Marketing, commerce and technology responsibilities in the B2B world are often more complicated than in business-to-consumer, but B2C professionals can bring deep expertise to B2B organizations, experts said in a session on recruitment trends at IRCE @ RetailX.

Jobs in B2B ecommerce—for both technology and marketing types—can be more complicated and harder to fill from a tight labor pool than in B2C. Nonetheless, the B2C world—with its experience in personalization and customer-centric strategies—can bring a lot of help to its B2B counterparts, experts in ecommerce and recruitment said at the IRCE @ RetailX 2019 conference.

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Jerry Bernhart, principal, Bernhart Associates Executive Search

“During the 30 years I have been recruiting and placing B2Bers, I’ve worked with thousands of candidates who have made the change from B2C, many of them multiple times during the course of their careers, and I’ve talked with hundreds of employers who often struggle with the idea of hiring someone who is predominately B2C into mission-critical B2B roles,” said Jerry Bernhart, who is principal of ecommerce recruitment firm Bernhart Associates. “What is bringing this more to the forefront is the hyper-competitive labor market we’re in right now. The tremendous demand for marketing talent is causing candidate pools to shrink, and in some areas, employers are really strapped to find experienced B2Bers.”

Taking on B2B challenges

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Meeta Kratz, vice president, marketing and ecommerce, Workplace Safety Division, Brady Corp.

Meeta Kratz, vice president of marketing and ecommerce for the Workplace Safety Division of manufacturer Brady Corp., who joined Bernhart in a session titled “Myth-busting: Transitioning from B2C to B2B,” noted that B2B ecommerce definitely presents challenges to marketing and ecommerce professionals that go beyond what’s common in retail commerce. But she and Bernhart went on to explain how marketing and ecommerce professionals with experience in B2C operations can work with their B2B counterparts to bring value to B2B operations, particularly for crucial areas like personalization in web content and customer-centric strategies.

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Kratz listed among the B2B challenges:

  • Longer and more complicated sales cycles, which can require technology different from the retail world to serve complex customer relationships and buying journeys such as routing pending purchases to superiors for authorization;
  • Customer-specific pricing, which can involve customers logging in to see customized content or “punching out” to a seller’s website from procurement software applications;
  • A multichannel sales environment, through which customers may interact with a seller through sales reps, customer service agents, direct-mail materials and large offline product catalogs as well as through a seller’s own ecommerce site;
  • Distribution channels that can range from basic resellers to providers of products and services, requiring suppliers to figure out how to provide value to both their distribution partners and the end-customers. Moreover, “B2B marketers are required to make it easy for their distributors to show value their end-users” using the supplier’s products, Kratz said.

Getting personal with today’s ‘martech’ strategies

Kratz added that B2B as well as B2C ecommerce and marketing teams these days are using a wider variety of marketing technology, or martech, and related strategies to better connect with customers. These include more web analytics to compile and analyze data on customer interests; progressive web applications, which load quickly like web pages but with the kind of rich, interactive features common on mobile apps; artificial intelligence, which can help sellers predict customer demand and proactively respond to it; voice-activated website search, even for complicated industrial products; and the ability to sell effectively through online marketplaces.

A main reason for deploying such technology and strategies, Kratz said, is to provide the level of personalization, customer-centric commerce and ease of online purchasing B2B customers expect today.

And that gets to the important role that B2C experience can play in helping B2B ecommerce operations, Kratz and Berhnart said.

“Customer centricity is one of the things that is bringing the B2B and B2C marketing worlds together,” Kratz said, adding: “B2B did not traditionally have the data or the tech stack to address things like personalization.”

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And skills in customer centricity, solving customers’ purchasing problems, using the latest digital technologies and using analytics data to develop agile and effective marketing can make the difference in a B2B company’s ability to not only keep up with the competition, but also leapfrog it, Kratz said.

So, can B2C pros really help?

“So, this leads us to the big question,” Bernhart said. “Can B2C digital marketers make the transition to B2B” to help their B2B counterparts better connect with both distribution partners and end-customers? The evidence, he added, “definitely points to yes,” but with two asterisks related to biases on the part of some employers and job candidates who assume that B2C skills and interests are hard to transfer to B2B.

To overcome such biases, Bernhart suggested that employers and job candidates look beyond the minute details of typical B2B transactions and focus on common areas, such as how a B2C veteran can share her expertise in matching customers’ needs with a more suitable online buying experience. “Get rid of the kitchen sink and mandatory years of B2B experience,” Bernhart said. “Talk about what success looks like,” such as satisfied, repeat customers. “Can the candidates achieve that success?”

Bernhart advised employers to include a core set of common questions when interviewing multiple candidates to get a useful comparison of candidates’ skills and interests. “Asking different questions of each candidate leads to a skewed assessment of who would best perform the job,” he said.

He also warned managers against the tendency of many managers to “hire people in their own image,” which can result in B2B managers favoring only those with B2B experience. “This is where B2B bias creeps in,” he said. “Pretty soon you have a very homogenous marketing team,” and that can overlook candidates with important skills, he added.

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“We hear about the ‘consumerization of B2B, and B2Cers are probably playing a role in that transition,” Bernhart said. “They can help introduce or reinforce this consumerization in the B2B environment. These candidates know what a personalized omnichannel experience should look like.”

Bernhart noted that base compensation for comparable positions is usually 5% to 10% higher in B2B because of such factors as the complexity of B2B operations and the increasing demand for B2B professionals.

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