When you think of online shopping, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Chances are your brain conjures that deceptively simple, yet elegant home page of Amazon. Everything you could possibly want or ever need is only a search and click away. Not only can you find your heart’s desire, but everything you didn’t know you wanted will be presented to you based on the interests your browsing behavior reveals.
A few years ago this may have sounded odd, even creepy, but today it’s the norm—and—if we’re not being presented with valuable recommendations, we feel like something’s wrong.
If we turn from the consumer space to B2B, this highly personalized, data-driven buying experience is still a novelty. Direct, one-to-one sales are still the norm as are vast distributor, dealer, and value-add reseller networks.
However, as the “Amazon experience” of buying and selling has become the new standard in the consumer world, buyers are longing for the same type of experience when they enter the workplace (or simply open a new window to shift from private consumer to business buyer).
Is This a Fad or Is This for Real?
As outlined above, in this instance, B2B is following the playbook laid out by B2C sellers. Shopping carts, data-driven recommendations, guided buying, all these features have their roots in the consumer world but stand to play a huge roll in the future of B2B.
In a recent study published by Frost & Sullivan, we see just how pervasive the desire for a true ecommerce experience is in the B2B world. In a survey of executives who were tasked with buying business products and services on behalf of their firms:
- 88% of executives buy their business products online
- 92% wish purchasing business products online had the same ease as buying consumer goods online
- 49% intended to buy one product, but bought a competitor product instead because it was too difficult to buy online
Only 12% of executives surveyed don’t purchase online. Of that 12%:
- 50% purchased offline for reasons like company policy and purchasing contracts
- 33% couldn’t find enough information on the products they wished to purchase
- 17% couldn’t find the product they needed
These numbers indicate that B2B buyers are coming to the table with the same expectations they hold for their consumer purchases.
In short, B2B and B2C buyers are one in the same. This may not be an overly groundbreaking revelation, but the fact remains that many B2B firms are struggling to augment their current sales and delivery processes to meet their customer’s expectations for something more than a digital online catalogue or beleaguered phone conversations with an inside sales rep.
What Do B2B Companies Need to Do to Connect with Empowered Buyers?
The lines between B2B and B2C buyers haven’t so much blurred as become nonexistent as of late. Although it may be challenging to implement the types of changes necessary to shift customers to online while maintaining a direct or indirect sales model—effectively developing a hybrid or omnichannel methodology—it’s nonetheless an imperative for organizations that want to not only stay relevant, but pull ahead of the competition.
The first step in the push towards attracting and retaining modern buyers is to learn what makes them tick. As noted in the research, nearly half of of the B2B buyers surveyed researched a product, intended to buy it, but went with a competitor who could complete the purchase online.
What this should indicate to B2B sellers is that customers aren’t beholden to a particular brand. Instead, they will gladly move back and forth based on the experience they receive (as well as other factors like price).
Focusing on modern buyer behavior and taking the time to understand how, where, when, and why customers choose to buy will inevitably lead to a better understanding of your customer’s journey.
Quelling the Fears of Direct Sales and Partners
Another focus for B2B sellers looking to make inroads into ecommerce is quelling the fears of direct sales and partners. B2B sales has been bombarded as of late with talk of being replaced by ecommerce, self-service, and more customer service focused sales divisions.
Although this may have some standing in certain industries, the fact remains that for B2B, the cost and complexity of high-consideration purchases necessitates a human touch. More often than not, B2B purchases flow through an omnichannel customer journey of investigating and educating through an online portal, perhaps configuring a solution independently, then sending an RFP of the configuration to a sales rep who then initiates contact to guide the buyer towards a fully-realized solution. This is just one method, and a relatively straightforward example at that, that a modern B2B customer may go through.
This omnichannel customer journey requires sales reps to take on a more consultative role in guiding buyers towards purchase. For example, they can:
- Leverage ecommerce platforms as well as tools like Configure Price Quote (CPQ) applications to provide data-driven recommendations to buyers
- Offer upsell and cross-sell suggestions
- Use guided selling tools to ensure the best possible solution is assembled
- Lean on automated approvals and dynamic document generation tools to move the process along quickly
- Use CLM and other applications to ensure the customer maintains the relationship over the long term
Change Doesn’t Need to Be Overwhelming
Terms like “Age of the Customer” or “Digital Transformation” can be intimidating. For businesses, these terms often translate to significant changes in processes, technologies, personnel, and culture.
Although these terms often correlate to long, painful transformations, they need not be incredibly difficult. The right tools, the right information, and the right support can make the shift towards a more customer experience centric sales methodology possible.
At FPX, we’re helping businesses around the world embrace digital transformation with CPQ solutions powerful enough to automate complex sales processes and apply them towards a digitally-enabled, omnichannel sales strategy.
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