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By the end of 2017, more than half of b2b buyers are forecast to be making over 50% of their purchases online. So it’s no surprise to see the rapid emergence of Alibaba and Amazon in the business-to-business eCommerce space – and it’s no wonder that b2b sellers around the globe are investing in the service providers, software and technology integrations that differentiate their online customer experience.

Increasingly, b2b companies are recognising that the quality of the online customer experience is a critical source of competitive advantage. Buyers prefer to purchase products and services online at work with the ease and convenience they enjoy in their personal shopping experiences. Interestingly, a recent survey says that 75% of buyers use social media to support purchase decisions, in the same way they do in their personal lives.

However, we frequently see businesses who believe that adopting a tweaked or slightly enhanced version of a B2C eCommerce model will be enough to stand out from the crowd. Unfortunately, past experience shows us that this is simply not the case.

The B2C market, and in particular the highly reverenced Amazon experience, has most certainly driven up expectations for the performance of b2b eCommerce platforms. But B2B eCommerce has to support a basket full of complex features and functions that are not required in b2c – from personalised product and service configurations, customer–specific pricing, and discount structures, to repeat orders and payment on-account. Without the right technology, all these factors can create big challenges.

One of the main issues to address is that in the B2B purchase decision-making process, on average there are usually between five and six different stakeholders involved, often with conflicting needs. This can make it difficult to deliver a consistent buying experience that suits everyone, through a single customer account. The problem is compounded by eCommerce platforms that are not connected with current and legacy business systems, which can result in siloed or inaccessible information and a poor customer experience. What’s more, in the past, b2b operations have typically relied for business on the strength of personal relationships built by sales reps – and some companies may now be concerned that eCommerce is just not personal enough.

But despite these challenges, it seems that customers now expect B2B sellers to offer a fully integrated online and offline experience. With the predicated exponential growth of B2B eCommerce, companies must make the right preparations to be able to capitalise on every opportunity. They need to create an environment that connects all business functions with marketing, sales, and service activities to present a single, clear and accurate view of every customer. With these insights, companies can personalise each customer interaction at every touch-point, in real-time, while new risks and opportunities can be easily highlighted.

Designing the ideal customer experience for B2B buyers needs to be based around data and the creation of buying personas that demonstrate a deep understanding of customer attitudes, priorities and needs. For example, differences in sales cycle timings for different customers will determine policies for basket and checkout management, and features such as guided navigation could be introduced to help customers find complex products based on technical details or applications. By looking at the B2B customer experience as an extension of the omnichannel approach and choosing the right technology platform, interactions can be kept simple – but comprehensive enough to handle every business question and sales support requirement.

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