By focusing on reducing friction in the customer’s buying process, increasing transparency in pricing, and better anticipating customer needs, B2B sellers can enhance and expand customer relationships through ecommerce, writes Valerie Howard of PROS.

ValerieHoward-PROS

Valerie Howard

COVID-19 has disrupted the way businesses operate. Those that hadn’t already prioritized ecommerce are falling behind and looking to digitize their sales process for the first time. Thanks to the pandemic, many businesses are shifting to make purchases through self-serve digital channels—a strong indicator of how B2B buyers want to interact with sellers. So why is it that many conventional B2B companies remain paralyzed when it comes to their digital transformation?

Customers should be a business’s number one priority. When businesses hesitate to meet customers where they are on digital purchasing channels, buyers are quick to shift wallet share to competitors who have recognized the urgency to connect digitally.

Traditional B2B sellers have believed the unique, personal touch their customers need cannot be replaced by an ecommerce experience. What they fail to recognize is that self-serve options enhance, rather than replace, personalization. When these businesses hesitate to meet their customers’ expectations for digital purchasing, buyers are quick to shift wallet share to competitors who are delivering on ecommerce. Let’s debunk the common misconceptions surrounding B2B ecommerce that have caused many businesses to fall behind their savvier competitors in delivering on customer expectations.

Misconception #1:
The Needs of My Business Buyer are Too Complex
to Be Served by Ecommerce

Many business buyers have complex needs, whether it’s careful management of supply chain, maintaining quality control or meeting delivery times. As a result, suppliers have come to assume that customers require a human salesperson’s touch at all stages of the buying process. After all, a human-to-human interaction ensures that the customer’s unique and varied needs are not overlooked by a chatbot that has a limited library of questions.

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Unfortunately, giving into the belief that every business deal is exceptional, unique, and complex becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. While every buying interaction is unique, buyers are increasingly demanding self-serve options. In fact, according to recent research, 96% of business buyers are purchasing through digital channels in some capacity—and 37% are purchasing more than half their goods without the aid of a sales rep. While it may seem counterintuitive, when buyers have the option to make purchases digitally, their loyalty is strengthened and their spend increases.

B2B sellers need to ensure that they are providing digital options to retain their customers—and getting started can be as simple as enabling buyers to re-order their last transaction through a digital experience. Tracking and exposing historical transactions for the customer offers the buyer important information and helps them to easily remember and re-order products and services that they may want to purchase again. While many business needs are complex, it’s likely that once the buyer has had a good experience with your products and services, they’ll want an easy option to simply re-order.

Misconception #2:
Selling Products through Digital Channels
will Drive Commoditization

The second-biggest misconception many B2B sellers have is that all ecommerce buyers focus on price alone. Advanced search engines make it easy to compare prices across potential suppliers, and price-sensitive buyers may choose to “cherry-pick” across their suppliers for the best price.

However, this tactic is typically limited to two types of buyers: those who have a limited, one-time need, or inexperienced buyers who haven’t yet recognized that a transactional relationship requires an inordinate amount of effort for the resulting benefit. These “cherry-picking” buyers are so focused on getting a good deal that they fail to discover the added value that a trusted, collaborative supply chain partner can offer.

A successful ecommerce strategy should seek to enhance the buying experience of customers who already value your products and services rather than cater to transactional, fair-weather buyers who want to compare you to your competition. Well-executed, digital channels can create greater intimacy between the buyer and seller. When buyers have autonomous access to purchase histories, inventory details, and personalized product recommendations that eCommerce platforms can deliver, they can better understand how they are utilizing their suppliers—and how they can improve and expand their relationship with that vendor.

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Misconception #3:
B2B Buyers Don’t Trust Dynamic Pricing

Finally, the third misconception is that giving buyers transparency into pricing will enrage customers when today’s offered price is lower than what they paid for your goods and services yesterday—or similarly, when their next purchase includes a substantial price increase. In traditional business relationships, buyers’ perceptions of price fairness were tied to the last price they paid for a similar service or product and stemmed from a lack of information and an inability to easily get pricing information for a competitive or substitute item.

Today’s digital revolution has broken down these information barriers. Third-party data aggregators and customer review sites are uncovering important details like price and service levels that had traditionally been hidden behind sales reps. Now that buyers have much more information readily available at their fingertips, they are better equipped to make the decision to switch between vendors.

As a result, sellers need to consider not only their historical relationship with their buyer but also the potential substitute and competitor offers in the marketplace. Today’s marketplace has become much more volatile, making businesses more vulnerable to changing costs more frequently in order to maintain profitability. With more factors at play, buyers have come to understand that “fair pricing” may mean prices change from one day to the next, making transparency in price derivation increasingly sought after.

B2B sellers can get started with dynamic pricing by employing algorithms that consider key variables like cost, supply, demand, and a customer’s buying behavior to derive the prices. Many pricing technology solutions allow for setting pricing rules with these dependencies. Buyers increasingly see algorithmic approaches to pricing as more consistent, fair, and preferable to the unpredictable, biased methods of gut-instinct-based pricing.

Leverage eCommerce to Increase Customer Intimacy

No matter where your business is in your digital transformation journey, by focusing on reducing friction, increasing transparency, and better anticipating customer needs, B2B organizations can enhance and expand customer relationships through ecommerce.

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Suppliers need to listen to what their customers want, personalize offers accordingly, and engage with them in the right channels. Doing so can help identify everyday, repetitive needs and reduce friction in the buying process.

Increasing transparency into elements like pricing, transaction history, and product information make it easier for buyers to understand your business and where you can offer expanded value. And, with greater customer engagement through digital experiences, there is more data available that can  enhance the overall customer experience. At its core, leaning on these three pillars can help businesses enhance the buying experience and make it even more exceptional—and even crisis-proof.

Valerie Howard is the solution strategy director at PROS, a provider of online pricing and selling technology and services. Follow her on LinkedIn.

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