The world of B2B sales may not be sexy, but it’s always been steady work. When we think of where the bulk of sales innovation is taking place, we usually think of business-to-consumer retail companies on the bleeding edge of customer experience—especially when it comes to digital commerce.
Of course, B2C retailers don’t have a monopoly on innovation, and in the era of omnichannel commerce, B2B merchants, brands, manufacturers and distributors are feeling pressure to adopt “B2C tactics,” like website personalization, to grow and remain competitive. But given corporate buyers’ preference for experiences tailored to their company’s needs, B2B sellers would do well to emphasize—not eliminate—the unique characteristics of their business if they want to stand out from the crowd. After all, in the “online retail-verse”, we’ve learned time and again that merely keeping up with the Joneses, or Amazon, just doesn’t cut it anymore.
It’s true that B2B buyers increasingly desire convenience and accessibility. According to Forrester Research, more than two-thirds of corporate purchasing agents prefer self-service product research over working with a sales rep; this is a jump of 23% from 2015. To keep up with this rising trend, Amazon.com Inc. has quickly made strides in B2B ecommerce with Amazon Business, a business version of its dominant ecommerce site; from which reviews, recommendations, and Prime shipping service shape consumers’ online expectations for product content, convenience and savings.
But as B2B merchants, brands, manufacturers and distributors strive to emulate Amazon’s features, they risk losing out on what makes them unique. The current push to provide generic B2C-like experiences runs contrary to B2B businesses’ long tradition of customized customer relationships, from tailored catalogs to unique payment terms. That is why corporate buyers seek out B2B sellers that can adopt this one-to-one approach online. In fact, more than three-quarters of B2B purchasing agents want to see content specific to their company; additionally two-thirds expect information specific to their industry.
For B2B sellers who want to prioritize website personalization as a key strategy to develop more customized customer relationships, they can easily deliver on this promise by providing the following:
Product content attuned to the B2B purchase cycle
Based on prior interactions and predictive intelligence, personalization can pinpoint whether site visitors are in research mode or ready to buy. According to our Consumer Trends report, we know that 63% of consumers are influenced by personalized recommendations on the homepage. This could be via dynamic banners or promotions based on segment, location or individualized preferences. This aspect is imperative to present B2B merchants not only with relevant content, but with live sales or support connections. Post-purchase, timely replenishment reminders and upgrade offers are all additional personalization options that can spur re-engagement.
Product data that powers SEO and marketplaces
In the Kleiner Perkins Internet Trends 2018 report, over 60% of consumers now begin their search for products on marketplaces like Amazon, eBay or Houzz. In this new paradigm, it is important for brands and merchants to step up their product data game by providing accurate, complete and compelling product titles, descriptions, media, etc., across all of their sales channels if they wish to capture the attention—and dollars—of their customers. Ecommerce teams need to consistently ensure that their product information is accurate and up-to-date. They should err on the side of providing too much information whenever possible, and anticipate product-related questions that consumers are likely—or even unlikely—to have. Some of the same techniques that go into SEO best practices also apply. Merchants should research what search terms are likely to be used together, and include those keywords in product descriptions.
A custom B2B catalog experience
Personalization solutions can combine business rules with behavioral insights to present products and recommendations within pre-set parameters, along with custom pricing and bundling options. Predictive personalization capabilities can also flag potential new product categories of interest—helping B2B suppliers capitalize on cross-divisional sales opportunities. These predictive capabilities, informed by detailed customer profiles, can help create trigger events around a B2B customer’s buying moments that will inform when and with what product proposition to cross-sell.
A purchase process tailored to individual customers
B2B sellers can customize the online checkout process to accommodate such customer-specific needs as purchase order generation and purchase approval routines. This can be accomplished in tandem with personalization software tools with saved account data, allowing B2B buyers quick access to tailored re-ordering options.
The truth is that every B2B buyer started out as a B2C buyer. The expectations for a pixel-perfect, polished and rich shopping experience are, if anything, magnified in a B2B buying journey where the stakes and potential spend are much higher. Despite the clear desire from B2B customers for product discovery and purchase journeys that emulate the shopping they do in their off hours, too many B2B sellers fail to offer a compelling shopping experience with enhanced personalization for their key business accounts. To stay ahead of the pack in the modern B2B retail online-verse, B2B merchants must use website personalization approaches that enable seamless product findability without sacrificing the native B2B capabilities necessary to sell to the business buyer.
Meyar Sheik is president and chief commerce officer of Kibo, a provider of ecommerce technology and services. He is the former CEO and founder of Certona Corp., a provider of online personalization technology, which Kibo acquired in early 2019. Prior to Certona, Meyar was the chief marketing and chief operating officer of web analytics firm WebSideStory, which is now part of Adobe Inc. He also served as vice president of worldwide marketing and strategic alliances at business software provider SuperNova Inc.Favorite