Historically, B2B companies have had a reputation for being slow to adopt and leverage ecommerce. They have often struggled to sell directly online to commercial buyers and engage in ongoing, interactive customer engagements. Omnichannel engagement is essential in B2C, and it needs to become accepted in the B2B world as well.
Changing times, changing habits
COVID-19 changed people’s buying behaviors by default. The restrictions enforced by the pandemic meant B2B companies lost primary selling channels like trade shows and face-to-face meetings. At the same time, those B2B customers were also locked down at home and reliant on digital channels for communicating and consuming.
B2B buyers’ expectations have changed, and there is a need for B2B companies to meet buyers where they are. B2B buyers want an ecommerce experience similar to that which they enjoy as individual consumers. To succeed, B2B companies need to build a more seamless, consistent, personalized customer experience (CX) from start to finish.
Omnichannel ecommerce grows in importance
Omnichannel ecommerce gives your B2B customers a unified ecommerce experience no matter what digital device or platform they are using. It follows that as B2B buyers have become accustomed to omnichannel ecommerce in B2C, they also want and expect a seamless and consistent B2B experience. The demand is there: according to research by ecommerce company Sana Commerce, one-third of B2B buyers want to buy 90% or all of their professional purchases online, and in the U.S., just 1% of B2B customers actively want to buy offline-only.
McKinsey reports that the average B2B customer uses six different channels throughout a decision-making journey, and suppliers must learn to embrace that. It’s something that B2B sales operations will need to get used to: over time, B2B customers will expect an omnichannel experience that gives them the same flexibility and CX as B2C gives them. Using omnichannel, B2B companies have the range of interaction apps and tools to enable ongoing conversations with customers, just as B2C suppliers do.
As B2B buyers continue to work from home and have less face-to-face contact with suppliers, their digital buying expectations will increase. This may be the moment for B2B companies to break away from their traditional network of resellers and distributors and take greater control of the customer relationship. If you sell the kinds of products that can be sold online, by now, you should really be doing so.
CX as a competitive differentiator
It has been several years since Gartner predicted that CX would become the next great competitive battleground for business, but many B2B companies are lagging. According to Salesforce, less than 30% of B2B buyers say suppliers give them excellent customer experience. It’s outdated thinking: corporate buyers have become accustomed to quick, easy personalized online transactions that make them feel valued and meet their CX expectations.
Omnichannel communications put your B2B customer in a position of satisfaction, as you’re engaging with them in the ways they want to be engaged with. Their channel of choice might vary day by day. It could be by voice, social media, website chat app, text or instant messenger, but it’s essential to carry context forward throughout that customer’s journey.
A trend that will become a fixture
Another thing B2B companies need to remember is that these trends reflect the workforce’s changing composition. Millennials and Generation Z bring a digital worldview into the workplace, which means as customers of B2B services and products, they would want a modern, integrated customer experience.
Orange works with companies to enhance their omnichannel capabilities and improve their ecommerce operations from end to end. Orange consultants, data science specialists, contact center experts and integration teams can offer B2B companies the tools they need to engage with customers along the entire journey.
Underway, but work to do
B2B companies must embrace omnichannel ecommerce and communications or risk losing ground on competitors. They are getting there, but there is still work to do. The demand from their customers is there: in 2020, McKinsey found that more than 75% of B2B buyers say they prefer purchasing online. They also said they now prefer remote interactions with sales reps rather than traditional in-person sales interactions, citing safety, speed and convenience as reasons. The sentiment has gained traction along the way, with just 20% of B2B buyers saying they want traditional in-person sales to return in the longer term.
Furthermore, the commercial imperatives are also in place. McKinsey also found that B2B buyers are willing to spend more when shopping online. Forrester's research predicts a thriving future for B2B ecommerce: in the U.S. alone, it will be worth $1.8 trillion and account for 17% of all B2B sales by 2023.
Business buyers have become consumerized. They now expect suppliers to give them a personalized ecommerce experience and will walk away from suppliers if they don’t get the CX they demand. As business continues to seek ways to reinvent itself in 2021, B2B providers will need to embrace this consumerization. Start giving your B2B customers the omnichannel ecommerce experience they want or risk being left behind.
Read on to discover the value in personalized customer experience.
I’ve been writing about technology for around 15 years and today focus mainly on all things telecoms - next generation networks, mobile, cloud computing and plenty more. For Futurity Media I am based in the Asia-Pacific region and keep a close eye on all things tech happening in that exciting part of the world.