August 28, 2020
B2B commerce is undergoing incredible change due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. As a sector that very much relies on in-person interactions to seal the deal, business models are now shifting to prioritize digital engagement.
Indeed, one key finding from a study by McKinsey was that B2B companies now see digital interactions as two to three times more important to their customers than traditional sales interactions.
This swift move to digital requires additional shifts in strategy — no doubt. And that was the topic of conversation during a recent panel discussion where industry experts pointed to the significant transformation happening in B2B commerce and outlined strategies for success. The panel, which was sponsored by Adobe, left attendees with the following four key takeaways.
1. Make the Buying Experience Easier
Buyers are looking for safe ways to buy — this much is obvious. B2B companies should be evaluating their eCommerce sites to ensure they are creating superior experiences for their buyers. They want convenient, quick-click ways to gather information, such as accurate inventory status.
Shannon Hane, senior product marketing manager at Adobe and one of the panelists, shared an example.
“I have a chemical manufacturer who is using real-time inventory reporting on their site to make their customers feel very confident that they have the product in stock,” she said.
Fulfillment now requires new delivery options. Consider adding delivery automation, such as curbside pickup, buy online/pickup in store (BOPIS), touchless, and contact free services.
“We have one customer who put in place geofencing so that they are automatically notified when that customer is coming into the parking lot so that they can be ready to go, and it is a smooth, fast service," she said. "So there are folks that are really innovating around the touchless piece.”
If you haven’t already, assess your site experience and add contact-free order fulfillment.
2. Commerce Is More than Just the Purchase
Make product information pages and site search work for you. Now is the time to be examining and revamping your product experience pages. Some buyers may not be able to order through a website because they are restricted — for example, certain healthcare buyers — but they are certainly using your site to research products and you want to impress them.
And don’t overlook site search.
“I wish more B2B companies would put site search at the focal point of everything that they are doing in 2020 because it is such a massive area,” explained panelist Justin Racine, senior commerce consultant at Perficient. "Site search is huge because if you ask yourself how many users am I losing on my website or in my commerce platform because my site search is crappy, can you answer that question? If you can’t, then that’s something you should take a look at.”
Many B2B companies are putting an emphasis on optimizing search. Another panelist, Mike Powers, director of eCommerce and digital marketing at Alaska Rubber Group, provided a great example.
“Within six months of going live … looking at the site search data, that actually allowed us to determine that our taxonomy needed to change,” he said.
So even something as simple as changes to taxonomy can build a better experience.
3. Prioritization Eliminates Paralysis
You may know that you need to do a better job but are unsure how to prioritize and move forward. Well, this panel offered plenty of advice, much of it around organization and technology. First, you need to get your leadership aligned with your vision and build digital commerce expertise in your organization. For example, you may need to find an external partner to help build the eCommerce plan and also hire an evangelist who rallies the internal teams.
Second, it’s time to assess your technology. But this evaluation should be done continuously, not just one time. A recommended best practice is to conduct customer input sessions: What do your customers think are important features that should be part of your platform? Get your sales team involved and part of this process, too. If you can get just a couple of salespeople embracing the platform changes, this will bring the entire sales team along and be a huge win for the internal team and your customers.
4. Pay Attention to Best Practices and Emerging Trends
The experts had numerous tips to share, some tried-and-true and many emerging. Pay attention to best practices and emerging trends to help you create differentiation for your business. Here are a few notable ones:
• Product previews: Product configurators and selection tools can help buyers get to purchase decisions quickly and confidently. Be sure to use customer ratings and reviews. B2B buyers want to know what their peer groups have to say. Videos and even augmented reality can be proxies for in-person product demos.
• New business models: COVID-19 has upset traditional business models. You may be facing a whole new set of customers and new users. Be open to creating new models to capture this demand, which can include pivoting from B2B to direct-to-consumer (D2C) and adding marketplaces like Amazon.
• Service: Now is the time to double-down on service. Online chat will be critical. Also, ensure you have touchpoints in place to help remind customers to order replacement products or parts. Email marketing can be a big help here.
These are just a few of the insights from the panel discussion on what the fastest-growing B2B companies are doing to innovate. Panelists also shared a few of their personal best practices — use customers as beta testers and learn how they want to use your platform; experience your site as if you are your customers and remove any friction; and build a strong internal team to scale successfully. Above all, you need a superior digital shopping experience to drive growth and build long-lasting customer relationships.
The fact is there’s a reason some B2B companies have been able to stay resilient throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and why some have not. There are real, concrete differences between the two groups. Discover the digital commerce secrets that are accelerating growth and setting B2B organizations up for success in a post-COVID world.
Watch the replay of the panel discussion.