By Anees Merchant
Senior Vice President – Digital, Blueocean Market Intelligence
Driven by the array of online buying experiences of different customer segments, modern and tech-savvy business–to–business (B2B) buyers are demanding more personalized web experiences. In today’s rapidly changing world, building an effective omni-channel experience coupled with a personalized user experience is increasingly challenging. It requires integrating world-class technology and transforming legacy organizational structures and processes – all at the same time.
It’s important to remember that every B2B buyer or procurer is also an active participant in the business-to-consumer (B2C) space, visiting sites such as Amazon.com to shop for daily goods and gifts. That means he or she is well aware of the conveniences online stores provide, and will unintentionally start comparing B2B web experiences with these state-of-the-art e-commerce sites.
As more B2B buyers clamor for enhanced customer experiences, the brands that respond with robust e-commerce capabilities and personalization will increase revenue and global market share, while those that ignore the e-commerce imperative will gradually become irrelevant to large sections of the marketplace.
Learnings from the B2C Business
B2B business owners seeking out personalized e-commerce flows do not need to start from scratch. They can dramatically enhance customer experiences and achieve bottom line gains by leveraging buyers’ familiarity with common B2C site functions, such as:
- Personalized Content: B2C retailers excel at using dynamic, personalized content to meet specific customer needs. Now a hallmark of the online consumer experience, personalization features such as customized product recommendations, best-seller lists and wish-listing, save time for buyers and give B2B brands the opportunity to create personal connections with procurers.
- Better, Custom Search Capabilities: Expansive product catalogs make robust search capabilities an e-commerce essential. In the consumer market, online retailers give customers the ability to perform accurate searches across a range of product dimensions. B2B eCommerce platforms need to provide the same level of convenience, allowing customers to go beyond basic SKU-based searches and locate items according to product details, price and availability. It’s not enough these days to solely provide auto-type/auto-fill-in capabilities on the search panel (which auto fills search keywords based on the last user session). Portals need to utilize new, innovative methods to continuously render personalized results based on previous user searches.
- Meaningful Buying/Browsing Experiences: Digital commerce has come a long way since a few short years ago when B2B e-commerce sites were little more than glorified order-entry systems or maybe pure play catalog portals. To remain competitive, B2B sites need to be flexible enough to accommodate the needs of browsers (visitors who want to spend hours researching and viewing products) and buyers (customers who know exactly what they want to purchase).
- Powerful Analytics Driving Personalization: B2B brands have done a decent job equipping their sites with buyer analytics. With a few clicks, most B2B buyers can view order histories, invoices and other information that is important to their operations. As for seller analytics; however, many B2B sites lag behind B2C retailers. To improve online performance, B2B owners should consider incorporating seller analytics into e-commerce platforms as a way to fuel personalized content, search and promotions based on user preferences.
- Multiple Storefronts: Multiple storefronts are commonplace in consumer e-commerce. Although they have fewer applications in business commerce, the multiple storefront concept can be helpful for B2B brands interested in maintaining separate sites for each product line or reseller.
- Gifting, Premiums and Incentives: Gifting or premiums and incentives can play a pivotal role in B2B e-commerce portals. For example, a brand could use online premium certificates to reward volume orders or to solidify relationships with loyal and/or frequently returning customers.
- Mobile Integration: Mobile integration offers important benefits for some B2B brands because it enables customers to place and manage orders from a range of wireless devices. Although mobile integration is generally more useful for commoditized (non-customized) B2B products, a mobile app or mobile-optimized browser experience can allow the company to offer on-the-go functionality to customers.
- Ability for Users to Configure Products: In certain B2B industries, customers require the ability to configure products and services. By adapting B2C customization features to business commerce, brands can enable customers to view product details, availability and pricing for custom-configured equipment and other tailored B2B offerings.
- Multichannel Commerce: In the consumer space, retailers offer customers multichannel options, such as “buy online/ship to warehouse” or “buy online/return to warehouse.” Multichannel features expand customers’ options. In certain B2B scenarios, they can improve the overall quality of the customer experience.
Do We Really Need Personalization with B2B Commerce?
Could this be a trick question? The disparity between B2C and B2B approaches might make the adaptation of B2C personalization techniques in a B2B portal seem counterintuitive. However, B2B customers are procurers who make purchases for their companies, and therefore, may need more focused handling of these individual customers. In the B2C space, companies often struggle to identify key sets of customers. In B2B, the opposite is typically true, so it can be easier to design and execute customized products and services for customers who are known well, inside and out.
By incorporating targeted B2C features and functions into e-commerce platforms, B2B brands benefit from their customers’ familiarity with common online buying tools as well as the significant improvements those features bring to the customer experience. The most practical way to make the lives of B2B clientele easier is to offer more personalization, such as custom offers, an enriched search experience, the ability to locate products and services more effectively, and a complete 360-degree view of inventory and other critical data points. Heading into 2015, it’s clear B2B personalization techniques will continue to fuel digital sales.
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.