Most business buyers say they are more likely to purchase products from companies that understand their business goals. One of the best ways a seller can communicate that understanding is by providing an online B2B customer experience that addresses the specific needs of each member of a buying group, writes Matt Glaze, user experience director, digital customer experience at Capgemini Americas.

MattGlaze-Capgemini

Matt Glaze

The B2C-ification of the B2B buying experience was already well underway before the pandemic, but it has accelerated. After more than a year and a half of virtual buying, more than one-third of B2B buyers say digital channels are more important during their buying process. Forty percent rate human interaction as less important now.

Take a fresh look at your customers and their journey from discovery through post-purchase. Designing real-time customization for purchasing experiences requires research.

The combination of a forced shift to making business purchases online and the overall trends toward digital self-service in B2B have changed buyers’ expectations. Now, 85% of business buyers say that the experience they have with a company matters as much as the company’s products or services. That means it’s time for B2B brands to take a new look at their digital channels and identify areas where they can improve their user experience to differentiate and remain competitive.

B2B versus B2C ecommerce experiences

As a designer, it’s been exciting to see organizations realize that B2B customer experience can learn some lessons from B2C. Good design patterns are universal, and as brands implement B2C best design practices for B2B CX, it creates an appealing sense of familiarity for customers who are accustomed to excellent B2C experiences.

That said, there are some clear and important differences between B2B and B2C experience design, mostly because the customer journeys are different. For example, a typical B2C journey involves a single customer who engages with fixed-price items with relatively little discovery beyond colors, sizing, and price, and then checks out using one of a few payment methods supported by the site.

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In the B2B buying journey, on the other hand, organizations are often the buyers, with multiple people within the company making purchases on its behalf. There’s often variable pricing, complex selection criteria, bulk quantities, and different payment options such as purchase orders. These factors combine to require more complicated workflows for making purchases.

Timing is a factor in designing the B2B customer experience, too. What we see is that business decision makers spend a lot more time in the early discovery phase of their journey. That means their experience may begin with more educational and marketing information on key pages, leading to targeted calls to action that guide customers to the purchase path at the right point in the journey.

Assess the complexity of your B2B customer experience

Eighty-four percent of business buyers say they’re “more likely” to do business with companies that understand their business goals. One of the challenges that brands face in communicating that understanding is designing an experience that addresses the needs of the organization as well as the specific needs of each buyer group member and end user. In B2C, the end user is typically the buyer, but in B2B, end users can be customers, vendors, suppliers, or employees. They might be buying for one department or organization or multiple entities.

When these B2B buyers log in, their experience should align with their needs to avoid gaps in brand experience and to help them move along in the buying journey. For example, while business buyers spend more time in discovery, once they know what they want, a quick-order feature that lets them enter part numbers and check out fast can improve that stage of the purchasing process.

Planning a seamless end-to-end B2B buyer experience

Designing a compelling B2B experience starts with assessing your organization’s current digital maturity. Is there already an implementation plan or technology? What legacy systems will you need to migrate or integrate to make improvements? For example, your organization may use dozens of apps or platforms that need to be consolidated and streamlined as part of the experience enhancement process.

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Next, take a fresh look at your customers and their journey from discovery through post-purchase. Designing real-time customization for purchasing experiences requires research. Getting data directly from the end users is extremely helpful for planning a good experience. For example, if you want to build an account dashboard personalization feature, you can talk with a handful of individuals who will use it to get their input on how they will use it and what would make it work best for them. If they’re using another system now, you can ask them which aspects of it work—and which don’t work.

Review your marketing program as well. Seamless end-to-end CX design requires support from the client-side marketing team to create and manage content at every touchpoint, especially during the discovery stage. Your new experience design may need to include a new or upgraded content design system to leverage brand assets like case studies, demos, a documentation hub, tutorials, and other resources.

Optimizing B2B CX is a long-term commitment

This kind of project is never a one-and-done because customer behavior and technology is constantly evolving. It can also take longer than a B2C CX overhaul because there are typically more stakeholders involved and more legacy systems to integrate or migrate to the new platform. You may also need to redesign the experience on several platforms, depending on the scope and scale of your project.

By starting now to evaluate your organization’s existing CX, digital experience maturity, customer needs and marketing resources, you can begin to design a B2B customer experience that meets today’s buyer expectations and helps your organization adapt in the new normal.

Matt Glaze is a UX Director and consultant at Capgemini Americas with more than 20 years of professional experience in the digital commerce industry. His experience spans commerce, communities, research, testing, and collaboration portals with specialization in B2C and B2B digital customer experience design. 

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