Personalization presents a set of unique challenges for B2B companies, particularly because B2B customers tend to ‘procure’ rather than ‘shop’ for goods.

A recent news item just placed Inc.’s revenue above the gross domestic products of oil-rich Algeria and Qatar. And Amazon’s footprint is set to grow even larger as the largest U.S. online retailer makes a big push into B2B commerce. In addition to its “Back to Business” campaign, Amazon just announced its own delivery service for businesses that seeks to undercut UPS and FedEx on price.

In response, B2B companies are rushing to own their respective categories. CDW Corp., W.W. Grainger Inc., and HD Supply have established e-commerce as a way to differentiate, and others are taking note. But it isn’t as simple as vowing to embrace “consumerization” and offer a sophisticated experience that rivals that offered by leading B2C merchants. In truth, acknowledging what’s different about business buyers—and tailoring experiences to accommodate those unique needs—is the key to success for B2B companies as they sift through online priorities.

Christina Singh, RichRelevance

Christina Singh, vice president of industry marketing, RichRelevance

Business buyers increasingly bring their expectations as consumers to their jobs. According to Forrester Research Inc., 64% of B2B buyers research at least half of their purchases online and 38% place orders for at least half their purchases online. And B2B buyers reward companies that invest in flexible online capabilities. Accenture Interactive found that 61% of business purchasers say they’d increase their online spending budget if it were more convenient to make purchases on the web, and 49% say they’d consider switching to suppliers offering easier online payment processes.

In response, B2B sellers have rapidly ramped up online capabilities—including personalized search, content and product recommendations. But “be like Amazon” is a broad mandate that can result in overwhelming to-do lists and paralysis for B2B marketers. To maximize relevance and showcase their distinctive brand offerings, B2B companies need to focus personalization efforts on three unique traits of B2B purchasers.


1—Multiple Purchasers x One Organization = Multiple Experiences

A single B2B customer organization may include multiple individuals authorized to make purchases, from office managers replenishing supplies to chief operating officers contemplating major contracts. While repeat customers are likely to use a login that’s associated with their role, engaging new visitors or anonymous returning shoppers requires in-session learning and real-time adjustments to home in on the most relevant content, products and offers.

In order to individualize experiences in real time, B2B sellers can draw on behavioral data from their own e-commerce sites and around the web and incorporate CRM data. Sellers can further finesse the experience as buyers conduct searches, add selections to the cart, or volunteer preferences using such tools as product finders or signups for notifications about particular categories of products.

A leading supplier of maintenance, repair and operations products and services to multifamily, hospitality, healthcare and government facilities turned to digital personalization to optimize customer engagement by showcasing the relevant products to the most applicable customer segments—without having to invest intensive manual resources. By combining segmentation with targeting based on individual behavior, this organization increased conversion by 116% on promotional content that better exposed the company’s massive product selection to individual business shoppers.


2—Make It Frictionless to Purchase

Unlike B2C shoppers, most B2B purchasers are task-focused, and have a product and a price to beat in mind. In order to meet their needs, B2B companies should incorporate personalization features within search to surface the right products quickly and help with things like replenishment. For example, when shoppers enter keywords, type-ahead suggested search terms can reflect past on-site activity and purchase history to showcase the most relevant products. Such efficiency has the potential to win business, with 53% of business buyers saying they’d be willing to switch to a supplier that offered better online search capabilities, Accenture found.

CDW, a Fortune 500 distributor of hardware, software and technology products and services, uses real-time digital personalization to deliver engaging, immersive and relevant customer experience tailored for industry, company and individual role, as well as unique goals and preferences. The company credits personalized site search and product recommendations with driving increased overall sales and top-line growth, improving attach rates and category penetration through cross-sell and upsell strategies. Personalization has also helped CDW increase customers’ awareness of its product and improve the overall online buying experience.

3—Assemble Relevant Experiences Around the Customer–Not the Product Catalog


Historically, B2B purchasers have ordered from catalogs featuring a subset of products focused on their discrete needs—thereby potentially missing out on offerings that might be relevant to other parts of the organization, or even items that serve new or adjacent requirements of their own. With personalization, B2B sellers can surface these new opportunities with focused recommendations from the cart onward through to post-purchase transactional messaging, suggesting new categories that align with buyers’ budgets and areas of responsibility. In addition, B2B companies can integrate personalization features into tools for their sales force, thereby enabling reps to tap into the same recommendations intelligence and uncover new areas of sales opportunity from existing customers.

For example, a leading jewelry supply manufacturer with global operations in five countries turned to personalization to connect its customers with additional items they may want to buy. Using data signals on customer behavior, the company was able to encourage shoppers to explore other relevant options that were compatible or complementary to the items typically purchased. Unlike manual rules, this approach surfaced a wider selection of relevant items for shoppers—while ensuring that every product was one that was available for purchase by that specific account, role and budget.

B2B sellers are rightfully preoccupied with personalization as a means of modernizing their online offerings. But rather than merely mimicking B2C functionality, they should focus their efforts on conditions unique to business buyers. By tailoring and streamlining key aspects of the purchase experience, B2B merchants can save customers time and money—and thereby earn loyalty.

Christina Singh is vice president of industry marketing at RichRelevance. She has over 15 years of marketing, sales and customer success experience helping leading brands deliver iconic experiences while delivering on their strategic business goals. Follow her on LinkedIn and on Twitter @chrisswong.