Over the past several years, the explosion of the consumer eCommerce economy has been impossible to ignore. The transition from traditional sales channels to eCommerce channels has been massive and dramatic, and it has revolutionized the retail sector.
There is a perception, however, that the eCommerce revolution has been a consumer phenomenon and that it’s not something that manufacturers and B2B companies need to worry about.
That perception, unfortunately, is inaccurate. A Forrester Research study found that B2B eCommerce generated $780 billion in sales in 2015, an increase of more than seven percent from the previous year. The study predicted that B2B eCommerce will grow to more than $1 trillion by 2020. That is not a shift that can be ignored.
To make a successful foray into eCommerce, manufacturers must learn the lessons that retailers have already learned. B2B customers are, in the off-work hours, retail eCommerce consumers, and they’re bringing their retail expectations to work with them. Thus, B2B eCommerce sellers have to understand the new kind of digital customer they’re dealing with.
The Multi-Channel B2B Consumer
When retail eCommerce customers set off on the buyer’s journey, they have a vast array of tools at their disposal. They want to do product research before they make a buying decision, and retailers have learned how to deliver a wealth of product information to potential customers through a range of marketing channels.
Retail customers have access to detailed product information, including manuals, specifications, and descriptions. They have access to product reviews and comparisons, and they also have access to the same information for a range of competing products. They can watch videos about products, ask questions via social media, and communicate with other consumers in order to decide on which product they want to buy.
Increasingly, B2B buyers are expecting the same kind of experience as they make purchasing decisions, and as a manufacturer who wants to leverage the power of eCommerce, you’ll have to deliver. That means all parts of your organization, from marketing to service, will have to understand and utilize the digital tools that give customers access to your products and your company.
The Importance of Good Interfaces
Customers don’t just expect information from eCommerce sellers. They also expect a good experience. The value of eCommerce for the consumer is the potential for the technology to make the buying process easier for them. If the process isn’t easier but is, in fact, harder, they’re extremely likely to go somewhere else to make their purchases.
Because the user experience is so important, you can’t afford to risk losing sales because of poor interface designs. Whether it’s your corporate website, an online catalog, an eCommerce platform, or a customer-service portal, it’s essential that the digital interfaces between your company and your customers work and look exactly the way that your customers expect them to work.
The goal is to delight your customer with the opportunities your digital presence provides them and to avoid at all costs frustrating them with an interface that doesn’t function correctly.
The Digital Customer Relationship
Another side of the always-on nature of the eCommerce relationship is the expectation on the part of the consumer that the relationship will be ongoing. Customers no longer expect to merely make a purchase and then have no further contact with the seller. They look for long-term relationships in which the seller becomes a resource they can turn to for information, answers to their questions, and solutions to their problems.
Customers can be demanding in their expectations for these relationships, too. Thanks to the ubiquity of social media, email, and other communications channels, they expect quick and responsive interaction with sellers, and if they don’t get it, they feel neglected.
The advantage of these networks is that they allow manufacturers to develop and nurture relationships with customers that result in loyalty and future opportunities. The challenge, however, is that B2B sellers must remember their responsibility to interact effectively and responsively with their customers.
The Self-Service B2B Customer
It might seem like a contradiction, but the same customers who want responsive interaction also want to be able to handle a lot of the buying process by themselves.
Traditionally, B2B customers would reach out to a manufacturer’s sales department as soon as they began considering a purchase. Now, B2B eCommerce customers might not make contact with a manufacturer until after they’ve done all their research and are ready to buy. That means they need the tools to get themselves through the process without you being involved.
The same expectation carries through after the sale, too. Customers like self-service portals through which they can manage their accounts, track purchase histories, check inventories, get quotes, and access product information. Providing your customers with an integrated platform that gives them the tools they need to carry them through the entire purchasing process, from research to reporting, will go a long way toward improving your eCommerce prospects.
Understanding the New eCommerce World
The retail sector has done much of the heavy lifting when it comes to understanding the new eCommerce consumer. The same needs and expectations that characterize the B2C eCommerce consumer can now be applied to most B2B buyers, and if manufacturers can learn from the lessons taught in the development of retail eCommerce, the transition to B2B can be painless.
If you’re looking for a solution to help you get started with digital self-service, or help to improve an existing site, look no further than Equip360. Designed to provide 360-degree support over the life of the equipment you sell and service. We’d love to connect with you, contact us at www.genalpha.com or schedule a free demo.