Lately I’ve been having a lot of discussions with buyers and merchandising teams inside our retailer customers. One thing is clear, the methods that buyers are using to source new product have dramatically changed in the last 3-5 years.
While the relationship between a Wholesaler / Manufacturer and their Retailer customer is still very important, it has definitely been augmented by digital research and online purchasing. If you look at data from Forrester/Internet Retailer, 30% of B2B buyers make 50% of their work purchases online…today. B2B buying behavior is changing rapidly – not in the future – right now.
This got me thinking a bit about manufacturers and wholesalers. These are businesses that have traditionally been all about relationship selling (i.e. – Sales reps with long time customers). If their customers are already on the path to making more purchasing decisions digitally, what does this mean for how these companies approach sales planning? Clearly this is changing their businesses quite rapidly, so where are these companies going to be making investments for their futures?
Twice the Size of B2C eCommerce with Twice the Complexity
We’ve all been hearing a lot of talk about B2B eCommerce lately. It’s twice the size of B2C eCommerce, which on its own is incredible. If you dive in a little deeper you also see that it’s a lot more complicated for these companies to build and operate eCommerce businesses. They don’t just sell Widget X for Price Y. They sell it for many prices based on a variety of criteria.
You can no longer rely entirely on sending out those giant paper catalogs, which let’s admit, weren’t overly amazing user experiences to go through. You now need to approach B2B commerce with a B2C frame of mind. The user experience across all channels is increasingly more critical.
Why should one of your customers not be able to quickly replenish stock on specific items from their phone? If they have an account and set pricing, you should be looking to make that transaction as frictionless as possible. No phone calls, no faxed in order sheets. Just a few touches and swipes and the order should be placed.
Designing and building amazing B2B eCommerce experiences (i.e. platforms) to facilitate this B2B buying behavior is not easy. That’s the harsh truth of the matter.
What’s even more difficult for manufacturers and distributors is the culture and people shift that needs to happen in order to shift overall selling strategy do a digital first approach. This is particular difficult for companies with long histories and lots of legacy staff that are very entrenched in how things have “always worked”.
Related: 2015 eCommerce Trends
B2B is Now All About The User Experience
Ultimately we’re talking about user experience. For B2B companies to think that good user experience doesn’t apply to them is no longer viable. After all, we’re talking about human beings. It doesn’t matter if a person is buying a pair of shoes for their kids or buying 500 light bulbs for their office. We’re still talking about people using the tools you make available to them. The common denominator is PEOPLE!
There’s no good reason not to focus on creating the best possible user experience. More and more B2B buyers are turning to eCommerce to make purchases and bypassing their internal procurement processes. A big reason for this is convenience, which is largely about creating frictionless experiences.
It’s also not just about the buyer using your eCommerce platform. You can’t forget about your own customer service or even better, your sales force. One of the biggest opportunities for B2B companies is providing next generation tools for your sales teams. Using your eCommerce platform as a foundation to put more powerful information at the fingers of your sales teams can provide an incredible boost to their effectiveness.
When you think about sales people in a B2B capacity, how often are they pulling up spreadsheets for pricing, PDF’s for product information, or even worse, paper binders and catalogs for product information? I still see this day in, day out. These tools are all opportunities to increase effectiveness and efficiency in your #1 revenue driver as a B2B company…your sales team.
We’re also not just talking about on-site user experience either. B2B companies now need to worry about their customers doing research online much the same way they would buy goods for their personal needs.
This means that B2B companies need to actually put effort and resources into search engine marketing (organic and paid) as this is where the vasty majority of buying journeys begin. Remember, your customers are still people and they have built-in expectations of what purchasing goods should look like in our modern economy.
It doesn’t matter if you are a large or small manufacturer or distributor, you have to start thinking about your customer as though they were a B2C consumer. Why? Because they are! Creating a world class experience for them starts far earlier in the purchase funnel than ever before.
Put Channel Conflict Aside
Yes, channel conflict exists. If you are an executive or other stake holder at a B2B company, this is of serious concern to you as you look to use digital platforms to power new sales channels.
More and more retailers are going vertical and sourcing their own products in an effort to build up their profit margins. More and more manufacturers are going direct to consumer. If you think your particular industry is different, you need to give your head a shake. It isn’t. I meet distributors and manufacturers every month that are choosing inaction over action. They would rather do nothing in an effort to avoid channel conflict. This is the wrong move almost 100% of the time.
B2B buying behaviour is changing and continues to do so. What’s your strategy to adapt and serve their new needs?
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