Innovations in B2B commerce often start with B2C experiences, and a new round of buyer expectations is on the horizon, writes Steve Pruden, CEO of CX consultancy Studio Science.


Steve Pruden

B2B business leaders treat their industry as a wholly different and more complex ecosystem than what takes place in the B2C realm. And, in fairness, it would be unfair to compare B2B and B2C as apples to apples. B2B sees longer sales cycles and larger buying quantities and payments and works with more sophisticated products.

B2C brands focus intently on making customers feel wanted and appreciated. That feeling doesn’t just go away in business dealings, so B2B organizations have to step up to meet it.

But focusing on their differences overlooks the people behind the businesses doing deals. These B2B leaders purchasing parts for machinery equipment or service licenses are B2C consumers in every other aspect of their life. They still purchase home goods, presents, and experiences like everyone else, which is why it’s natural that those B2C goliaths (Amazon, Nike, Target, and Netflix, to name a few) have such an influential hold. For every manufacturing purchase a B2B director makes for their business, they make dozens of B2C purchases to fit their needs.

B2C has become a stage gate for B2B companies. The features and experiences that resonate most and provide the most value in the B2C world become the latest expectations for B2B. Why should B2B leaders have to deal with a sales rep face-to-face when they can go online and place an order themselves in every other life situation? The answer is they shouldn’t.

The current driving force for B2B commerce includes digital-first conversions, product recommendations, and delivery transparency. But there are also a handful of mainstream capabilities and features in the B2C world that will soon become the expectation in B2B.


Highly Configurable Products

I’ve mentioned already that for many B2B organizations, the challenge of ecommerce is that the products being purchased can be much more complex and specific. The difficulties caused by these complexities must be solved through technology, as has been the case in the B2C world, and that’s where we’re headed.

If you need a new sink and faucet for your home, you can go to the Home Depot or Lowe’s ecommerce site and customize the size, color, and material to fit your needs, and then view how it would look on the screen. That type of visualization will soon be in demand in B2B. Say you’re building a new airport, and instead of one sink, you need 100 with specific specs, styles, and so on. That’s much more complicated than buying one, but the experience will soon be the same, or closer to it.

Another example of this is in the tech world. For a company moving to a new office and needing a computing infrastructure (gateways, routers, monitors, servers), the processes should be similar to ordering equipment for a home office on Amazon.

Online Subscription Purchases

For the professional services industry — which makes up a sizeable portion of B2B — non-physical licenses and service agreements replace pallets of products. Leaders will soon expect to be able to purchase technology licenses (think Salesforce, Adobe, etc.) and repeatable monthly service contracts the same way they subscribe to YouTube TV.


There is no excuse for the complicated paper order forms that have been the norm in this area to remain in place moving forward. Simplifying and automating the experience is long overdue, especially considering the number of platforms and software making up the modern B2B company’s tech stack.

Frictionless Repurchases

Too much effort on the part of B2B sales teams is spent simply taking the same order from the same customer without any change to the order taking place. A company buys Xamount of products and when it gets low, it orders the same amount again. Rinse and repeat.

B2B can, and should, take a page from B2C electronics in terms of automated and seamless reorders. Household gadget brands — like printers, for example — are syncing with Amazon and other big-box retailers to make life easier. When your ink or toner gets low, the printer tells Amazon it’s time for more, and Amazon places the order and delivers it to your door.

Take away the hassle and make it easier for your buyers to set up automatic reorders over a certain period of time. It doesn’t have to involve sophisticated technology like with a printer and Amazon. Use your customer data to identify trends and predict when a customer will need more from you, and then allow it to happen seamlessly.


Customer Loyalty

High on the list of upcoming demands will be how B2B organizations incentivize customers to use their products and services. Competition in the market only grows with every passing year, and a gift from the sales rep over the holidays won’t cut it any longer. Unless B2B companies place an emphasis on the post-purchase and retention stages, buyers will leave for someone else.

This post-purchase strategy doesn’t necessarily mean a punch card where the 10th order is free. But your loyalty efforts should make the buyer’s life easier by coming back. Provide a discount for automatic reorders. Offer tiers with rewards based on purchase history and quantity. B2C brands focus intently on making customers feel wanted and appreciated. That feeling doesn’t just go away in business dealings, so B2B organizations have to step up to meet it.

One of the best learnings that B2C can teach B2B is that expectations are constantly changing, and standing still is the same as moving backward. You don’t need a crystal ball to succeed. But you should take a moment and think through how you engage with brands in your daily lives and what emotions and needs translate to your business life. Because chances are Target and Starbucks will put in place strategies that your customers will demand soon enough.


About the author

Steve Pruden is the CEO of Studio Science, a customer experience consultancy. Steve joined Studio Science from cloud technology consulting firm Appirio, where he helped lead the business through a $500 million acquisition by Wipro, a  global IT services company.

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