You know that going digital with your product sales means more than just putting an “e” in front of “Commerce.” Each platform and process must be strategically and tactically planned—and tailored to both your business and your customers. With fewer than 10% of B2B purchasing transactions taking place online, there is room for much growth and revenue, which means manufacturers and distributors need to pay close attention to their online customer experience.
B2B buyers may search online in a similar manner to B2C shoppers—exploring Google and Amazon for the best product options and prices. Alternately, they may be using specific vendors, dictated by an internal organization, end-user, or company policy. In many cases, they are seeking corporate volume discounts, unique product specifications, or the opportunity to set up a recurring order. Regardless of buyer intent or behavior, your site needs to be able to meet these varied and unique needs.
In conjunction with C2 Competitive Computing, inRiver recently published a white paper that addresses the unique approach that B2B enterprises need to take when building their online commerce experience. Although some best practices can be learned from what B2C retailers have built over the past 20+ years, many tools and techniques are particular to the B2B enterprise.
For example, as mentioned above, some buyers may be shopping for volume or corporate discounts. B2B eCommerce platforms must be able to serve up correct pricing based on user ID or email address. As some products become more commoditized due to the influence of online price shopping and comparisons, B2B enterprises must be able to find new ways to differentiate, such as offering complementary products and services to the product being sought.
Adding value to the purchaser along the buying journey will help you to differentiate your brand and online experience. For example, if you can anticipate the buyer’s needs or make their life easier—and make it easier for them to buy from you—you will reap the reward of loyal customers and increased revenue.
One example is by showing the buyer that you understand their business. If a buyer is shopping for a replacement product that you know will require them to take a machine offline, suggest other maintenance and replacement parts that they may want to take care of at the same time, while the line is down. This will save them time and money in the long run.
Similarly, providing a variety of shipping options will enable your customer to balance budget constraints with business needs. If your customer needs an emergency replacement part to get a machine back up and running, receiving the part the next day could literally save millions of dollars. In contrast, some businesses may be willing to wait for slower “ground” shipping to save money if they are planning well ahead for their needs.
For the B2B seller, none of these scenarios will necessarily be new. However, how they are handled online compared with traditional offline procurement could be very different, and could make the difference between an abandoned cart and a sale. And it is very different from how shopping and purchasing is conducted in the B2C environment.
For a deeper dive into how to display your B2B products online, download our white paper, “9 Tips for Building a Compelling B2B Product Page.” Let us know how we can help you provide a great eCommerce experience for your customers through excellent product information.
Kathryn Zwack, Senior Content Marketing Manager North America, inRiver
Forrester analyst Andy Hoar wrote an excellent report—“Death of a (B2B) Salesman”—about how B2B buyer preferences have quickly and fundamentally shifted. The name of the report refers to the trend that B2B buyers increasingly prefer to self-educate versus talk to sales representatives to learn about products and services. They also think that buying online is more convenient than buying from a salesperson. As Andy Hoar concludes, the B2B buyer behavior has changed signiﬁcantly in the past few years, but B2B corporate sales activity has not.
When more than 70% of customers do not want to interact with sales representatives, the appearance of the sales funnel changes in a dramatic way. Instead of looking in a printed catalog and calling the sales rep, B2B buyers are now starting their buying journey—and their entry into the funnel—by searching Google, Amazon Business, or other B2B eCommerce sites, increasingly using a mobile device while being on the go. You need to quickly help them find you, guide them to the right solution, and gain their trust without any human interaction. This is not easy to do, but a lot of business and revenue will be lost if you fail. In contrast, a lot of business will be won if you succeed.
So how can you turn this dramatic shift to your advantage and gain B2B sales superpowers?
Step 1: Get found.
To be found you need to be great at SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and provide Google and Amazon with the right high-quality content. SEO is constantly changing as Google and others optimize and modify their search algorithms, and many people make a good living out of consulting on the subject. However, without that high-quality content, these consultants cannot help you, because the foundation for successful SEO is high-quality, keyword-rich content. You need to provide this content to all your attracting channels, and to do so, you need to produce large amounts of it. It is much more efficient if it is created and stored granularly—instead of as large chunks of text—and is professionally localized.
Step 2: Guide the customer.
If you succeed with step 1, congratulations! The buyer has found you. You now need to guide them, as they most likely landed on a product page and not on a Home or category page. Your goal now is to provide the buyer with a guided navigation that quickly presents relevant products and the associated ecosystem of up-sells and cross-sells. Since the buyer may be using a mobile device, time is of the essence, and your on-site search and navigation will determine if they will find what you have to sell.
Your on-site search must be fast and efficient. Most likely, your search functionality is driving the guided (faceted) navigation. It is called a search engine for a reason, and the fuel for that engine is product content—high-quality, granular content.
Step 3: Gain trust.
If you have your product attributes and assortment in order, the B2B buyer should now have a few alternatives to choose from that match their need. Like any great sales rep, your goal now is to build rapport and trust with the customer—through your website interaction. You need to make it fast and easy to compare products, by providing all the necessary information. Most importantly, you need to display accurate information that is consistent across all the touchpoints in the customer's buying journey. Even small errors, such as the gross weight being lower than the net weight, will make the rest of your information not seem very trustworthy. On the other hand, a product video or a 360-degree spin will increase the chances of a sale, by increasing the customer's confidence in your product.
Selling complex products
If you sell complex products, it is often necessary to have an expert, such as a customer care or sales representative, help the customer to create a correct order. However, even if that is the case, most buyers will have done considerable research before they contact your sales rep or product expert. B2B buyers are empowered buyers, and you need to empower your sales team to meet this new challenge. Buyers and sellers alike need access to all the knowledge you have about the product, and they need it in real time, just like your website. You may also need to augment this information with a CPQ tool (Configure Price Quote) with configuration capabilities, which will unquestionably drive the need for more and extremely accurate product information.
Content is still king!
I hope you get my point. Content is the foundation for turning this dramatic shift to your advantage, in all phases of the buying journey, and irrespective of the systems and tools you invest in. Don't get me wrong: digital marketing and sales tools are necessary to manage the new B2B sales funnel efficiently. But before you invest in tools that empower customers and sales reps alike, invest in your content and keep investing in it. Content is a lot like fruit; it is a perishable asset with a shelf life, and you can never stop producing and updating it.
Johan Boström, Co-founder and Evangelist, inRiver