Transforming Digitally to Meet the Needs of Today's B2B Customer

Digital transformation is redefining how B2B businesses connect with their customers. It's reshaping business models, changing the way value is delivered, and how sales are made. Digital is the future - of that there is little doubt. As such, B2B organizations need to embrace digital transformation and make it a strategic priority.

Today's B2B customers expect to be able to access relevant, up-to-date content anywhere, anytime, and on the device of their choosing. This, indeed, is at the heart of what digital transformation is all about. Put simply, digital transformation is the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business, fundamentally changing how it operates, and how value is delivered to customers.

B2C Ecommerce Is Shaping Expectations of B2B Customers

Digital technology has transformed consumer habits. Mobile, apps, social media, real-time recommendations on ecommerce sites, machine learning, automation - all of this and much more besides allows everyday customers to get their hands on exactly what they want whenever they need it. What's more, these digital technologies have created a shift in consumer expectations, resulting in a new kind of modern buyer.

What B2B organizations need to understand is that B2B buyers are everyday consumers, too, and they don't have split personalities - one at work, and one at home. This means that they want the same ease and convenience when researching, comparing, and ultimately buying products in the B2B space as they get when making consumer purchases from ecommerce sites like Amazon while sitting at home.

In a recent survey ITProPortal conducted with 300 global B2B organizations, 75% of respondents said that their customers had demanded to buy online, and nearly three-quarters of those gave "ease of online purchasing" as the reason.

In addition, 87% of respondents said that B2B ecommerce solutions that mimic the B2C buying experience are the answer to meeting modern B2B buyer needs. The reason is that web stores allow B2B customers to buy the way they want to - whether that's through ease of purchase (important to 72% of respondents), the ability to search through an online catalogue (important to 52%), or being able to view their order history online (important to 42%).

Ecommerce solutions allow for personalized buying experiences. By utilizing data that B2B organizations hold within their existing ERP systems, ecommerce platforms can be customized to deliver additional information to the customer to help them make better buying decisions. Useful details - such as stock levels on products regularly ordered, past purchases, and add-ons for products previously bought - can all be presented to the customer neatly and clearly as they browse online, and aid them on their purchasing journey.

Delivering Compelling Content for Enhanced Digital Experiences

Beyond ecommerce, today's B2B marketers need to make use of content marketing to engage and educate buyers along the path to purchase. According to the B2B Digital Transformation report, published last year by Econsultancy, up to two-thirds (57% or 67%, depending on the source) of the customer's journey to the point of purchase is conducted online, before there is any interaction with anyone in the sales team. Other sources - such as MarketingSherpa's Business Technology Marketing Benchmark Guide - suggest even higher figures, with 80% of B2B purchase decisions being made before a sales representative is contacted.

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With such limited interaction with salespeople, buyers are relying on digital resources such as blogs, eBooks, white papers, research reports, videos, buyer reviews and social media to conduct their research into potential purchases from manufacturers and distributors.

B2B organizations need to be publishing regular, useful, engaging, and even entertaining content that maps to the buyer's journey, because that's precisely what today's professional buyers want and need. Buyers do not want to talk with sales teams during the first half or so of their journey. Instead, they want to read, watch videos, and absorb infographics. They want to use social media to ask questions. They want to attend webinars, listen to podcasts, and hear the opinions of peers and influencers - all of which require B2B organizations to embrace digital and reach out to customers where they are.

Structuring Teams to Support Digital Transformation - Sales and Marketing Alignment

At the heart of digital transformation initiatives is the need to enhance the customer experience. In order to do so, however, B2B organizations need to know exactly what their customers want - and it's sales teams that have this knowledge, as they are the ones that eventually get to converse with customers after all the marketing material has been consumed.

As such, a greater push towards marketing and sales alignment is required to ensure marketing is successfully producing the materials customers need on their educative journey towards a purchase. With an increased focus on collaboration, B2B marketers are able to address customers' and potential customers' needs more adequately throughout the whole customer lifecycle and provide the best experience possible.

In Econsultancy's B2B Digital Transformation report, Doug Kessler, Creative Director and Co-Founder of B2B marketing agency Velocity Partners, is quoted as saying: "Marketing is still very much in the early stages of digital transformation. So every marketing department is facing a major change management challenge before they even get to the challenges involving new technologies and processes. The B2B companies that master the change management part of the equation will blow away those that try to simply force new technology and new processes into the old organization."

Marketing, indeed, becomes inherently more strategic in nature as digital transformation initiatives take hold. Regular meetings between marketing and sales that look at the whole customer experience - from first touch to final sale - need to be established, in which ongoing strategies must be constantly adjusted as best practices are identified that lead to a close.

Deriving Value from Data

Technology, of course, plays an important role here, with data, in particular, having the potential to lead the way in enhancing the digital experiences that lead to a sale. In a recent interview with Sales Benchmark Index (SBI), Mark Lister, Chief Digital Officer at Ness Digital Engineering - a company that builds digital platforms and software that help organizations engage customers, differentiate their brands, and drive revenue growth - talks of the need to embrace data to offer personalization and frictionless experiences across prospect and customer touch-points.

"I like to think of data as just a record of a conversation with some people," said Lister. "Whether it's a click stream or social media feed, at your leisure, you get to see not just what one person did, but what millions of people did. You get to find what they were really saying. They were really saying they didn't like that, it was boring. They've all left at this point. They didn't put it in their basket because it was too expensive. There are hundreds of people talking to you about how to make your business better. So, be a data whisperer. Listen to what it's telling you and enjoy it. It's pointing the way forward."

Final Thoughts

In today's constantly connected world, B2B organizations are forced to implement a digital transformation strategy. Embracing digital will enable manufacturers and distributors to improve the customer experience, which will, in turn, help them retain customers and acquire new ones. It will also mean that they will remain relevant and be able to compete against more advanced companies by being equally responsive to their customers' evolving needs. By focusing on ecommerce solutions, content marketing, team structures, and data, you will help your organization embrace the new digital landscape and exceed customer expectations.

Digital transformation 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.

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