The world of commerce is increasingly complex and represents both a challenge and an opportunity for the enterprise. Ecommerce offered web supported customer transactions and multichannel delivered a broader variety of channels to market. However, many organisations are still seeking the right strategy to satisfy the demands of business customers looking for functionality that matches their online consumer experiences and they increasingly expect to be able to seamlessly interact through any medium – online, mobile, call centre or sales representative.

With the user experience becoming more fundamental to the adoption and success of B2B commerce sites, organisations are now starting to embrace an omni-channel strategy, which enables customers to interact with their business brand at every level, across all touchpoints and all channels. The objective is to deliver a consistent, relevant and contextual experience for the customer and this puts more onus on the organisation to plan and manage customer conversions across all channels simultaneously. As a result, organisations are improving customer engagement and loyalty in new ways such as tailored self-service options and mobility.

Meanwhile, from an operational efficiency perspective, organisations are battling with reduced product margins, shorter product life cycles and increased friction in sales. Companies are looking to consolidate systems on a single platform capable of supporting their global business, regardless of channel or locale. A comprehensive commerce solution represents an opportunity to streamline business operations and simplify the complexity of B2B transactions, delivering the necessary single view of everything – customers, inventory, product, content and orders.

This twin requirement to optimise and innovate means organisations are turning to ‘next generation’ B2B commerce to achieve targeted business outcomes and deliver the enhanced customer experiences that will be key to maintaining both revenue and market share.

There are many similarities in the models for B2B and B2C. Where the offline channel for B2C is typically the store and sometimes a catalogue, in B2B the offline channel can be a branch, a catalogue or a direct sales force. These differences drive different demands; for example, how do you integrate the direct sales force into this model? They have a tendency to stop cross channel traffic to protect ‘their’ sales, which also has resonance in stores, but in the B2B market it is much harder to instigate change. B2B organisations need to focus on the enablement of the sales person, and demonstrate how an omnichannel approach can work to help them, not hinder them.

Another notable difference is that the role of the branch as a ‘landing destination’ can often be even stronger than the retail store. In many trades, for example, building supplies, it is common for customers to drop by for the goods they need, stay for a chat, and then move on to the job. This type of regular interaction with regular customers encourages loyalty, but in addition, tradespeople, in particular, smaller contractors will then frequently use their mobiles during the day and in the evening to order goods to be collected at a later point.

Top tips for putting B2B omnichannel into play
Offer customers their preferred channel – many customers don’t necessarily want to interact with a sales representative and would prefer to transact solely in the online channel; for example they may want to search for a solution online before discussing with the sales team. Ensure that your sales team has the level of knowledge to respond – you don’t want the customer to know more than them.

Improve responsiveness and service – using self-service, real-time chat or voice services makes it easy for customers to find information quickly and resolve issues, creating a stronger and more profitable relationship.

Make it easier to do business – implement streamlined purchasing, payment and inventory processes while providing unique product assortment, pricing and business flows.

Tailor the user experience – provide targeted dynamic content and sophisticated search capabilities.

Gain full control over content – managing content can be one of the most challenging aspects of managing your commerce operations, but with Product Content Management you can centrally manage all your content – video, manuals, buyer guides and more - and business data, and expand into new markets with ease.
Ensure full integration with ERP, CRM and inventory and manufacturing systems as well as customer data and contract terms – ensuring sales, call centre personnel and support teams have exactly the right information they need, when they need it, regardless of the channel the customer uses.

Identify ways to release sales teams from being customer service representatives, so they can undertake more strategic sales initiatives and focus on higher value sales activities.

Integrate web, customer service, print, mobile and social commerce to deliver a fully faceted omnichannel experience.

While enterprises can feel daunted by omnichannel commerce, there’s no escaping the fact that simply paying lip service to this new strategic approach risks being left behind as others take up the baton and deliver exactly what their customers and partner organisations want.
Getting omnichannel right is all about facilitating the buying cycle more efficiently, delivering the right information across every touchpoint and across every customer facing group within the extended enterprise value chain. The good news is that done well, omni-channel cuts through the complexity and cost of doing business, while making the enterprise a customer-focused and responsive organisation that has a 360 degree view of its customers.
By Kees de Vos - Chief Customer Officer at hybris.

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Published on: 5:00PM on 26th July 2013