Today’s b2b buyers are increasingly tech savvy and continually looking for simpler ways to research and purchase the products they need for their businesses. Forrester calls this new era of the connected buyer ‘Age of the Customer,’ and refers to companies that are able to systematically anticipate and respond to customer needs. Yet it’s surprising just how many b2b manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors fail to put the needs of their customers first when planning their approach to ecommerce. So how do you go about developing a successful customer-focused b2b ecommerce strategy?
Firstly, companies need to reimagine how they engage with today’s b2b buyers and leverage the value of technology in supporting productive, long-term customer relationships. A digital sales channel works very differently to the traditional one-on-one sales approach – so companies can’t simply apply the same ways of working to ecommerce.
There must be an organisation-wide understanding of strategic business goals, and the part technology can play in helping to achieve them. In any business relationship there are multiple online and offline customer touchpoints – from desktop and mobile to tablet and apps – and all these touchpoints need to be connected by joined-up internal processes. By breaking down siloed data and processes, companies can build a holistic, consistent omnichannel approach to customer engagement that optimises sales opportunities.
Secondly, online customers often follow a different purchasing path to more traditional offline buyers – and understanding the digital buying journey is critical to embedding the right sales triggers, in the right places, at the right time. For example, if buyers are influenced by content such as blogs or white papers, companies could create a thought leadership approach around specific market areas or product categories to build credibility and encourage sales.
With this understanding of the online buying journey, sellers can use the combined power of technology, research and analytics to test and refine different approaches – and ensure that strategies remain relevant to customer preferences and priorities.
Lastly, b2b companies can borrow from b2c ecommerce best practices, and then take these on to the next level to address the complexities of b2b selling. Think about personalisation, for example – Gartner says that 70% of b2b ecommerce sites will offer personalised customer features by 2018. They also say that b2b companies that can use personalisation effectively will outsell their peers by 30%. The top performing ecommerce platforms can help to achieve this with customised pricing, discounts, offers and messages. In these kinds of ways, companies can meet the expectations of their online customers in the same ways they would offline.