Digital commerce for B2B organizations is growing, and fast: Forrester Research projects that, by 2023, it will reach $1.8 trillion worldwide. But when compared to the world of B2C e-commerce, B2B options lag far behind.
In many ways, this divide is understandable. B2B value chains are complicated. For an industrial distributor or an auto parts manufacturer, launching an online offering means taking into consideration all of the different players involved in the offline sales process, and developing an offering that can handle all of the different ways that buyers make B2B purchases.
But regardless of the unique complexities surrounding B2B sales, buyers know that purchasing can be simple, because they’re consumers when they’re off the clock. Every time they buy something online with one click, schedule a grocery delivery form their phone, or pick up an online order in-store, they experience how easy digital commerce can be. And they’re starting to expect the same in their business purchases.
In other words, the train has left the station. The experience economy is coming for B2B selling. And it’s time for you to make a plan.
Improving the customer experience, and accessing valuable data, by going direct-to-consumer
Creating a better customer experience is mission-critical for B2B companies who want to excel in the digital economy. But there’s a catch… and it’s a big one. The complex value chains in B2B selling make creating compelling digital offerings – and improving customer experience – a serious challenge.
For manufacturers in particular, who rely on channel partners to sell on their behalf, impacting customer experience isn’t easy. In the traditional pipeline model of selling, reliance on channel partners prevents direct access to customers and the critical data that they provide.
Manufacturers are feeling the pain: in a 2019 survey, 76% said that being unable to build direct customer relationships is a pain point when selling through channel partners, and 73% pointed to their inability to gain end-customer demand data as an additional challenge.
The solution requires changing things up – which is why more manufacturers and distributors are reading the writing on the wall and investing in the online marketplace model. 50% of manufacturers report that they are planning to launch online marketplaces and invite channel partners to be sellers, and 43% will become sellers on other marketplaces. As for distributors? 53% of them already sell on marketplaces.
It’s the only digital business strategy that can actually bring together the players in the value chain, making it easier for everyone in the ecosystem to connect with the buyer, understand their needs, and have a positive impact on the customer experience.
Online marketplaces solve two key pain points. First, they make it possible for the players who otherwise wouldn’t get to build a relationship with the customer to have an influence. And second, they give better access to data about what customers want, and what motivates them to finalize a sale. (Guess what? In many cases, it’s not about the lowest price!)
Having those opportunities in hand means that, for the first time, B2B e-commerce can have a real positive impact on your customers’ experience – so that you can build a relationship that will bring your buyers back again and again.
Ready, set, platform… but don’t forget about implementation
Here’s the thing. There’s a platform opportunity in every business – and 66% of companies are already planning to build a larger ecosystem of third-party partners and products, so that they can deliver a better experience to their customers. But not every company is prepared to take advantage of the marketplace opportunity. 31% consider their digital commerce maturity ‘below average’ or ‘poor’ when compared to their competitors.
Wherever you rate the digital maturity of your business, the experience economy offers major opportunities – and potential pitfalls. In order to launch and run a successful online marketplace, you need to make sure that the buyer’s experience stays at the forefront. Attempting to build an incremental solution, or investing without the right tools and marketplace expertise, can actually harm the customer experience.
In other words, if your buyer is expecting an Amazon-like purchasing experience, a dealer locator is simply not going to cut it. And if you don’t have the tools to anticipate demand for what your customers want, they’re not going to come back.
So how do you make it happen? The answer is actually pretty simple: stick with the value that only you can deliver. Take all of the knowledge and relationships that make you the best at what you do, and work with partners who can help you with the rest. With the right strategy and the right tools, you can transform your business into an owner of the experience economy.
How are B2B execs & practitioners are positioning their businesses in the experience economy?
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