As everyone seems to know, business-to-business e-commerce is set for explosive growth led by manufacturers and distributors. We also see business-to-consumer trends and expectations driving B2B trends and expectations. For instance, B2B sellers are enacting strategies to migrate customers from offline transactions to online in order to reduce customer acquisition costs.
As B2C e-commerce continues to drive interest in B2B e-commerce, more of our experiences as consumers influence our expectations as business buyers. As consumers, we know there are many elements of a product or buying experience that keep us going back to the same brands, online and offline. Loyalty programs, such as Amazon Prime or Marriott Rewards, for example, are designed to keep us buying more and feel valued by that organization. Successful brands know they must offer us a memorable, consistent customer experience with every interaction, on our terms.
However, loyalty programs are increasingly relegated to just one element of customer retention. McKinsey & Company recently pointed out in its report “You Better Shop Around” that, in spite of all these loyalty programs, consumers are still driven by price—they shop around for best price and likely to switch if they can get a better deal elsewhere.
So how does this translate to a B2B buyer?
B2B buyer expectations are founded in their experiences as consumers, but compounded by the needs of their business. B2B sellers must serve both needs well in today’s world of e-commerce, which accentuates traditional touch points like customer service in new and creative ways.
Therefore, elements that B2B companies need to make available online and consistently supported by offline interactions include:
- Product choice—make it easy for B2B buyers to find what they need;
- Detailed product information—offer extensive data like specifications, images, PDFs, and attributes;
- Filtering—help them zero in on preferred products;
- Personalized pricing—offer special pricing based on your business relationship;
- Real-time inventory—display highly accurate inventory position data;
- Purchasing convenience—let buyers purchase anytime on any device;
- Customer self service—allow them to view and interact with purchase history; quotes, orders, invoices, tracking, RMAs, pay invoices online, etc.
- Repeat buys—make it easy to reorder from a past purchase.
This can be a tall order for a business. To achieve this pragmatically, organizations need a modern e-commerce platform that is integrated with core business systems to automate the flow of data securely and in real time. Only this level of connectivity will be able to support so many online and offline buyer interactions in the personalized and consistent manner B2B buyers expect.
Srini Venugopal is senior director e-commerce for Epicor Software Co., a provider of e-commerce and business operations software for manufacturers, distributors, retailers, government agencies, schools, professional services firms and other organizations.