Here are the top B2B e-commerce challenges companies face when transforming their commerce model to meet the needs of today's B2B buyers.
When it comes to the B2B customer journey, do you feel your control on the product experience as a B2B professional is limited? Is the customer experience diluted or fractured because of your channel strategy? Do you wish you had better data and analytics surrounding consumer behavior to leverage for continual improvement?
Chances are, the answer is “yes” to all of the above.
Hey Siri: How did the B2B customer journey get so far off track?
Ask a room full of B2B professionals, and your frustrations would no doubt be echoed far and wide.Here’s an example of a broken B2B journey:
- You’re a manufacturer of engine oil, but have no insight into how and why consumers pick your product over a competitor’s. Your service delivery channel partners only give you aggregate information, and all the actionable insights of consumer purchase patterns are often lost because you don’t have direct access to the consumer.
Why and how does this happen?
B2B companies have spent the better part of the last century improving and perfecting operations. Machine utilization, warehouse capacity, raw material, and finished goods inventory: All these and more have been examined ad infinitum by operations and finance experts. Every last cent that could be saved has been saved. The science of cost reduction has been perfected on par with technological capability today.
But competitive pressures continue unabated, and the demand for stronger profit margins and healthier balance sheets means that B2B companies cannot rest – they have to look elsewhere for continuing profitability.
Is this search for new areas of profitable growth just a mirage in the relentless desert of the B2B world?
Transforming the B2B customer journey from the funnel to moments that matter
Smart B2B businesses are realizing new growth by reassessing their views of the business customer journey. In the past, organizations would orchestrate a series of pre-designed steps in an effort to move prospects from awareness to purchase to service. Along the way, the marketing, sales, and service teams would play their part.
Thanks to the consumerization of B2B buyers, this linear, siloed approach no longer holds water. Their preferred journeys snake, shift, pause, and speed up on their terms.
So, instead of a rigid focus on stages, B2B innovators are increasingly focused on winning moments that matter.
These moments are exactly those customer touchpoints where experience gets created and solidified. Every touchpoint in the customer’s journey with you – from being a marketing prospect, to a sales lead, to a service scheduler, to a production operator, or even a delivery professional –is an opportunity for you to deliver a stunning experience and create a brand-loyal customer for life.
B2B buyers have changed. How are companies keeping up? Here are five brands that provide shining examples of B2B e-commerce.
The benefits of predictability
To achieve this mission, B2B market leaders are looking outside of operations. They’ve discovered that B2B buyers – like consumers in the B2C space – will pay more for experience; and not just a better one, but also a more predictable one.
In many ways, B2B business hinges on predictability: Predictability of performance of a specific product, delivered at a predictable frequency, quantity, and location – all this predictability results in reliable outcomes and profits, and ultimately customer loyalty and shareholder satisfaction.
However, predictability can be consistently delivered only when rich feedback is implemented in the system – data, analytics, and therefore insight, from the ultimate users and consumers of the products and services, flowing back to the manufacturing, distribution, and design processes.
A three-pronged solution for a great B2B customer journey
To be able to integrate these feedback mechanisms and deliver a consistent experiential interface to the world at large, B2B companies need a three-pronged approach:
- Make direct-to-consumer engagements a priority
- Consider a business customer’s entire journey
- Prioritize solutions that break down silos between marketing, sales, and service
The future of shopping is entertainment. It's not enough to just have an online storefront. Brands have to do more. Consumers today are looking for novel, immersive, and entertaining shopping experiences.
First, B2B businesses need to make direct-to-consumer engagements a priority. These engagements can range from social media interactions to robust e-commerce platforms that sell directly to consumers.
They should also prioritize the consumers’ data privacy by explicitly stating what data is being collected and the purposes for data processing. By setting up these trusted, direct channels, B2B businesses can collect the data and feedback they need to better inform the rest of their processes and not run afoul of data privacy regulations.
Secondly, they should consider a business customer’s entire journey. This means deploying the right technologies at the right touchpoints so customers can have trusted, personalized, and predictable experiences in every moment that matters.
Remember: The journey starts way before a sale is actually made – sometimes even before a business manager articulates the existence of a problem.
With business buyers doing the lion’s share of their research before raising their hand to a sales rep, the onus is on you to identify online visitors as early as possible, begin building trusted relationships, and deliver personalized content.
In addition, the B2b customer journey doesn’t end when the contract is signed. Business customers expect personalized, trusted experiences to continue beyond the initial sale. This puts the focus on customer service and field service operations to maintain – and even deepen – customer satisfaction by making their engagements seamless, effective, and reliable.
The third prong of the strategy addresses connectivity. Many times, B2B businesses struggle because of internal issues – knowledge and insights are not shared across teams, or information does not flow between groups because activities are carried out in silos.
To solve this challenge, B2B businesses should prioritize solutions that break down silos between marketing, sales, and service operations.
Following the above guidelines will help to create a virtuous B2B customer journey and cycle where:
- Sales teams get better leads thanks to access to rich marketing data
- Service teams can serve customers with more efficiency and accuracy thanks to improved access to sales information
- Marketers can better identify potential brand advocates to showcase thanks to feedback received from customer service and field service
For customers, this connectivity results in less friction, faster and more accurate responses, more relevant content, and better experiences along every step of their journey. These winning moments will not only enhance their brand loyalty, but open up new revenue opportunities as well.
The future of sales is HERE.