If you think extending the customer experience through a range of digital channels is only for B2C companies, think again.

Consumer shopping habits are spilling over to what business customers are expecting today, a trend that significantly ups the ante for B2B suppliers to build their multichannel commerce capabilities

This is no mean feat, but B2B companies have begun to take up the challenge. 

According to research, eight out of 10 business suppliers acknowledge that having a multichannel strategy is critical to their company’s long-term success. 

Eight out of 10 are also either in the process of implementing or upgrading their ecommerce suites.  

Expanding ecommerce capabilities is a significant milestone on the journey to a comprehensive multichannel experience. 

Considering three out of four B2B organisations may be wasting up to half of their investment on ineffective customer experience initiatives, what does B2B need to recognise in order to be able to build an effective B2B multichannel commerce platform?

What impacts on the future B2B multichannel commerce platform?

1. B2C experiences are the force shaping business buyers’ expectations.

Take the increased willingness from procurement officers to make B2B purchases online. Already, nearly half of business buyers prefer making work-related purchases on the same websites they use for personal purchases.

Naturally, the multichannel experience goes beyond simply serving customers online. Business buyers expect their suppliers to provide enhanced fulfilment capabilities. 

Services such as next day delivery have now become part of B2B customer’s expectations. Four out of five business customers as well as consumers stressed the importance of having the ability to track their products.  

Buyers are also looking for better inventory visibility. The expectation to see whether a product is available in the store and on any other channel is similar for both B2B and B2C customers.

2. Providing a comprehensive multichannel experience helps win and retain customers. 

The explosion in ecommerce is giving suppliers the opportunity to differentiate their services against their rivals. 

More and more B2B suppliers are realising the importance of multichannel services in order to meet customer demands and ensure loyalty. The majority now believe that their customers are expecting multichannel capabilities as the norm.

Even though online and e-commerce play an important role in offering multichannel commerce, it’s the businesses with a ‘bricks and mortar’ infrastructure which can use the online channel to differentiate most.

Multichannel services such as the ability to reserve online and pick up next day will be both difficult and expensive for internet only suppliers to offer. 

According to recent industry research, the majority of B2B suppliers feel that they can provide a ‘best of all worlds’ solution in which they can exploit their in-market physical presence to engage with customers across the full spectrum of channels including marketing, sales and service enablement.

3. Leveraging technology is key to serving the needs of business buyers.

Many B2B systems and platforms are dated and cannot support the multichannel requirements of customers. 

As mentioned, the majority of suppliers are starting to upgrade their ecommerce platforms. Two-thirds acknowledge that shifting customer expectations are driving their technology investments in multichannel initiatives, and nine out of 10 recognise technology investment decisions will be centred on the multichannel strategy.

Building multichannel capabilities may trigger further investments in technologies that drive the future of the businesses. 

Two-thirds of sellers cited automated pricing options as areas their companies would invest in the future and half cited the use of wearables in distribution centres to make supply chain processes more efficient.

4. Multichannel investment needs to be aligned with organisational and process change.

The evolving multichannel commerce environment impacts on how B2B companies engage with their customers. This requires them to create organisation structures that align to customer behaviour. 

Often barriers to full multichannel adoption are linked to organisational and structural issues as well as management resistance. Any organisational misalignment will prevent digital technology effectiveness.

Another crucial requirement is enhancing business processes to enable multichannel experiences. 

Many B2B companies highlighted the difficulty in sharing customer data and analytics between channels. Such process oriented obstacles will prevent B2B sellers from being able to offer an enhanced and effective multichannel capability.

Suppliers are also challenged with overcoming technical challenges to support digital transformation, such as integrating legacy systems. 

This can pose a real problem for many B2B suppliers, with many reporting that integrating with back office systems was the biggest barrier in achieving an effective multichannel strategy.

Recommendations for capitalising on multichannel commerce:

1. Become intimate with the business buyer.

The key to meeting their demands will be to deliver a B2C like shopping journey. This includes personalised experiences tailored to procurement and non-procurement buyers across multiple language, currency, payment and fulfilment options.

2. Weave digital into all aspects of your operations to fulfil the promise of multichannel.

For B2B sellers, fully embracing multichannel capabilities means embedding digital initiatives into all aspects of their organisation. 

Developing integrated management and collaboration capabilities around core multichannel initiatives will ultimately help businesses drive key performance indicators and instil competitive advantage.  

Reverse engineering operating models around multichannel customer journeys is the best path to delivering those desired outcomes for both the B2B customer and the business.

3. Improve your lead-to-revenue management capabilities. 

Many online retailers leverage their strong foothold in B2C commerce to tailor their services for workplace purchases. 

There’s an opportunity for online B2B sellers to learn from their more sophisticated B2C sales and marketing operations. For instance, the majority of B2B sellers still rely on inefficient lead-to-revenue capabilities where marketing generates the lead and hands it over to sales to generate the revenue. 

It’s time for them to adopt a more robust lead-to-revenue management process, where marketing and sales form part of a holistic lead management function that integrates processes, goals, and metrics across marketing, sales, and service.

4. Evaluate your partner ecosystem to support multichannel commerce operations.

Adopting multichannel capabilities is not just about giving existing teams some new tools to go and capture more business. 

To help overcome the inevitable technical, process, and organisational challenges, B2B sellers will likely require new skills and can look to combining and packaging internal capabilities with external knowledge.

Glen Hartman

Published 30 April, 2015 by Glen Hartman

Glen Hartman serves as Senior Managing Director for Digital Transformation at Accenture Interactive and is a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him at @hartmanglen or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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Comments (2)

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Hero Grigoraki, ecommerce & digital marketing specialist at independent

I agree with your advice by and large, however one footnote: The majority of B2B companies are service/technology providers, rather than selling physical products to customers. Inevitably, and for quite some time to come, the focus is on telesales and field sales, and in such environments the biggest challenge is how to combine data from the mammoth beast that a contact management system (eg, Salesforce) with webanalytics and site data, as well as how to unify the messaging and product offering across all sales channels. In such an environment, some services are simply never going to be sold online, so the site will continue being used as a lead source for those target audiences.

On your valid comment that "nearly half of business buyers prefer making work-related purchases on the same websites they use for personal purchases" - this can sometimes be a trap that B2B marketers need to be mindful of; in the sense that a)business users are still predominately a Monday to Friday, 9-5 crowd, and b)use their work computers, for all business purposes. Therefore, one needs to be careful with acquisition/retention campaigns outside of work hours and on a variety of devices as that could on occasions be money thrown out of the window.

over 2 years ago

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Kevin Sparks, Commercial Director at FACT-Finder (UK) Ltd.

The B2B consumer base is largely the same the consumer base that uses B2C online shops, the difference being their individual behaviours and expectations when using these services. For example when in B2C mode the chances are the purchases are more emotive and therefore more consideration is given to them plus sourcing the right information, comparing and ease of purchase are key requisites.

This is contrary to those in B2B mode as the purchase is more needs based and therefore less considered. Expectation and choice are limited possibly due to the items availability and the sector this product belongs too. Comparison isn’t as important in this journey (unlike B2C) whereas compatibility is, possibly (depending on the product).

Nonetheless, the behaviours and levels of expectation are rising within B2C daily and some of this will transfer through to B2B also albeit not at the same rate as we see in retail for example. However the savvy B2B companies will prepare and act now as its coming soon, maybe not tomorrow but very soon indeed.

over 2 years ago

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