B2B: Facing the omnichannel challenge

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The changing consumer journey has caused a corresponding shift in B2B buying expectations. A recent Forrester Consulting Thought Leadership Paper, commissioned by Accenture and hybris, showed that while traditional B2B buying journeys were offline and linear, the shift to digital and omnichannel expectations – driven by buyers’ consumer experiences – is well underway. More than half of the 930 B2B customers surveyed said they expect to make one out of two purchases online in three years’ time.

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In fact, B2B buying expectations already mirror consumer demand for omnichannel options and flexibility. While B2B customers have specific needs for their businesses, their need for convenience is just as important as in the B2C world. For example, almost 78% of B2B customers say fulfillment options – such as next-day delivery – are important or very important, while 72% would value self-service access to accounts and orders.

A high proportion of the 526 B2B suppliers surveyed understand that omnichannel investment is crucial to serve the customers of today (87%), to be successful in the longer term (86%), and to drive sales and profit (83%). Equally, some B2B businesses are making omnichannel technology investments in line with these needs.

However, some common challenges emerged, particular in terms of process and organizational structure:

  • The top barrier to omnichannel implementation is back-office integration across channels (44%)
  • 42% of B2B companies point to difficulty sharing customer data and analytics between channels, countries, or locations
  • 40% say they are limited by distribution partners, franchises or wholesale customers
  • More than a third (36%) report a conflict between different channel organizations
  • Other challenges include implementation difficulty (or lack of business incentives, 33%), limited staff skills (32%), and employee or management resistance (31%)

What does this mean for B2B businesses, and how can they start to rise to these challenges?

  1. Use customer behavior to inform organizational structure

Organizational and structural problems come up time and again – and can be seen clearly in this study, through the conflict between channel organizations, limited staff skills and internal resistance from employees and management.

B2B companies that can take their lead from customer requirements, rather than internal structures, will be better equipped to overcome organizational challenges.

  1. Break down business process obstacles

B2B businesses need to break down the siloes between existing channels, in order to deliver the omnichannel features their buyers have come to expect – such as personalization and cross-channel visibility.

  1. Anticipate customers’ needs

Nearly two thirds of B2B businesses (62%) have identified automated price optimization and personal recommendations as high on their investment agenda. Savvy B2B suppliers are looking to the future, today.

Click here to download a free copy of ‘Building the B2B Omnichannel Commerce Platform of the Future’, a study undertaken by Forrester Consulting and commissioned by Accenture and hybris. The paper explores how B2B buyer expectations are transforming how suppliers sell and deliver products and services. Forrester surveyed 526 B2B companies and 930 B2B buyers across Canada, France, Germany, the US, and the UK at organizations with at least 1,000 employees.

Stefan Schmidt
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January 27, 2015
Stefan Schmidt

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