Transforming Customer Experience in B2B: 5 Experts Weigh In

April 24, 2019

By: George Anderson,
Author Title: 
Communications Manager
, Corevist, Inc.
B2B Sales

/solutions/mobile-commerceIt’s no secret that the B2B world is shifting to eCommerce. As Forrester recently reported, the US B2B eCommerce market is now estimated at $1.1 trillion and should hit $1.8 trillion, or 17% of all B2B sales, by 2023. For B2B merchants, particularly manufacturers with little eCommerce experience, the prospect of making a play in this market is daunting. Where do you begin?

At Corevist, we frame the eCommerce journey in terms of customer experience. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and ask, “What’s difficult about our buying process today? How can we transform our customer experience to provide phenomenal value in the digital age?”

To help you answer that question, we’ve gathered 5 experts in B2B eCommerce and asked them where B2B customer experience is headed. Their answers may surprise and challenge you. We hope they’ll help you chart a course for transforming customer experience at your organization.

Go ERP-First - Sam Bayer, Corevist

1. When it comes to B2B buyer expectations, what key trends do you expect to emerge (or intensify) in the coming year?

The #1 trend emerging in B2B is convenience. If you make eCommerce a simple, productive, efficient experience—which includes the right product, with the right features, at the right price, delivered at the right time—then you win.

In fact, if you nail that, you can even charge more for the experience. That’s what Amazon has taught us.

Of course, becoming more convenient means you have to know what your customers need. It might be the ability to order “eaches” of a product which has only been available in large quantities up till now. It might be one-click reordering integrated with the Amazon Dash Button. It might be eCommerce for internal sales teams that gives them the ability to place orders on behalf of multiple customers. The list is endless, and it depends on your unique business needs.

At the end of the day, business buyers just want convenience. While the B2C world is trying to figure out how to find new customers, the B2B world is just trying to make the experience more convenient. You’ll find that convenience in the details, not in the big stuff.

2. What role should technologies like product information management, eCommerce, and ERP play--and how should they interact to create the best customer experience and most efficient back-end processes?

Three words: get ERP right.

If you have an ERP system, focus on getting that integration right. Here’s why: the ERP is the system of record for products, inventory levels, customers, contracts, credit limits, pricing, and much more. When you’re launching B2B eCommerce, you’ll want to integrate eCommerce to your ERP in real time.

But recognize that integrating eCommerce to your ERP has a ripple effect backward into the organization. It may expose the fact that the ERP system needs improvement, and improving it will be hard. Regardless of that difficulty, every project we implement drives some improvement in the ERP. The sooner organizations embrace this and quit fighting it, the sooner they’ll ramp up their B2B eCommerce revenues.

The funny thing is, getting ERP right also makes you more convenient—because it ensures you give your customers One Source of Truth, however they buy from you. That reduces friction and builds customer trust.

Cut Friction From Your Customer Experience - Beth Shero, Shero Commerce

1. When it comes to B2B buyer expectations, what key trends do you expect to emerge (or intensify) in the coming year?

We’re seeing increasing demand for quick order purchasing in bulk, integration with back-office systems to streamline order workflow, a closer experience to B2C, providing more information, and allowing B2B customers to manage accounts for multiple buyers.

2. What role should technologies like product information management, eCommerce, and ERP play—and how should they interact to create the best customer experience and most efficient back-end processes?

All should interact seamlessly.

Borrow Best Practices from B2C - John Evans, Akeneo

1. When it comes to B2B buyer expectations, what key trends do you expect to emerge (or intensify) in the coming year?

Whether a merchant is selling to consumers or other business, they must figure out how to deliver a great customer experience that will both attract and retain buyers. As a result, over the course of the next year, B2B vendors will be forced to grapple with many of the same challenges and experience many of the same trends as B2C brands and retailers.

But while B2B trends will largely resemble those in the B2C market, there are some subtle, but crucial, differences in where the two markets are headed. For example, in the B2B space, products are typically much more expensive and complex than B2C products, meaning the stakes are higher if a product is poorly represented in buying channels. What’s more, while B2B vendors may have fewer SKUs to manage, they often have significantly more attributes to maintain. They also typically need to manage more assets, such as documents and images.

Given the complexity and breadth of product information to be managed across multiple sales channels and multiple languages, B2B organizations will need to ensure they can efficiently and cost-effectively manage their product catalog in the same ways as their B2C counterparts in the coming year. This will allow them to not only increase the productivity of their team but also accelerate go-to-market times for new products.

2. What role should technologies like product information management, eCommerce, and ERP play—and how should they interact to create the best customer experience and most efficient back-end processes?

These technologies will be crucial to creating the user experience that modern customers expect, whether these customers are consumers or other businesses.

Increasingly, B2B buyers are going online to make purchases, pushing a growing group of vendors to invest in eCommerce sites that will complement their existing channels, including print catalogs and stores. What’s more, at Akeneo, we’ve seen growing interest from B2B customers. These users tell us that B2B buyers prefer to order online directly from vendors. Recent industry reports also state that business buyers expect “Amazon-like buying experiences.”

