B2B e-commerce is growing fast, but customer experience still lags

There has been a huge shift in the way B2B customers buy products and in the way they make decisions. Buying centers have extended beyond wholesalers, distributors and manufacturers to purchasers and users in the enterprise. Corporate leaders such as Boeing, Nike and Grainger make up around 70% of the total US B2B e-commerce market and are predicted to reach $780 billion in web sales this year.

Launching and managing online retail sites may save B2B companies up to 90% on sales and operating costs. If these businesses don’t introduce effective online channels, they may lose out on customers, thereby losing sales and market share. Many large and midsize B2B companies have already started leveraging the benefits of online channels hope to become e-commerce leaders.

Even as they move toward online channels, though, these companies still lag behind in delivering compelling customer experiences. B2B shoppers prefer buying online, which saves a significant amount of time and simplifies the logistics. To help make buying decisions, they rely on online research and social media. Clearly e-commerce not only saves customers time, effort and money, but it is fast becoming an indispensable channel for engagement and sales.

Challenges faced by B2B companies

Businesses expect B2B e-commerce platforms to provide seamless Omni channel capabilities, excellent customer experiences, higher-quality service, rich personalization and ease of doing business. But these enterprises are up against a number of obstacles, among them securing executive consensus and buy-in because cannot attribute sales from online channels. Other roadblocks include dependency on existing customers and partners; a sales team that is unprepared to support online sales and views technology as a threat; a significant investment in technology up front; and security concerns with the advent of cloud services and recent hacks.

To solve for these customer demands and business challenges, B2B companies should implement the following features and technologies:

Omni channel support for mobile devices: Research shows that 84% of smartphone shoppers use their phones while in a physical store. Buyers expect an omni channel experience to view product information, analyze activities, review account history, take delivery and manage returns across all channels. By integrating e-commerce strategies with the mobile environment, retailers are trying to leverage the rapidly growing mobile channel to empower all facets of their business.

Rich customer experiences: B2B retailers must understand and follow the golden rule of consumer retail—the customer is always right. When it comes to delivering a truly rewarding and engaging B2B e-commerce retail experience, the secret is pretty simple: care about your customers and understand what they want. Companies must get inside the customer’s mindset in order to meet their expectations.

B2C-style features: B2B buyers are consumers, too. They have already seen personalized customer experiences delivered in their everyday lives, and they want the same level of service in their B2B buying. Rich product content goes a long way toward creating a great B2B site. Retailers must invest in high-quality images and video. If B2B companies engage and interact with potential customers starting from their first visit to the site, they can begin personalizing the customer journey right away.

Personalization: B2B companies need to go beyond mere satisfaction to earn enthusiasm, loyalty and a better bottom line. To make that happen, they must construct a unified and enriched view of customers, deliver relevance with content and offers, implement the technology to deliver customized messages in a cross-channel, cross-device landscape and give customers more control over their data. . Customer loyalty accelerates organic growth on several fronts, but it’s becoming tougher to maintain: In a recent survey by Bain & Company of 290 B2B executives in 11 countries, 68% of respondents said that customers are less loyal than they used to be.

Better product recommendations: Consumer retailers excel at using dynamic, personalized content to meet specific customer needs. Now a hallmark of the online consumer experience, personalization features such as customized product recommendations, bestseller lists and wish lists save time for buyers and give B2B brands the opportunity to create personal connections with their buyers.

Product reviews: Online consumers are relying increasingly on customer reviews and social network tie-ins to make purchasing decisions. These features can also benefit B2B providers, especially if they enable the brand to monitor customer interactions. The catch is that your brand needs to sell large volumes of commoditized, comparable products for rating and social network integration to provide value to customers.

Quicker, more transparent delivery: Attracting a new customer can cost five times as much as keeping a current one, so companies must pay attention to their existing customers even as they try to woo new ones. Delivery can be a thorn in the side of online retailers. They may sell great products and provide an excellent online experience, but the final step in the process is often in the hands of third parties that don’t necessarily offer the same level of quality. A reliable courier and close monitoring of service levels helps, but you can also improve the buying experience by keeping customers informed about the progress of their deliveries and making the process as convenient as possible.

Analytics: New types of analytics that are more predictive in nature also help B2B companies plan pricing and promotions more efficiently across segments and channels. This helps ensure that products are not sold for too little when demand is high and do not wind up in surplus in a fulfillment center. In addition, these analytics keep companies in various industries informed about their buyer personas and help predict changes in the market.

At Mindtree, we have helped several large B2B companies such as MSC Industrial Supply to achieve e-commerce Stardom. We have taken advantage of new tools and platforms—including solutions and frameworks for distributor portal, customer managed inventory and contract pricing—to help B2B businesses achieve their short-term and long-term goals.

Contact Mindtree to schedule a conversation about your e-commerce initiatives to win over the phy-gital customer.