Professional buyers, when buying online, want the same features expected of the consumer experience: convenience, ease of use and personalization. New research from marketing and technology firm Descom shows B2B e-commerce isn’t just a means of replacing paper or telephone orders with ones delivered via Internet, but creating a platform that makes customers’ businesses interactions easier. Common in the B2C experience, achieving a consumer-first mentality should be the focus of businesses looking to develop an effective e-commerce strategy.
KEY E-COMMERCE OPPORTUNITIES BY SECTOR
The report’s findings show there is no one-size-fits-all solution to delivering an e-commerce experience that puts B2B consumers first. Survey respondents from the industrial, wholesale and service business sectors identified different primary needs an e-commerce strategy must address. Those needs are summarized below:
Industrial: Parts and Service. The Internet is always open. Promoting 24/7 availability for parts and service minimizes downtime and gets purchasers back to work. Leaders in the field are also investing in IoT technologies, like sensors, to further automate the process.
Service: Information Management. A strong e-commerce strategy for the service industry answers the question, how can customers find what they need quickly?
Simplified product ranges, clear descriptions and user-driven interfaces that quickly guide customers to what they need.
Wholesale: Automation. The bulk of wholesale transactions rely on customer routines. Creating easily accessible standard or standing orders for customers who often repurchase the same items appeals to loyal customers and saves time for sellers.
STANDING IN THE SHALLOW END
Pekka Malmirae, director of omnichannel commerce for Descom, describes the future of B2B e-commerce as one that is developing in waves. If that’s the case, many businesses are still standing on the shoreline.
A study by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business found CMOs across the United States expect less than 10 percent of sales to come from the Internet over the next 12 months. The first “wave” of e-commerce development is to prove a business opportunity exists. By 2020, Frost & Sullivan projects that B2B e-commerce will more than double on value reaching $12 trillion in sales worldwide. The need and opportunity is clear.
The second wave of a mature e-commerce strategy is all about today’s most valuable currency: data. Up-to-date, real-time product information pushes e-commerce from passive order channel to profit driver. Emerging technologies, including the cloud and Internet of Things, make collecting and analyzing data easier than ever. Companies that can navigate the transformation of data into insight used to improve customer experience will emerge as the winners. Online purchasing interactions have little-to-no human intervention, so product descriptions and site layouts must put self-care first, lead customers to the products they want, and answer questions that may arise.
The final wave involves becoming a routine action for customers. A fully developed e-commerce program has the customer at its core, or as Malmirae says, “operate on the customer’s terms.” In this phase, considerations include the creation of a seamless tool available across multiple channels.
Although Decom’s research focused on businesses in Finland, the lessons can be applied to any business operating a B2B e-commerce site, no matter where companies are based – especially as the supply chain spreads across borders. The research is clear: put the business customer front-and-center. Being online is no longer enough; procurement officials expect a robust digital experience.