So, just as B2C sellers must provide a compelling product experience in order to convert consumers into customers, B2B vendors will need to provide an enjoyable experience to their own customers. This means ensuring high quality, comprehensive, and complete product information is available and put in context for each channel (eCommerce, print, mobile, marketplace, POS, etc.) and each locale. The contextual information makes all the difference in delivering a compelling product experience.  

Technologies like product information management (PIM), eCommerce platform, and ERP will be crucial to providing this comprehensive and compelling customer experience, and thus crucial to the success of any seller, B2B or B2C. These tools must be used in concert with one another in order to allow buyers to easily find information that is most relevant to their needs and desires. What’s more, this information must be presented in the right context for each channel, making solutions like PIM, which allow sellers to customize the information customers see depending on which channel they’re shopping on, and optimize their product experience.

Watch for The Rise of B2B PWAs - Erik Hansen, Classy Llama

1. When it comes to B2B buyer expectations, what key trends do you expect to emerge (or intensify) in the coming year?

We believe that Progressive Web Apps (PWA) are the future of eCommerce, and while we've mostly seen adoption in B2C, PWAs are well-suited to B2B and we're going to see a lot more adoption over the next couple of years. Rapidly loading product detail pages (PDPs) for large catalogs, offline support for commonly-accessed product information, and push notifications for restock prompts and order notifications are a few of the benefits of PWA for B2B.

For years, B2C customers have taken real-time stock availability and "ships by" estimates for granted. For B2B buyers using a more manual PO workflow, getting this kind of information for orders they're submitting is cumbersome or entirely unfeasible without real-time ERP integration. As we work with B2B merchants to implement their order placement workflows, we're modernizing the buying experience by showing real-time warehouse inventory levels and "ships by" estimates.

B2B buyers tend to place large orders. Reducing the amount of time it takes for buyers to place those orders is a key way we're seeing our B2B clients drive adoption and move buyers away from old-school manual PO submission via fax and email. Some ways we've done this for recent B2B builds are implementing Magento's bulk order form for rapid part lookup/auto-complete, allowing re-ordering based on previous year purchase levels, and building interactive parts schematics for easy part lookup.

2. What role should technologies like product information management, eCommerce, and ERP play—and how should they interact to create the best customer experience and most efficient back-end processes?

B2B buyers expect product information to be robust (multiple images, specifications, manuals, etc.). To ensure this product information is available to buyers, many merchants choose to integrate their ERP/WMS system directly with Magento and manage the data solely between those two systems, although we're seeing PIM systems like Akeneo, Jasper, and Salsify become more popular for managing large catalogs. For any B2B business trying to decide what technology systems to select, I'd recommend picking systems that have been frequently integrated with each other and a Systems Integrator that has a proven track record of integrating those systems.

While some companies choose to use a single ERP system to handle all their operational needs (including eCommerce), we've seen a lot of companies run into limitations with the eCommerce capabilities of those systems which has caused them to choose an open platform like Magento to power their eCommerce experience.

B2B eCommerce Automation Is Coming - Arturs Kruze, Magebit

1. When it comes to B2B buyer expectations, what key trends do you expect to emerge (or intensify) in the coming year?

Last year, we already saw a shift in how store owners treat their B2B sites. They started to realize that B2B customers also care about (and are heavily influenced by) the UX and site accessibility. I believe that even more B2B store owners will focus on improving the storefronts of their B2B sites, as nowadays, businesses care about ease of use and automation more than ever.

Another key trend I expect to intensify in the coming year is automation. A few years back, only big companies used eCommerce automation. Now it doesn't matter whether it is a small business or a large enterprise—every company wants to automate their daily work. It is just a matter of time until eCommerce automation becomes a standard as widespread as mobile responsiveness.

2. What role should technologies like product information management, eCommerce, and ERP play--and how should they interact to create the best customer experience and most efficient back-end processes?

Technologies like PIM, eCommerce, and ERP are the keys for a successful business nowadays. To keep customers in your online store, you need a great user experience—and nowadays, automation is also very important. That is why it is critical that the technologies be set up properly so they communicate and share data between them.

B2C and B2B customers expect to have an omnichannel experience, one in which they can see their offline order history reflected online. And that can only be handled properly via automation. It's the simple things that drive the whole eCommerce industry forward, and it is not possible when the key data processors such as ERP or PIM are not integrated with eCommerce.

About Corevist

Corevist Commerce is SAP-integrated eCommerce that leverages clients’ SAP data for real-time accuracy of information and seamless user experience. Corevist clients become easier to do business with, embrace the digital shift, and reduce the phone/fax/email burden on Customer Service—all with no additional IT investment. Corevist’s NetWeaver-certified integration to SAP is live on Day 1 and tailored to a client’s unique needs within 90 days. Corevist is a global company with clients in the US, UK, EU, and Canada. For more information, call (919) 424-2120 or visit www.corevist.com.