January 17 by Lin Shearer

B2B E-commerce

Omni-Channel E-Commerce for B2B Comes of Age

We’re all familiar with the numbers by now— Forrester projects that B2B e-commerce volume will hit $1.1 Trillion by 2020. That’s at least double the volume of B2C e-commerce. And B2B e-commerce technology investment trends are indicating that enterprises are giving this massive opportunity the increased attention it deserves. By 2019, Forrester predicts that manufacturers and wholesalers will account for a combined 30% of total spending on e-commerce related technology, up from 20% in 2013. While retailers—historically the main driver of e-commerce technology investment—will drop to 28% of total e-commerce technology spend, down from 41% in 2013.

This investment includes deeper integration with back office systems like order management, ERPs, and financial reporting—with the latest Forrester-Internet Retailer B2B Sell-side Survey indicating this is now as important a priority as the core e-commerce platform.

The Ultimate Guide to B2B E-Commerce: Click here to learn more about the paradigm shift

With this as a backdrop, the three key trends we’ll see accelerate in 2017 are 1. More consumer-like self-serve experiences from B2B enterprises, 2. Seamless cross-channel buying journeys supported by deeper back-end integration, and 3. B2B personalization becoming more sophisticated by leveraging machine learning and prescriptive analytics. All of this adds up to the coming of age of Omni-Channel E-Commerce for B2B—for products of all types: Simple to complex configurable goods, physical to digital goods, and one-time purchases to subscriptions.

1. Self-serve, Consumer-like Buying Experiences

Business buyers are also consumers and increasingly they expect a consumer-like e-commerce buying experience at work, even for more complex products, digital goods, and subscription-based products. All the information—pricing, specs, availability—that buyers need to make highly informed choices and decisions is at their fingertips 24/7/365. They want to do most of the research on their own online, and are demanding to be able to place orders—or at a minimum configure an order and request a quote—from any device: PC, tablet, or smart phone.

The latest analyst research backs this up. Today, 93 percent of business buyers prefer to buy online when they’ve decided what to buy and 56 percent were expected to make at least half of their work-related purchases online by 2017, according to Forrester. By 2020, customers will manage 85 percent of the relationship with an enterprise without interacting with a human, according to Gartner.

There are clear benefits to offering a self-serve buying and quoting option beyond simply meeting customer expectations:

    – Profitably serving low-ACV, high-order volume segments like SMBs and parts and accessories orders from existing customers

    – Freeing up sales by automating these order-taking activities to focus on higher value accounts and business development

    – Cost-effective market entry and testing and the ability to rapidly expand to new geographies and lines of business

Man using b2b ecommerce on his phone

Winning B2B companies will capitalize on this trend towards self-serve buying—and the good news is their B2C predecessors have established best practices that can be adapted for B2B selling, such as cross-sell/upsell merchandising, user-generated ratings and reviews, and rules-based promotions and rebates.

2. Seamless Cross-channel Engagement

Delivering a consumer-like e-commerce buying experience that is optimized for viewing and buying on any device is just one piece of the omni-channel puzzle. The second piece is enabling seamless experiences regardless of where your prospect or customer begins their buying journey—online, with a call to sales, or through one of your channel partners. The customer is in control: they choose how, when, and where to engage with you. Providing this convenience across channels means tearing down the silos.

This is the heart of true omni-channel commerce for B2B enterprises: you must be able to deliver a seamless experience across all customer touchpoints and channels based on an end-to-end view of the customer — and an enterprise-wide view of your inventory and deployment capacity if you sell professional services in conjunction with your products.

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You can see how integration of traditionally back-office systems and established customer engagement tools with the e-commerce platform becomes crucial in this new omni-channel world. Your CRM and advanced quoting tools that empower sales to deliver pricing, products and deals configured and optimized for your customers’ needs must be integrated with the e-commerce experience to align the self-serve experience with the assisted sales experience.

Quotes then become contracts — and you can now tie standard or even negotiated terms and conditions to both the assisted sales process and the self-serve e-commerce experience. The familiar “check here to accept our terms and conditions” experience when buying a SaaS solution, for example, is now commonplace.
Order management systems orchestrate the fulfillment of goods and services purchased — and can be tied to an automated billing engine and payment processing in the case of credit card purchases — directly or via your ERP so that, finally, revenue can be booked and recognized accordingly.

In short, you need to surface data previously locked in your CRM or ERP throughout the buying journey— and when you fully integrate what Apttus calls this Quote-to-Cash process with your self-serve e-commerce experience, you have an end-to-end Cart-to-Cash solution—the foundation for true omni-channel B2B commerce.

3. Smart Personalization for B2B

Once you have the foundation of a great seamless experience from online self-serve to digitally enabled sales, legal, and revenue teams as well as partners, you can then start to optimize that experience to impact business outcomes.

Prospective customers today are willing to share a lot of info with you while researching your company and solutions—and they expect you to know what they’ve purchased and installed after they become a customer. When they pick up the phone and want to talk to sales, they don’t want to start all over with 100 solution selling questions as if this is the first time the sales person is looking at their needs. Buyers expect the sales person to be informed and to have done their own research and preparation based on all the info already shared or available based on past purchases.

In a business buying context—this is what personalization looks like: products and solutions configured to meet precise business needs, contract pricing presented on the e-commerce experience, automated presentation of the right components and replacement parts based on previously purchased solutions, to name a few examples.

With this as a baseline, winning companies are starting to leverage machine learning in the cloud to deliver smart B2B personalization, turning data into insights that drives the best outcomes, even for very complex situations—for example, optimizing a quote for price, discounting and sales compensation based on similar customer and deal profiles. Optimizing across this set of variables is incredibly complex, but, when done right, can result in a major competitive advantage for today’s B2B enterprise.

Download the Ultimate Guide to B2B E-Commerce below to learn top considerations for companies seeking to make the right investment choice
Ultimate Guide to B2B E-Commerce

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