cost.”
  2. Plan for a mobile-first multi-channel customer journey. Mobile accounts for more than a third of Starbucks’s total transactions. B2B customers will increasingly start their customer journey through mobile devices.
  3. Invest in recommendation systems. Look at Netflix’s playlist generators and Amazon’s product recommendations as examples of how disruptive consumer brands help customers sort through complex choices.
  4. Incorporate conversational technologies — both chatbots and voice-first devices — into your customer experience. Consumers can use Amazon’s Alexa to order Starbucks coffee, start their Neflix movie and order groceries. Eighty-three percent of business buyers expect companies to use new technologies to create better experiences; 39% of business customers prefer voice assistants when communicating with customers.
Many business marketers downplay the value of looking at B2C examples. But when the examples are disruptive market leaders such as Amazon, Netflix and Starbucks, can you really afford to do so?


Jonathan Copulsky Jonathan Copulsky is a Lecturer of Marketing, Program Director of Kellogg Executive Education’s Business Marketing Strategy program, and co-author of The Technology Fallacy: How People Are the Real Key to Digital Transformation, (MIT Press, 2019).

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