Companies that sell their products to other firms rather than to consumers have traditionally not put as much effort into the “digital customer experience” than, say, retail banks or travel companies. And for good reason; B2B sales cycles are much longer and more complex than most of the consumer interactions we all participate in day to day.
But putting time and money behind projects to improve the digital commercial process will greatly benefit B2B firms. A B2B digital commerce initiative can significantly improve the customer experience and simplify the purchasing process for both buyers and their partners. Such initiatives can also produce useful real-time inventory counts, order confirmations and 24/7 access to products, services, and support. According to Gartner, companies that consumerize their B2B digital commerce sites by the end of this year will gain market share and could see revenue increases of up to 25%.
But changing the way customers interact with a supplier requires an understanding of how those customers make purchases online. Without it, firms run the risk of implementing changes fraught with challenges and unhappy customers. Senior sales managers have an important role to play here. As their teams are critical to the buyer journey, they are attuned to customer needs, and can help ensure the initiative is well-received.
An investment in digital commerce shouldn’t focus on automating an already developed commerce process. It should represent a shift in the way the organization supports its digital business. Sales leaders should integrate the website into their existing channels and encourage their teams to use it to support and complement other sales activities.
Also, don’t let this new channel be seen as a threat to the company’s sales teams. Make sure they have a clear understanding of how the new site will contribute to their success, empower customers, and provide pricing clarification.
Measuring the return on investment for digital commerce may be difficult. Your customers will likely cross over between self-serving online and working with sales representatives, so your digital commerce efforts may not have direct revenue attribution. Focus instead on how better customer experience and sales team productivity can improve overall corporate performance.
Through improved customer experience and coordination from sales teams, customers may strengthen their relationship with the company. Take into consideration B2C shopping experiences, such as personalization, live chats, ratings and reviews, as you explore new ways to transform your B2B business transactions.
Building B2B Digital Commerce to Address Challenges
Also, those runnidng a B2B digital commerce initiative should consider how they address three factors:
Automation: Benefits achieved through the normal efficiency of being online
Augmentation: The ability to offer additional functionality through an online channel
Transformation: New business processes enabled through the coupling of technology
They should ensure that initiatives do not solely fall into only one of these categories unless they want to run the risk of missing other opportunities. Sales leaders should work with their IT counterparts to map out the critical processes of automation, augmentation, and transformation. For example, focusing only on automation may lead to missing opportunities to transform the customer experience or reduce friction in the buying process.