Although the business-to-business (B2B) online buying experience isn’t nearly as mature as the consumer one, the expectations from buyers for it to be so are already in place.
As a result, companies that can harness the right technologies to put the customer first and make B2B buying easy will be able to use that as a competitive advantage over companies that lag in this area.
The State of B2B Buying
Because B2B buyers are also consumers shopping online, the bar has been raised for B2B companies. Now, buyers want an equally fast and easy way to purchase online from vendors and suppliers despite the buy inherently being more complex.
Yet, few B2B companies have implemented the technologies needed to serve the progressive B2B buyer and the technology-savvy millennial, which now makes up the “largest generation in the US workforce,” according to IBM.
The ability to self-serve is paramount to whether a consumer or B2B buyer will purchase from you. More importantly, an intuitive and easy online buying experience increases the average transaction value (ATV), something every B2B or B2C company salivates at increasing through technology.
Even if your industry is less mature when it comes to using technology to serve your customers, the time will eventually come. In addition, those companies that maintain the best quality data on their customers will be better positioned to behaviorally target and convert customers with marketing automation and online campaigns.
Forrester estimates that B2B eCommerce will reach $1.2 trillion by 2020 and account for 13.1% of all B2B sales in the US by 2021. In turn, the rise and growth of cloud-based software platforms and software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications are also on the rise to serve companies looking to use the power of technology to grow their online sales.
In fact, SaaS is expected reach 45% of all total application software spending by 2021, according to Gartner. The aforementioned statistics indicate what progressive executive leaders know today: that technology is needed to move your company forward.
However, there’s one catch. Your technology is only as good as your data, so companies that value this idea and hire the right talent to implement, maintain and optimize your cloud-based apps and platforms, likely have the winning formula.
The rapid increase in the need to use technology as a strategic initiative is what’s led to the rise in the chief information officer (CIO). Correspondingly, in demand right now are data analysts or anyone with the know-how to implement and integrate cloud-based or SaaS applications with your customer relationship management (CRM) software, for example.
So, where to begin? To become a leader in your space as a B2B seller, your top five priorities should be:
Today, it goes without saying (although we’re literally saying it) that your website is the digital equivalent of your business card and much more.
In fact, if you have a poorly designed website or worse yet, a bad shopping or checkout experience, you’ll immediately lose the trust of customers and prospects.
You have seconds to make an impression, and whether you have one or multiple channels of business, you need to make it easy for every type of buyer to find what they’re looking for. This also includes the less tech-savvy buyer that still prefers to order via email or a by faxing in a grid order.
For those still resisting the push towards technology, make it easy for them to interact and purchase from with you the way they wish. Some buyers may prefer to work with a dedicated sales rep or fax in a grid order. Either way, accommodate everyone and make all channels of communication easy to find on your website.
Use clever copywriting, design cues and eCommerce best practices, like the use of breadcrumbs and detailed product information, to make the user experience a positive one.
Last but not least, your password-protected storefront or checkout experience is the digital equivalent of your friendly and live cashier at your favorite local store and one of the most critical parts of the user experience on your B2B eCommerce site.
If you’re looking for more best practices to reel in the B2B buyer, you can apply the techniques used by well-established B2C eCommerce companies, like Amazon or Zappos, to improve the shopping and checkout experience. Also, here are a few more design tips to improve eCommerce conversions on your website.
To encourage B2B buyers to return to your site and make it as easy as possible for your high-volume customers to order from you, a password-protected storefront is ideal.
This will allow your B2B buyers to log in to get a personalized experience that gives them access to:
Their credit limit and current balance
Account settings, such as preferred methods of communication
Choose which users can use entered payment options
View profiles and adjust permissions, if necessary
Their customized or volume pricing
Your real-time inventory before placing an order
Order and shipping status
Ability to send or communicate a message to the assigned sales rep
To determine what your B2B buyer may want or need to return to your company as their primary source of a given product, visit your closest competitor and test out the buying experience yourself or ask a few of your most valued customers to test your portal while in development.
While you might think that the only content you need for the B2B buyer is high-resolution images and detailed product specifications, there’s definitely more ground to cover when it comes to content for the B2B buyer.
To help your less experienced buyers relate to your brand or company, you might blog about topics that help them better perform their job. Instead of trying to sell your products in your blog, educate customers and prospects on relevant, timely topics. Such a strategy will ensure that your customers will rely on you for educational content.
Some companies have found that a wiki can be helpful for companies with complex services or products. A wiki is a standalone website with a simple interface that allows companies and their users to interact with another by allowing either party to submit helpful tips to everyone in it.
Specifically, you might share a helpful tip on how your users can submit large orders. In turn, your customers can respond with feedback on your advice with the entire wiki community. In a way, you’re crowdsourcing valuable information on your products from your customer base.
All of these resources help to build confidence in the B2B buyer that if they need help post-purchase, they have several options to choose from if needed.
Other relevant B2B content that can help turn prospects into customers:
Product reviews on the product page
Case studies that demonstrate how others successfully used your products
How to videos on how to order or use your products
Testimonials that allow your best brand loyalists to convert prospects for you
First, let’s briefly define what is an omnichannel and a multichannel strategy as these terms are often used interchangeably, and they do have a different meaning.
The reason an omnichannel strategy is leading the way is that it centers everything your company does around the customer. In a multichannel approach, internal resources and information are aligned by channel, such as in-store, phone or web.
More importantly, if a customer shares information to a customer service representative in one channel, that customer data may not freely flow to other channels.
In essence, an omnichannel marketing strategy allows the customer to interact with any channel at any given time, and that information is pushed to every channel. This allows an eCommerce customer, for example, to purchase a product online, but return it in store and automatically get a refund because the card is on file via the web order.
While it’s easier to track the success of each channel when operated independently of the others in the multichannel model, it doesn't make it easy for customers to interact with you how they want when they want, which is the new eCommerce name of the game.
Now that we’re on the subject of the customer as the center of all communication channels, this perfectly transitions into the concept of why customer data should always be a priority for long-term success.
Where many companies miss the mark for long-term success is making data capture and business intelligence a priority.
The reason that customer relationship management (CRM) software is one of the leading types of SaaS software purchased today: it captures customer data in one application, which in turn builds the data foundation needed to launch targeted digital campaigns later on.
In addition to centralizing customer data, equally important is the ability to analyze each channel of your business. In particular, which channels are producing the most margin for your company? Naturally, you’ll want to focus on growing sales in your most profitable channels.
Furthermore, it’s important to review which products are your best sellers and when. Use this data to order additional inventory so that you are well prepared for seasonal rushes.
A reliable and robust eCommerce platform should help you gather data and provide you with analytics on what your best sellers are online, which products are your most profitable and in which channels. This data can help you focus on doing more of what’s working best for your business.
According to IBM in their 2017 report Fit For Commerce, “Digital data collected from B2B digital commerce sites provides a wealth of information regarding buyer behavior. This information can be used to define segments and personas, then identify opportunities to up-sell and cross-sell to them using tools that utilize data to determine what should be offered.”
In closing, the bar is being set higher and higher each day by global eCommerce companies, like Amazon and Alibaba, that are leading the way. Meanwhile, some of your competitors are already using sophisticated selling platforms and business intelligence to plan for the year ahead.
B2B sellers that make digital transformation a priority will quickly surpass those that resist the trend. Today’s younger buyers expect stellar shopping and buying experiences that make their job easier to perform. If you can harness the power of technologies that take your business online and analytics, you and your customers are stronger together.
Are you ready?