B2B clients are increasingly heading online to undertake purchasing activities, making it crucial for wholesalers to start utilising digital technologies and eCommerce platforms to take advantage of this shift by implementing B2B eCommerce strategies to stay competitive.
The important first step in achieving a successful B2B eCommerce business is to understand who your customers are, what their needs are and how you can create a consistent customer experience to keep them coming back.
Understanding your customers
Before launching your eCommerce business, it is important to identify your target market, understand their needs, how they are served by your products and brand and the best ways of communicating with them.
You can then determine which channels your customers are using at different stages of their purchasing decision and who the audience segments are in each channel. For example, if your target audience is 18 to 24-year-olds, then Instagram is probably the right platform for this group, whereas segments in the over 50 age-group are more likely to be Facebook users.
Undertaking market research will enable you to characterise your target audience and to identify their needs and preferences. Segmenting customers by needs and purchasing behaviour allows you to make informed decisions on which channels work best for your target customers and how to create customised experiences for each.
Getting this right is important for achieving sales growth within the channels where customers currently are, but also for optimising sales across channels. Some industries are reporting that by converting a single-channel customer into an omnichannel buyer that one buyer’s average spend can increase by over 20 percent.
Building buyer relationships
B2B eCommerce takes place in the context of ongoing relationships between buyer and seller, featuring long-cycle purchasing patterns. Unlike B2C, customer relationships are more complex and long-term, therefore selling to B2B clients online is about nurturing successful ongoing buyer relationships.
Business buyers, take a rational, dispassionate approach to purchasing, guided by specific criteria and balanced analysis of options. While their purchasing behaviour, transaction processes and decision-making dynamics differ, B2B customers increasingly expect a consistent customer experience equal to that of the B2C eCommerce experience.
B2B purchase decision often requires specific product requirements and characteristics such as price and payment terms, service levels, legal and tax considerations, and logistical needs. B2B purchases frequently require input and approvals from numerous stakeholders within the company.
While some 85 percent of B2B buyers prefer the convenience of self-service portals over face-to-face interactions, they still want to have trusted relationships with their suppliers, finding it helpful to talk to an actual salesperson when researching and considering a new product.
Therefore, maintaining buyer relationships in a B2B eCommerce world is about striking a balance between convenience and personalised service.
Deliver a positive, consistent customer experience
B2B clients are increasingly thinking and acting like B2C consumers. They want fast, seamless online transactions, order fulfilment and account servicing that is customised to their unique specifications.
This is particularly reflected with the rising generations of millennials and digital natives in the workforce, bringing their digitised worldview with them. Over 60 percent of B2B transactions now start online, so businesses are looking for consumer-level customer experience and will switch vendors to get it.
The average B2B customer potentially uses six different interaction channels throughout their purchase decision journey. Therefore, businesses need to ensure they create a holistic experience across channels taking into consideration previous touchpoints so that existing and prospective clients get a consistent experience.
Almost 65 percent of buyers will come away from your brand frustrated by contradicting experiences, meaning that every channel should display consistent branding, offer a similar buying experience and have cohesive customer service.
You need to have a cohesive experience across multiple channels to allow B2B customers to buy from anywhere, at any time.
Tools and resources
Expanding into multichannel selling means you have more inventory stock to monitor and sales data to track and analyse. That means investing in the right tools, ones that will scale with your business including point-of-sale systems, inventory control and accounting tools that fit your current business needs and your future needs.
Warehouse management and inventory control become more essential as retailers track sales for more than just their physical or online store. Businesses need to have the right team in place to efficiently respond to the needs of a growing client base.
Take a comprehensive, cross-functional approach to customer service activities. Ensure that your internal teams are communicating with each other, visibility for all staff across all channels can be easily achieved through the implementation of real-time inventory control solutions.
Digital technology that enables new levels of customer insight and seamless service, can transform the customer experience and build enduring B2B client relationships.
Customer experience is important for B2B eCommerce
As technology brings buyers and sellers closer, it raises new opportunities to create value by working together and represents a huge opportunity for B2B businesses.
Improving customer experience through better technology and automation has influenced the way companies purchase products and services. Customer service is now seen as the number one priority when purchasing from a brand while poor customer service is estimated to costs retailers over $40 billion annually.
In the long term, superior customer experience capabilities will transform the basic dynamics of B2B markets. By making it easier for buyers to communicate their needs and make purchases, digitisation takes the guesswork out of operational functions, from product design to procurement and production planning.
Article by Melanie Chan in collaboration with our team of Unleashed Software inventory and business specialists. Melanie has been writing about inventory management for the past three years. When not writing about inventory management, you can find her eating her way through Auckland.