My first post, “3 Elements of a Winning Customer-Centric B2B eCommerce Strategy” talked about the changing B2B commerce landscape and the impact of today’s digital consumer – a more connected, savvier buyer whose path to purchase is complex and varied. The article introduced three concepts of a customer-centric B2B eCommerce strategy and went on to discuss the first concept in depth. This post will focus on the last two elements of a customer-centric B2B eCommerce strategy.
Don’t assume digital customers have the same purchase path as more traditional offline buyers.
Many companies think they know their customer, but I find that when I talk to clients and ask the hard questions, they have not done the research to understand how digital factors into today’s buyer journey. Consumer attitudes have shifted when it comes to where to buy and what information will influence those buying decisions.
In Consumer Executive Board’s (CEB) study, “The End of Solution Sales”, Arlington, VA, the report, which surveyed 1,400 B2B customer across diverse industries, found that buyer due diligence begins well in advance of meeting or talking with a supplier. In fact, the study says that buyers are 57 percent of the way through the buying process before they contact a potential supplier, some being as much as 70 percent complete with the decision-making process before reaching out to a vendor.
(CEB, “The End of Solution Sales”)
While B2B companies know buyers are doing research online, they are not taking the steps necessary to change their approach to selling and engaging.
The digital buyer journey is not just a conversation around online sales. A company must look at the full digital experience, including where the consumer is interacting with an organization in order to help influence conversions. Companies must also consider how various social site impact the journey. Understanding customer personas and customer touchpoints will help you create messaging, relevant content and experiences that add value to your customer, thereby building a stronger relationship with them.
Companies that know their customers are looking online for product information need to make sure their search function enables efficient searches. Depending on what consumers are searching and where they are searching from will help shape a more effective digital strategy. Web sites and mobile apps might include more in-depth product information or more detailed information on how what you are selling solves the problem they are facing.
Some buyers are influenced by product reviews, blogs and/or articles about a particular product. Companies should consider building a thought leadership program around categories of products and make sure messaging is tightly integrated across digital platforms and channels in order to effectively convert searches to sales.
The opportunity to connect with customers means trying to help them understand why they should want to purchase from you. They are engaged; they just simply need convincing as to why your company matters.
Once you think you have a good starting point, you need to leverage technology and analytics to test your theories and re-adjust depending on how and why buyers are making their purchases. The digital world changes all the time as do consumer preferences. The solutions that increase engagement now may not be relevant in a year or two. Research, analytics and your ability to adapt are key to staying relevant.
Don’t stop with B2C best practices. Go beyond them.
B2C companies have been building and evolving their digital presence and customer engagement for a long time. B2B companies can draw from B2C eCommerce strategies such as personalized content to improve their own.
Consider this: according to Gartner, by 2018, 70% of B2B eCommerce sites will offer personalized features for customers, and B2B companies that effectively use personalization on their eCommerce sites will outsell their competitors by 30%.
No doubt B2B offerings and B2B buyer journeys are more complex. That’s why it’s important to focus not just on relevant content but more specifically as it relates to the contracts in place with those customers such that the account hierarchy, products and pricing mirror expectations and offline interactions they would have with the sales teams.
B2B companies can also take away lessons from the B2C community that will help them sell more and provide better service. Consider location-based push messaging and segmented user product recommendations as two examples. While marketing automation tools can track buyer behavior across inbound and outbound channels, integrating predictive analytics can give you insights into what your buyers are going to do next.
Looking Ahead to the Future.
The time to think strategically and holistically about your commerce strategy is now. The market is changing too fast and competition is too fierce to risk losing revenue and customers. The three critical elements of a customer-centric eCommerce strategy mentioned above provide a good starting point for developing a concrete plan that will increase customer engagement and sales.
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