Long gone are the days of a traditional purchasing path: product research, sales meetings, demos, request for quotes, negotiating, contracting, procurement processes. Many of the questions that may have previously been answered over a phone call or in-person sales meeting are now being answered online.
B2B buyers are looking for, and even demanding, an experience that mimics that of the everyday B2C shopper. They want an easy-to-navigate website, clear product information, and other content and resources to help aid in their decision-making process.
The solution? A modernized, self-serving ecommerce experience.
As consumers become more technologically savvy, brands need to find innovative ways to enhance and deliver a stronger customer experience online. The result is an increasingly robust ecommerce destination that prioritizes customer experience.
So how does a modernized ecommerce experience solve common B2B challenges?
B2B buyers have a complex buying cycle with many involved stakeholders.
B2B buyers have a complex buying cycle with many involved stakeholders. There are many different stakeholders involved in a B2B buying cycle: procurement, financial representatives, marketing and IT leaders, among others. For as many people involved, you must be able to provide each person with the information and functionality they need to do their job and enable a decision.
Related systems outside of ecommerce will be needed to ensure efficiency and reliability of your website performance such as a customer data platform (CDP) and an enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform to help bridge the gap between providing digital self-service and your business and customer data. By doing so, you’ll be able to better present personalized options based on customer data and previous purchasing habits.
The need to manage customer relationships.
Most B2B relationships are the responsibility of account managers within your sales team. This may often include the coordination between inside and outside sales or even independent representatives. Web content management and ecommerce systems can be integrated with CDP solutions to inform sales of customer interests through web behavior and to give credit for self-service purchases. This also ultimately helps enable sales to be more effective at their job in being proactive in how to best support the customer next in the buying process.
Integrate with your enterprise resource planning for a single source of truth.
For many businesses, their ERP is the single source of truth to business operations and processes. Many ecommerce platforms come with built-in or easily customizable connectors to popular ERP systems to work as one and deliver a single, unified source of truth while eliminating data silos. By integrating your ERP with your ecommerce platform you only need to worry about product data entry in one place, rather than multiple systems, enabling your site to be more manageable and easily organized with a streamlined back-end order process.
The need for customer-specific pricing and order approval processes.
Unlike B2C customers, customer relationships with B2B clients need to be more customized. Not every customer may receive the same pricing for products for various reasons – bulk order volume, custom products, customer loyalty programs, etc. A modern ecommerce website can introduce an easy to manage and scalable way of providing requests for quotes and pricing logic to manage B2B customers based on predefined rules and contract terms.
In addition, B2B often deals with a whole chain of negotiations and approval processes. Your ecommerce solution needs to be able to support approval processes for different roles or budget restrictions and must be accessible by some or all of these different roles. A successful solution will make it easy to track orders and manage access and approval rights at an organizational level.
Promote multiple product lines or brands under one parent company.
This is particularly important to organizations who have multiple brands under one parent company or grow their portfolio through mergers and acquisitions of outside businesses. By leveraging a common code base and design system, organizations have the ability to create individually managed websites for each brand or product line and ultimately maximize the return on overhead costs associated with onboarding a new ecommerce platform. This also allows for consistent experiences across brand sites while also accommodating different brand guidelines and requirements.
Provide personalized product and content recommendations.
Sometimes buyers don’t realize what they want or need until it’s right in front of them. By segmenting customers in like groups to address their specific needs, such as industry or role, you can provide a more personalized approach to viewing product catalogs, product or content recommendations, specials you may be running, and address any other requirements they may have. Most ecommerce platforms nowadays offer digital marketing capabilities and tools to do A/B testing, machine-learning or rule-based personalization, and run promotions or cross-sell and upsell to target existing customers or find and engage new customers.
Branch into new business models (B2C) while avoiding multi-channel sales conflict.
Translating your physical business model into a digital state opens endless opportunities to reach a new or broader consumer base. However, this may disappoint or feel disruptive to your sale’s team main point of existence – to sell! By being strategic in how you position lesser-known products or even limiting top selling products to your traditional sales channel– you can find success and growth online without disturbing or offending loyal partner channels.
Too many products with only slight variations.
It’s not uncommon for B2B companies to have hundreds of thousands of SKUs and even one product with ten or twenty different slight variations. Reimagining or introducing ecommerce to the equation provides an opportunity to assess product data and perform a SKU rationalization analysis to cut down on bloated product catalogs.
Then, pairing ecommerce with a product information management (PIM) platform can benefit internal teams when it comes to managing product data and related digital assets while enforcing data consistency. Meanwhile, robust search functionality can allow site visitors to search for an item or a resource based on specific product attributes, functions, or use cases.
Unifying content and commerce.
When it comes to ecommerce, a traditional product catalog and shopping cart won’t cut it. Content and commerce are no longer mutually exclusive, they are dependent on one another. Modern B2B buyers are regularly doing in-depth online research before making a purchase. Providing content around common business problems and how your product or service offers a solution to their pain point is crucial throughout their decision-making process, so don’t forget your investment to content when committing to ecommerce! Thankfully modern ecommerce platforms integrate content and commerce to mitigate IT intervention and easily create and manage assets, pages, and other site content to support your buyer’s journey and make for a smoother web publishing process.
The way B2B buyers’ shop is changing, and there’s no better time than now to live up to those expectations! With these ideas fresh in your mind, I challenge you to:
- Review your company two-to-three-year goals and understand how your website currently supports those. What more could your website do to support them?
- Think about your ideal customer and how your website currently supports them in their decision-making and buying process. What does it need to do that it can’t do today?
With the right ecommerce strategy, you can navigate the demanding digital landscape and deliver a frictionless, self-serving B2B ecommerce solution that drives higher revenue while accelerating business growth and customer loyalty.
The C2 Group has helped B2B retailers, manufacturers, and distributors simplify the complexity of ecommerce so that every touchpoint delivers a unified and remarkable customer experience. If you are unsure where to start in your ecommerce journey or which platform is right for your business, contact us here and we'd be happy to discuss your organization's unique selling processes and suggest the best path for moving forward.
You can also check out our Ecommerce Platform Comparison Guide covering eight of the leading mid-market and enterprise-level ecommerce platforms including Optimizely (Episerver), Magento, Sitecore, Kentico, ShopifyPlus, Salesforce, BigCommerce, and Oracle.