expert-comment
ecommerce Services

Business commerce: Can B2B really get 'friendlier' online?

I was at a recent event where the stat was cited that 56% of B2B buying will be online by 2017. This came with the suggestion – or maybe that should be hope – that ordinary bored people watching a spot of telly of an evening and playing with their phone would think: “oh yea, I’ll buy that dull business product I need now…”

The nature of business buying – complicated products, large teams of buyers, different ideas of the business need – means this does seem a little unlikely. However, once the business buying experience starts to catch-up with the consumer experience – even slightly – it is likely to change business commerce. So, in an attempt to find out what is really going on we consulted a whole bunch of experts to get their views on where we are now and where this is heading.

 

Ignore lifestyle shots but B2B still needs B2C features

To enable B2B ecommerce to catch up with B2C, one should accept that the experience is not necessarily the same but it’s worth incorporating the best of the online B2C advances over the last few years This includes clear and easily understood taxonomy, a fast search tool, responsive design and mobile ready web sites as well as recommendations and reviews. On top of this flexible delivery options are paramount.

At the same time it’s important to discount the elements of B2C that are not applicable to B2B, namely lifestyle shots, personalisation and behavioural merchandising.

Mark Thornton, Marketing Director at Maginus

 

There are far fewer B2B buyers

Unlike most consumer ecommerce, B2B sites have far fewer customers. The advantage to this is that these customers are, in the most part, known entities. This where personalisation can play its part, and organisations have the opportunity to deliver highly relevant information.

Martyn Eley, General Manager UK atAcquia  

 

Nine women can’t make a baby in a month, no matter how hard they try

Purchasing and supply chain departments are full of silos today and that’s what make them so hard to optimise. Trying to analyse entire process across all aspects of chain is the old school approach that companies had to take. Today, enabling a network of analytics at each node of the procurement cycle can provide a more overarching view into the entire procurement chain. This helps enables agility where it is necessary.  This is networked analytics; this is how folks do analytics today in complex supply and demand chain situations.

The eCommerce sites aimed at consumers have polished their customer experiences to remove any hint of friction. However, B2B buying is more complicated – while some purchases might be simple commodities that could go through B2C-style experiences, many are long “considered purchases” that involve multiple stakeholders and capital expenditure. Here, removing friction would not speed up procurement – it would only make it more pleasant.

Managing the purchase process and making it go faster is a goal for all B2B companies on both sides of the buyer and seller divide. However, it can be harder to remove some of the friction that exists than you think, unless you can put the right data in front of the right people at the right times.

Some of this comes down to supply chain operations that may be involved in the fulfilment side. While companies might want to push their procurement teams to speed up buying, it can be difficult when there are multiple different parties involved. Some of this time can’t be removed - nine women can’t make a baby in a month, no matter how hard you try – but some of the pain can be removed if you can spot where the hold-ups between organisations are and improve collaboration. This can result in improved inventory turn, but also faster and more accurate delivery for the customer.

The aim is not just about making buying easier - the teams on both sides of the divide will benefit from more insight and use of analytics to improve performance around B2B buying.

Southard Jones, VP of Product Strategy at Birst

 

Those early adopters are beginning to lead the way
Today, there is a rapidly growing set of B2B vendors who are transacting online and applying B2C techniques to B2B. Industries that are most impacted by digitisation are early adopters of B2B eCommerce. 

The B2B buying experience of the future will be very similar to the current B2C one – with personalisation, instant gratification with 24x7 order processing, flexible purchasing options and consistent experience across touchpoints (including mobile devices) will become the norm. Businesses must make sure they deliver a seamless B2B customer experience and think about ways of maintaining engagement across the commerce lifecycle. We believe the future of B2B buying experience will provided through various consumption models: one-time, subscriptions or usage. Commerce automation will emerge as the fundamental enabler of B2B.

Michael Ni, CMO of Avangate

 

B2B marketing must evolve to catch up
The B2B commerce experience of the future will be consumerised. One of the first steps that must be addressed is the operationalisation of the ordering process, integrating with business processes to make online ordering simple and straightforward for the customer’s staff. Marketing must evolve too, adopting the online B2C model of display, search engine marketing, email and SEO. This also has to be echoed on the seller’s site and owned channels, with intelligent merchandising, cross selling and personalisation, with testing and optimisation to fine tune this process. A big part of consumer eCommerce is self-service, empowering and enabling the customer to help themselves, and the same has to be achieved in B2B. 

David Bowen, Director, Product Management for Commerce, EPiServer

 

Extreme complexity does not negate ‘social commerce’

First of all, it is important to recognise the difference in complexity between making a purchase in the B2C compared to the B2B market. In terms of cost, you could be talking tens of thousands for the purchase of a technology system compared to hundreds when buying a new phone, for example. The potential consequences of a botched deployment are significant financially and in terms of the impact it could have on business operations. In spite of this, B2B brands could take measures such as displaying pricing prominently on their website to make it clear to customers how they can help them.  

However, there are more significant changes that brands can take to change the process of buying in the B2B market. When companies look at taking the buying experience to the same level as the consumer world, they need look no further than the social commerce model that is emerging. This encapsulates much of what the modern customer is looking for when making a purchase; ease, speed and a sense of some sort of relationship with the brand they are dealing with. But it’s not just the likes of Twitter and Facebook in the consumer world that are taking advantage of this; in fact the B2B market is perfectly set up to do the same.

In combination with this social commerce model, people are increasingly looking to peer reviews and recommendations before buying a product or service, and decisions are often made before a brand even comes into the mix. To become part of this conversation from the offset and engage on a daily basis with customers, brands can look to the vertical networks that serve a wide range of different industries. These communities are comprised of professionals who log in for advice from their peers around problems they experience during the working day. This is the logical environment in which professionals will make purchases. They have peer recommendations on tap and being able to buy the related products from within the same community offers a convenient solution.

John Webb, marketing director EMEA at Spiceworks

 

Analytics and the birth of B2I

This single platform view, combined with intelligent data analysis, is also enabling a much more genuine view of each customer. Ultimately I believe this will result in the end of inflexible B2B and B2C marketing, and the birth of business-to-individual (B2I) marketing. B2I will access a vast wealth of integrated, actionable intelligence in the future, helping marketers deliver a 1-1 journey for every customer.

The success of B2I relies on capturing and analysing a comprehensive range of customer information including: contact data, purchase data, connected data and social data. This data should enable companies of all types and sizes to engage with their customers at every stage of their journey.

Paul Smith, ‎SVP and GM EMEA at Salesforce Marketing Cloud

 

B2B eCommerce is increasingly hard to ignore

B2B eCommerce has been on the agenda for some time now, but brands have been slow and cautious on making changing changes. It will become increasingly important as our consumer facing cousin continues to accelerate and innovate its eCommerce offering.  In the next five years I expect to see huge changes in this area, and brands that don’t take note will risk losing customers.

In future business customers will want the democracy to control, manage and place repeat orders by themselves. What a great customer journey means will vary across your customer base; some big clients might want a user experience that primarily focuses on customer service and features that allow interaction between buyer and seller throughout, such as personalised buying plans and chat boxes. 

Hedley Aylott, CEO at technology led online retail consultancy Summit

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