This article first appeared in the
Winter 2017 issue of The Record.
When it comes to e-commerce for business-to-business (B2B) organisations, most business leaders immediately think in terms of their website or the ‘shopping’ experience. This isn’t surprising. Most individuals are demanding that professional online interactions mirror those of the intuitive, easy-to-navigate experiences that are the hallmark of a strong business to consumer (B2C) commerce experience.
We know user experiences that are familiar are vital to the success of any e-commerce system. B2B companies need to create an experience that is relatable to their buyers’ world – both professionally and as an individual consumer.
But for many B2B commerce initiatives, this is where the story ends. And for me, this is such a shame. There are so many ways B2B commerce can not only add new revenue streams, but can actually transform the way an organisation does business. At Insite Software, we know that in many cases companies are only tapping a tiny percentage of the true potential of their commerce systems. For us, the benefits of superior e-commerce platforms and solutions go far beyond the websites, beyond the transactions, beyond the shopping experience, and actually beyond commerce itself.
When done well, B2B commerce can meet its true goals of lowering costs, increasing efficiencies and providing B2B organisations with new ways to interact with all the different kinds of ‘customers’ they meet along each unique, complex buying journey.
It’s important to understand the differences between shopping as a consumer and buying for a business when determining the goals of a B2B commerce system. Mary Shea at Forrester recently wrote an article entitled B2B Buyers Make the Case for Better Marketing and Sales Alignment, in which she said: “buyers want contextual interactions with both human and digital assets across a holistic but non-linear journey”. It’s a great point, and the key word is “contextual.” When determining the right approach to commerce for an organisation, we must recognise the unique experiences inherent within most B2B buying cycles.
Of course, in some cases, B2B transactions involve a simplified buying process, which can lead to a commerce experience more reflective of B2C. But most B2B buying experiences are incredibly complex and vary widely by industry, product, company size and business operation. The B2B buyer is often not really the buyer at all – not in a traditional sense – but a procurement expert hired to execute a previously negotiated contract. Those contracts contain specific pricing and promotion agreements with each individual customer. The relationship is many to many – many people, many channels, many products, and many different contractual agreements.
When an organisation sees the potential beyond commerce, opportunities emerge for every role in the buying cycle. Salespeople gain mobile access to real-time information that supports powerful, consultative relationships with their customers. Technicians and service representatives involved in complex plumbing, heating, electrical and other operations gain efficiency from having custom, complex catalogues at their fingertips, no matter where they may be working. Procurement personnel with large volumes of repeat transactions can benefit from automated capabilities to increase efficiency and significantly boost customer loyalty.
To meet the true potential of B2B e-commerce, we have to remember that the real economic opportunity is to reduce costs and increase efficiencies – not just to generate additional sales, although that is often a valuable by-product.
At Insite, we take it a step further. We believe a strong B2B commerce environment should accelerate the productivity of every single person involved in the buying experience. When that actually happens, an organisation is often transformed merely from improvements to their internal and external processes.
It’s not a pipe dream. We’ve seen many of our manufacturing and distribution customers realise triple-digit improvements within the first year of implementation. Those improvements not only make a direct impact to the bottom line, they often change the way the business does business.
The examples of ways strong B2B commerce systems can improve efficiency and change the way a business does business, for the better, are endless. But realising this potential means thinking beyond commerce, to an experience that creates a unique, valuable journey for every person within the B2B buying cycle.
Karie Daudt is vice president of marketing and customer experience at Insite Software
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