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Catering to the New B2B/B2C Hybrid Consumer

Posted on 5.31.2013

:: By Tjip Sugijoto ::

The “consumerization” of B2B commerce is here. Consumers have become savvier when shopping online, and so have the retailers that compete for their dollars. Consumers expect e-commerce sites to be intuitive, easy to navigate and simple to use. So, when these consumers turn their attention to their day jobs, they understandably expect the same level of online shopping functionality for their business requirements. B2B organizations need to embrace the lessons learned in the consumer market to better service their professional customers.

From transitioning direct customers to an online portal to continuing to provide personal service and support, best practices are emerging to help companies make the most of their e-business initiatives.

1. Focus on the Customer Experience

Consumer-focused retailers have invested heavily in mapping the customer journey to ensure their websites drive sales and build brand loyalty. Understanding the B2B customer journey is an equally wise investment for companies courting the corporate buyer. To provide a customer experience that creates loyalty requires a site that is not only visually appealing and offers streamlined navigational elements, but also one that presents relevant information to the customer. Tailoring the content of the page (with recent products purchases, customer’s contract pricing or last delivery address) will enhance the customer’s experience. The checkout process must also be intuitive, including offering a variety of payment and delivery methods, providing a one-click checkout, and offering phone and chat support.

2. Combine Merchandising and Search

Alongside managing complex product categories and assortments, B2B retailers now need to create and deliver relevant content that is appropriate to each channel, drive value-added multichannel pricing and offer packaging/bundling at appropriate points in the purchase cycle, while executing relevant and targeted marketing campaigns.

B2B sites must also have robust search capabilities, which allow customers to find the preferred product easily and in multiple ways, such as simple text search, attribute search, and search result refinement or search filters. Combining merchandising with search can boost order value and generate higher repeat activity. Better yet, combining search with accurate and up-to-the minute inventory by integrating e-commerce with the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system will ensure customers are not devaluing the brand when the products are not available.

3. Offer Promotions

It’s commonplace for consumers to receive email promotions highlighting the latest sales or offering percentoff coupons, daily deals and buy one, get one free offers. B2B buyers should expect the same. Promotional discounts of free shipping and reduced pricing should be offered in the same way to B2B consumers.

4. Make Recommendations

Alongside an advanced search, you can take lessons from the consumer-site playbook to make recommendations based on what products the end-user has reviewed. Say they are looking at purchasing 100 desks, recommendations for chairs might be appropriate. Or if they are stocking up on toilet cleaner, maybe they need toilet bowl brushes. Just as a retailer will suggest complete- the-look clothing advice, B2B retailers need to do the same.

Return customers should also be offered suggestions based on what they have previously purchased and offer promotions based on these recommendations.

5. Support Repeat Visits

Customers want to place orders quickly, so creating compelling experiences that allow access to things like preferences, re-order templates and order history between visits is vital. This requires access to information contained in the backend ERP systems. Because ERP systems have been built to allow expert internal users within an organization to do their jobs efficiently, they lack the inherent ability to provide a compelling customer-facing experience. By ensuring the e-commerce platform links to the ERP system, B2B organizations can support repeat visits similar to consumerized sites by incorporating preferences and order history between visits. Supporting “expert” buyers will strengthen brand loyalty.

B2B retailers need to harness insights learned from B2C retailers to offer e-commerce experiences that support new corporate consumers. Complex sales processes aside, usability, insightful recommendations, inventory availability and appropriate merchandising will all help to support repeat business and brand loyalty.

About the Author: Tjip Sugijoto, Managing Director of Americas, Intershop


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