What B2B Can Learn from B2C Digital Commerce

July 17, 2015
Contributor: Heather Pemberton Levy

B2B marketers can borrow techniques from B2C digital commerce to create more relevant and responsive experiences for today’s business buyers.

Shopping for a new tablet online is simple compared to the complicated process of researching and purchasing B2B products and services. Business buyers have vastly different requirements, depending on their industry, company size and other variables, requiring wide variation in B2B digital commerce experiences.

Nonetheless, by adopting techniques from B2C, B2B marketers can drive revenue and capture untapped opportunities, noted Kirsten Newbold-Knipp, research director, Gartner for Marketing Leaders.

Several compelling forces should convince B2B marketers to re-think their approach to commerce initiatives, including:

  • Consumerization of B2B buying — Business buyers expect every commerce experience to be as easy as shopping anywhere online, including streamlined mobile websites and apps, effective on-site search, integration with social channels, and personalization.
  • B2B buyers are getting younger — Nearly 50% of all B2B buyers are millennials, up from 27% compared to two years ago (IBM Commerce). This new generation of decision makers demands convenience, collaboration and customization.
  • Buyers will pay more for a great experience —One 2013 study by Avanade suggests that B2B buyers will pay, on average, 30% more for a superior customer experience.
  • The total cost of ownership (TCO) for compelling commerce experiences is declining — Since 2008, competition and innovation in digital commerce solutions have effectively commoditized many of the capabilities that once cost hundreds of thousands of dollars
Tap into mobile

One area to focus on: Revenue derived from mobile commerce.  Mobile commerce represents an untapped revenue opportunity for B2B marketers.  Compared to B2C marketers, B2B marketers generate only 19.4% of digital commerce revenue from mobile channels (B2C generates 22.6%). An example illuminating the possibilities in mobile is Grainger’s mobile app which lets customers maintain lists, keep track of their order history, activate a chat with a company representative, and search for products by keyword or item number.

“Many buyers will gather information from your site and buy somewhere else.”

Invest in the customer experience

Not everyone who conducts research online eventually buys online, says Ms. Newbold-Knipp. According to a 2014 study by the Acquity Group, only 48% of B2B buyers who make a major purchase of $5,000 or more each month, buy online directly from suppliers. Another 32% do not purchase online at all. But of those who are inclined to buy, many will gather information from your site and buy somewhere else. Seventeen percent of buyers conduct research on supplier sites, and then buy on Amazon Business.

Invest in your customer experience to prevent buyers from getting educated on your site and buying from another. Make it easy for your customers to serve themselves. How? Use existing personas or create personas by collecting market research and insights about these customers and prospects, such as demographics, on-site browsing behaviors, customer transaction histories, shopping cart abandonment and top purchases. This persona insight should inform improvements in user experience across relevant steps in the customer journey.

Shrug off the inferiority complex

Sophisticated B2C marketers make shopping for groceries, music, electronics and other consumer goods easy for everyone, and those marketers take pride in their success. According to Gartner’s survey of CMOs, “CMO Spend Survey 2015: Eye on the Buyer” most B2C marketers (77%) believe their firm’s digital commerce leads that of their competitors. In contrast, B2B marketers suffer an inferiority complex with only 59% expressing similar confidence in their ecommerce. Now is the time for B2B marketers to think like their B2C counterparts to drive growth.

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