Are you exhausted yet by how fast the future is coming to the B2B industry?
Because it’s not just public-facing companies experiencing transformative change. Manufacturers and suppliers are being impacted by the “Amazon Effect,” too, as brands such as Amazon and Apple raise B2B buyer’s expectations for service, product selection and technology.
“Every B2B buyer is also a consumer who is used to the very best online-purchasing experience,” said Robert Garofallou, product marketing manager at Acumatica. “And they now expect their suppliers to offer that same level of service and selection. Manufacturers and distributors that are behind in technology by decades now have customers who expect them to catch up very quickly.”
What do buyers expect from their B2B e-commerce experience today? Here are three shifts in customer expectations changing how manufacturers and suppliers do business:
B2B e-commerce trend #1: Enhancing the digital customer experience
Customer experience is a critical differentiator and competitive advantage for any business that engages customers online. But enhancing the digital customer experience (CX) is especially important for B2B businesses, which can expect at least 15% of sales in digital channels by 2021. That future is already here for some companies. As Black Arch Partners reports, large manufacturers such as Grainger and MSC Industrial Supply Co. say e-commerce sales account for 40% to 50% of their company totals, respectively.
Tapping into the benefits of enhanced CX means considering all your customers’ digital touchpoints: What are you doing to make it easy for your customers to learn about your products and answer their questions without waiting for a follow-up call from a salesperson?
“When B2B buyers shop at home, they’re on their tablets and phones,” said Josh Fischer, senior product manager at Acumatica. “When they head into work, they’re wondering why they can’t buy things just as easily, whether it’s supplies for their office or machinery for their warehouse. At all times of the day, they want to be able to see details about your products and get a sense of what it would be like to work with your company.”
B2B e-commerce trend #2: Direct-to-consumer sales
Direct-to-consumer (D2C) sales aren’t just for CPG-disrupting, digitally native B2C brands. B2B brands are expanding beyond exclusive use of traditional dealer and distribution networks to accept orders from customers directly. Several benefits accompany this shift, including the ability to exert more control over how customers experience the brand, to own the consumer base and to capture a higher profit margin.
“B2B e-commerce companies are often concerned about upsetting their dealer networks and distribution warehouses by moving to D2C, but they shouldn’t be,” Fischer said. “But B2B buyers increasingly feel more comfortable buying a product from a manufacturer because they’re buying from the person that made it. Instead of heading into all-out competition with your networks, think of D2C as a way to build out your relationship with customers. Approach your D2C channel as an educational platform where customers can come to learn before seeing and buying products with the manufacturer or a dealer.”
B2B e-commerce trend #3: Managing multiple channels
Customers increasingly expect to be able to buy products when and where they prefer, leading manufacturers and suppliers to develop a multichannel approach to meet those expectations. But adding a digital sales channel can often be an overwhelming process for B2B manufacturers and suppliers, which are typically set up to monitor and analyze only one sales channel. Companies that successfully adjust their data collection and storage to manage multiple channels will be the best positioned to learn valuable information about your customers and improve their experience with your brand.
“Managing data in a B2B business with multiple sales channels, each managed independently, is incredibly complex,” Fischer said. “Even if you manage to stay on top of these changes, you often lose sight of your business through data. But if you want to have access to dashboards that provide real insight and reports you can use to make informed decisions, you need to have all of your data in one place — from having your website accurately reflect your inventory in multiple warehouses, to processing and fulfilling individual orders.”
B2B buyer changes are timeless, not temporary
It’s no secret that the B2B e-commerce industry is changing — it changes every year, if not every quarter. But since the most recent developments relate to the nature of B2B consumers and the technology at their fingertips, these changes are farther-reaching and more permanent than any that have come before. If you want your company to achieve its potential today and continue to meet the needs of the B2B customer tomorrow, you must adjust your approach to business in these three important ways. And the business that can master the integration of all three will be in a competitive position to capture a higher percentage of its B2B e-commerce customer base.