Implementing A Customer-Centric B2B Omnichannel Strategy
Today's B2B customer is a digitally-savvy omnichannel connoisseur with high expectations of a B2C-like buying experience that still meets their more complex B2B needs. What this means is that the traditional B2B sales cycle is changing - from one based on time-consuming in-person interactions with sales reps to a streamlined, convenient process with a consumer-grade customer experience that stretches across both offline and online channels.
B2B customers today expect to be able to interact with your brand through your website, visits to your physical location, and even social media. What's more, they expect the same level of consistency and convenience in their professional buying transactions as they already find in their personal shopping experiences.
What it all boils down to is the fact that professional B2B buyers are regular, everyday consumers off the clock. They enjoy the ease of shopping on sites like Amazon.com and being able to interact with the brands they buy from through social media and instant messaging (IM) services, as well as the more traditional email, telephone, and in-person channels.
Consumer web stores are forever finding new ways to reach, engage, and convert buyers, and are always improving the customer experience (CX) in the process. The result is that professional buyers' expectations are higher than ever. In fact, according to Walker's Customers 2020: A Progress Report, CX will have surpassed product and price as the key differentiator for B2B brands in less than two years' time.
In other words, it's your CX that will set you apart from your competitors - and bridging the gap between the physical and digital worlds to create a seamless omnichannel experience is a key part of CX in 2018 and beyond.
The Omnichannel Challenges for B2B
The omnichannel imperative for B2B brands operating today means that manufacturers, distributors, and wholesalers need to optimize all their sales channels to reach, engage, and satisfy the omnichannel customer. It means making goods and services available to customers on their preferred sales channels to provide a customer-centric experience. To put it another way, B2B brands need to meet customers where they are.
However, this is a huge undertaking for manufacturers, wholesalers, and distributors, many of whom operate under outdated legacy systems and siloed organizational structures which make it incredibly difficult to develop an effective omnichannel strategy. Indeed, according to data from EY, 65% of B2B customers say their experience doesn't match their experience on Amazon and similar sites.
(Image source: ey.com)
Even an operational web store - which many B2B brands have already - isn't enough in and of itself to provide the sort of omnichannel experiences professional buyers expect today. Rather, it needs to be equipped with the design, features, and data necessary to provide clients with a superior buying experience and allow them to do what they came to do as quickly and with as little friction as possible.
However, there are many complications that arise in the B2B commerce environment that pose unique challenges to B2B brands attempting to build omnichannel experiences into their offerings. As Brandon Spear, President of global B2B payment and credit solutions provider MSTS, makes the point in PYMNTS - "no B2B transaction occurs in a vacuum." Buyers and suppliers must consider the history of their relationship, negotiate rates and payment terms, and interconnect their processes if suppliers are to enable buyers to switch from one channel to another freely during the purchasing process.
"If you purchase from a retailer who has a B2B channel from their eCommerce platform," says Spear, "then walk into a physical store, or maybe you phone them to place an order - how does that seller still maintain their omnichannel solution for you so they know who you are, and interact with you the same way, whether you're online, or on the phone, or in a physical store? That's a challenge."
Spear also noted that B2B businesses need to be able to build pricing and contract negotiation, payment terms, and options to extend credit into their omnichannel offerings to ensure the experience is seamless and friction free.
"B2B customers have an expectation when they log in to get some kind of unique price, whether through a volume discount or a rebate off the retail price," said Spear. "How do you manage that effectively, keep that contract in place and in an omnichannel way? When it comes to payment, almost every B2B customer expects to get an invoice that implies some type of credit terms. This creates challenges in underwriting, and in how much credit to give a prospective customer."
Improving Your B2B Omnichannel Efforts
In light of Spear's observations, it's clear that interactions with sales reps will continue to be highly important throughout the customer's buying journey - not everything will be able to take place entirely as an online self-service option. That said, in May this year, MSTS announced the launch of its Credit-as-a-Service (CaaS) solution - an omnichannel suite of applications that enable B2B sellers to manage every aspect of their customer relationships, with a key focus on improving the customer experience. It includes functionality that caters to the demand for seamless and interconnected B2B processes, including customer history, contract negotiations, payment terms, payments, credit, and reconciliation.
MSTS's CaaS solution streamlines complexities that exist between B2B buyers and sellers by providing dynamic pricing and automated purchase controls to deliver a superior experience for buyers. "With CaaS, we are transforming the way businesses facilitate and manage terms-based transactions," said Spear in a press release. "Buyers want to access a line of credit because it allows them to manage their cash flow. Meanwhile, sellers want to offer credit because it increases loyalty and drives a larger share of their customer's wallet. We're helping businesses grow by making purchases simple and easy."
Other things to consider when setting out to improve the omnichannel experience for customers include connecting your in-store and online technology to create a more streamlined customer experience across channels. Leverage the information you already have about your customers - such as their past purchases and account information - to improve future interactions with you. This might include initiatives to provide both your online and in-store service teams with purchase histories for your customers, which will enable them to address any new questions and issues that arise with knowledge of the customer's overall relationship with your brand. This will help you to provide more effective and personalized solutions for each customer.
Another opportunity to improve the B2B omnichannel experience is to ensure your inventory is visible to customers across all channels. By adding inventory information to all your product pages, you will help customers avoid the irritation of going through the process of ordering items that eventually turn out to be out of stock, and also provide them with all the info they need to make informed purchase decisions online.
Fulfillment is also important to get right. Customers expect you to be able to deliver in the fastest and most convenient way possible, which will mean coordinating the backend of your fulfillment channels. No matter how or where the purchase originated, you should be providing multiple delivery options - such as ship-from-store and buy-online-pickup-in-store - for your customers to choose from with a single click.
By anticipating all of these omnichannel expectations from your customers and taking the necessary steps to fulfill them, you will create a seamless and superior customer experience that will keep your clients coming back for more.
As Spears points out, loyalty is the name of the game, and those manufacturers, wholesalers, and distributors that are able to meet evolving demands will retain their customers and remain competitive in the increasingly omnichannel B2B landscape.
"If you can get all of this right, and if you can lower the overall friction of the interaction with your customer, then our hypothesis is: The more frictionless the process, the more money they'll spend with you," said Spear. "All of that, in a simple word, is loyalty. The easier it is, the more aligned processes are, the more loyal your customers are likely to be."
Improving the omnichannel experience is set to be a hot topic at B2B Online Miami 2018, taking place this November at the Turnberry Isle, Miami, Fl.
Download the Agenda today for more information and insights.