It’s clear B2B commerce needs to become smoother for the modern B2B buyer. Accustomed to the omnichannel experiences offered by their favorite shopping spots in their personal lives, B2B customers are looking for the same frictionless experiences when buying on the job. These buyers want to do their own research and control the buying process on their own terms. Providing them with easily accessible and reliable product information at all touchpoints, along with an engaging buying experience, is the way to go. However, according to McKinsey’s research, B2B customer-experience index ratings still lag behind those of retail customers. B2C companies typically score in the range of 65 to 85%, while B2B companies average less than 50%.
This shift in consumer expectations has undoubtedly also impacted B2B organizations. Today, B2B sellers are more likely to grow revenue by implementing an effective omnichannel strategy. But this is no easy task. Next to a mindset shift, it requires integrating best-in-class technology while transforming legacy organization structures and processes. However, for those B2B businesses that get it right, an omnichannel strategy can represent a powerful competitive advantage. In fact, brands that excel at omnichannel customer experiences see a 9.5% year-over-year increase in annual revenue, compared to 3.4% for weak omnichannel companies. In this article, we’ll look closer at what omnichannel B2B commerce is and how it can help you keep up with accelerating customer demands.
What is omnichannel B2B commerce?
Omnichannel B2B commerce is an integrated approach for selling to and servicing customers across all relevant physical and digital channels without friction. It provides customers with contextually relevant, rich and positive experiences, regardless of preferred channel.
The average B2B buyer already uses six different channels as they move along their buying journey and almost 65% will come away from it frustrated by inconsistent experiences and hurdles between the touchpoints. This makes omnichannel a necessity rather than a “nice-to have”.
Leveraging omnichannel for B2B commerce
Omnichannel is not just a buzzword anymore. It’s a way to strengthen your relationship with customers by offering them a digital-first, dynamic and seamless buying experience across all touchpoints. It not only helps you maximize the potential of your existing audience but also attracts the attention of new buyers. But to turn them into loyal customers, you will need to continuously exceed their expectations. Here are three main B2B customer expectations to consider:
B2B buyers expect a channel-less experience
Whether it's their preference to self-serve or the fact that more than half of all B2B purchases are based solely on digital content, B2B buyers have made one thing clear: they want control from research to purchase. With a channel-less customer approach, the only thing that matters is your company’s connection with the customer – allowing the medium to fade into the background. Brands have no choice but to offer customers complete and consistent product information regardless of the channel or device – and that calls for a repository of centralized, real-time product content. Whether it’s through mobile, social, the e-shop or in-store, a channel-less approach should be seamless. Customers want the same product details, special offers and discounts at every touchpoint.
B2B buyers expect an end-to-end experience
Companies that offer an end-to-end buying experience cite revenue growth, higher customer satisfaction and a larger addressable market as key benefits. That’s why brands must enable customers to operate in their preferred sales channel, switch between channels and experience a seamless product experience. They also need to help customers make sense of all the information they need to sort through. In other words, how do you help buyers identify the information they need to make a decision? And how do you ensure they feel they’ve made the right decision once a purchase is made? By providing complete and consistent information at each touchpoint while guiding buyers through the digital landscape, you can add value to the entire buying journey.
B2B buyers expect a personalized experience
Today’s customers want tailored experiences — and they are even willing to spend 140% more to get them. Yet only 53% of retailers consider personalization as a top priority. The context of the customer engagement, lifecycle phase, services and interactions with other channels should form the basis of the overall customer experience. By focusing on personalization and contextualization, you can create the right environment for meaningful customer engagements. The process often starts with gathering real-time contextual data, creating engaging journeys, assessing customers’ responses and optimizing the process accordingly so that the right messages reach the right customers. Among other things, this requires investing in solutions providing critical content and services to deliver true omnichannel experiences.
How to develop a successful omnichannel B2B commerce strategy
According to a recent Forrester report: “Firms executing on a true omnichannel strategy no longer suffer from the delivery of disjointed experiences. They systematically create differentiated value across channels to deepen relationships and lower the cost of sales.” To get you started, here are seven recommendations that can help you build a successful omnichannel strategy:
Venture beyond the web storefront
Customers demand both digital and in-person excellence. That’s why only having a website is not enough. There are advantages from physical stores that ecommerce still must catch up with, for instance, product touch and feel, immersive exploration and personal and trusted advice.
Empower your sales and service teams
It’s vital to solicit and have full support across all impacted business functions – that includes enabling your sales and customer service teams to guide your buyers successfully through the self-service buying process.
Optimize the entire buyer journey
Omnichannel commerce success is often hampered by overly focusing on discovery and transaction. The experience doesn’t end after a purchase is made. Companies should focus on the end-to-end buyer journey, including order tracking, fulfillment and customer service to promote brand loyalty.
Ensure that capability requirements span your customers and internal teams
Companies need to empower teams and customers by providing access to up-to-date, easily understandable information, irrespective of channel. That’s how TOMS Shoes enabled sales and marketing to improve the buying experience using brand-centric, digitally merchandized layouts to facilitate buyer-seller interactions.
Motivate your sales team
Sellers can either sabotage or ensure your success, so make sure that you have their full buy-in. Best-in-class organizations have incentive programs that align with company goals and are understood throughout the company.
Develop a culture of continuous improvement
Omnichannel is not only a huge challenge for companies to tackle, but it often requires a new approach to customer engagement. That's why a phased approach with no definitive end point rather than a project-based implementation can be a better strategy for businesses. By focusing on a specific region or business unit, companies can implement faster and continually fine-tune the best approaches for their business.
Prioritize rep enablement
When implementing a mass change to your business, you must have internal buy-in. Omnichannel B2B commerce requires a commitment to rep enablement as a crucial factor in influencing customer behavior. Webinars and ongoing training, for example, help support change and build the confidence of sales and service reps.
An omnichannel B2B commerce experience is key to future success
Today's B2B buyers want to be understood and respected as their B2C counterparts. To keep customers happy, B2B companies must break down silos and take an agile, user-centric approach that ensures seamless digital experiences. That’s where omnichannel comes in. Omnichannel is indispensable to improving competitiveness in B2B commerce. By nailing your omnichannel strategy, you can establish stronger bonds with your customers that will promote better conversion rates and bring your business more value over time. Consistent product data and high-quality digital assets across all customer touchpoints will form the foundation for this approach.