If succeeding in future digital commerce endeavors is a B2B enterprise’s goal, then that company needs to rethink its approach to customer engagement and how it invests in people, processes, and technology to power that engagement across all channels.
Indeed, according to new research from Forrester Consulting, B2B buyer demands have changed the game for B2B sellers. The former now expects a consistent and personalized experience in every stage of its purchasing journey. However, although many B2B sellers have made strides in developing discrete digital touchpoints, most struggle with weaving them all together with their existing channels to create a seamless omnichannel customer experience.
The research—commissioned by Accenture Interactive and SAP hybris, which surveyed 750 B2B companies and 1,307 B2B buyers across North America, Latin America, Europe, and Asia Pacific—yielded the following four main points.
B2B buyers are embracing digital channels
Business buyers are actively incorporating digital channels into their buying journey. But digital channels aren’t the only channels that a B2B buyer touches throughout the journey, so sellers must find ways to integrate data from all channels to please customers. Seller respondents say that 38% of their customers are using online channels exclusively, while another 32% use a combination of on- and offline channels.
- Ninety-eight percent of global business buyers do at least some online research on work-related purchases they make offline. The vast majority of respondents conduct online research for at least 25% of their offline purchases.
- While almost all respondents have access to a company-mandated internal portal/company-dedicated buying website, they’re using outside sources to research products and services that they purchase for work. Online consumer marketplaces (33%), search engines (26%), and business marketplaces (17%) are the most popular methods of doing so.
- Buyers are expanding their online purchasing across the board. The data shows that online channels are beginning to overtake more traditional buying channels, such as sales reps, customer service reps, and mail order. In addition, B2B buyers not only report higher total spend online but also higher percentages of work purchases made online and a larger average purchase size for online work purchases.
B2B buyers have high expectations for engagement across the customer journey
Today’s B2B buyers are looking for the convenience and intimacy they’ve come to expect from a B2C experience. As a matter of fact, they’re even willing to reward sellers who provide such experiences.
- B2B sellers say they’re investing disproportionately in meeting customer expectations across multiple channels. Seventy-four percent of North American and European respondents chose “meeting customer expectations” as their top driver for investment in omnichannel initiatives. Closely trailing, 68% of sellers had providing a “consistent customer experience regardless of channel” as a priority.
- More than anything else, B2B buyers want to know the price they’re going to pay for something. They don’t expect to jump through multiple hoops or wade through several conditions to learn their actual price for a product or service. The research shows that “price transparency” is even more important to buyers than knowing if a supplier has the lowest price.
Sellers aren‘t prepared to deliver a seamless omnichannel experience
Despite knowing exactly what buyers want, sellers have a hard time meeting their expectations across the customer journey. Creating a personalized and seamless experience involves integrating myriad people, processes, technology, and data to enable channels to share info in real time; B2B sellers just aren’t there yet, according to the research.
- Sellers rated the top barrier to their omnichannel strategy as “difficulty sharing customer data and analytics between channels, countries, or locations.” A top-five response with regards to overall rankings was a “lack of the right business measurements and incentives.”
- B2B sellers find personalization to be an implementation challenge in every stage of the buyer journey. Disparate systems and processes complicate data aggregation and sharing efforts.
B2B sellers must take control of their omnichannel experience
B2B sellers are on the right track by trying to implement omnichannel touchpoints, but must amp up the integration of technology platforms with people and processes to support a real-time operating environment. Creating personalized omnichannel engagement requires:
- Technology that supports today’s complex customer journey. Customers enjoy their freedom to take any path to purchase they so choose; the idea of a funnel where customers go into the top and come out the bottom no longer exists. Today’s B2B sellers must design a business technology agenda that supports customer engagement throughout the entire customer journey. Ensuring that the right technologies are in place to support this requires a multistep process:
- Mapping customer journeys to understand typical customers’ interests and behaviors.
- Determining what capabilities your company needs to serve your customer on his journey.
- Comparing these capabilities to your systems of engagement to see where you have gaps that can either be filled by existing systems or through new investments.
Different technology solutions help facilitate engagement at various stages in the customer journey—although most will overlap and touch the customer more than once. Once a marketer figures out her capabilities, the key is making sure there’s a platform in place that allows her to extend those capabilities across channels.