The growth and popularity of ecommerce is undeniable. This is evident from the explosive growth of online purchasing throughout the pandemic.
B2B companies should strive to align the search experience with what the shopper experiences when working with a knowledgeable sales rep.
But ecommerce popularity and its effect on transforming B2B commerce have flown under the radar. While typically slow to change, the dramatic shift from shopping in-store to online is now transforming B2B commerce as well.
There are many of reasons for this, but one of the main reasons is because consumers who shop online for everything from home goods to groceries have become accustomed to the seamless, relevant, personalized experiences provided by mega-retailers including Amazon, Walmart, Wayfair, and Target, as well as smaller digital-first brands.
The same consumers who shop online regularly and are also responsible for purchasing at work are now demanding those buying experiences match. Research backs up this hypothesis, with Capgemini reporting more than 70% of B2B have come to expect B2C-like buying experiences from all websites.
It all starts with the search experience
Successfully personalizing B2B buying experiences all starts with intelligent search, which is far more difficult for B2B brands than for consumer retailers. Nonetheless, getting this right is critical to delivering a compelling experience that ends in a sale.
B2B companies should align the search experience with what the shopper experiences when working with a knowledgeable sales rep. While a website can’t take the place of good customer service delivered with a human touch, it can help companies to get to know their customers better and anticipate their needs, provide visitors with the right information that will guide their purchasing decisions, and help them to sort and compare product options to find exactly what they’re looking for.
Before addressing how to transform the B2B ecommerce experience, let’s discuss some of the challenges that could hinder success that companies must conquer this year. In addition to rising prices due to inflation, and the supply chain delays and shortages which are also negatively impacting pricing, two of the biggest issues organizations face when it comes to search that consumer-facing brands don’t have to grapple with include:
- Customer-specific pricing and catalogs: B2B buyers don’t always receive the same pricing, sometimes due to negotiated pricing and contractual obligations. This can be difficult for on-site search engines to handle, which leads to providing incomplete information, especially when it comes to pricing. To compound issues, sometimes the same products may not be available to all customers because of export restrictions or regulations in various geographics regions or industries.
- Product lead-times and substitutes: In B2B commerce, recommendations perform a different role. In the case of spare parts, part compatibility and availability is often the driver for recommendations. When critical machinery is down for repair, getting compatible parts quicky to a customer is highly important.
- Relevance and personalization: Unlike the 1:1 personalization of the typical B2C shopping experience, the B2B customer is an organization, and it may have a team of 10 buyers making purchasing decisions. In essence, the B2B search experience must be personalized to a team of individuals, not just one shopper. Luckily, most B2B buyers have an account and sign in every time they search for products. This means every visit provides rich behavioral data that can be used to determine shopper intentions, fueling personalization for future visits.
Let AI do the heavy lifting
These are big challenges. That is why it’s so important to seek help from advanced technologies like AI, which already powers many consumer brand websites to deliver 1:1 personalized experiences and the highly relevant product recommendations we’ve all come to expect.
Like the solutions the Amazons and Targets of the world use, relevance platforms are capable of handling large and highly complex catalogs that include hundreds of thousands or even millions or products. AI and machine learning creates better product discovery and takes a holistic approach to tackling the issues mentioned previously, and helps to transform the B2B search experience into one you might receive from your favorite brand.
For example, the B2B company can offer the customer personalized results based on customer pricing and customer-specific catalogs, which ensures the right products, items and prices are shown. Another scenario might be recognizing the customer’s buying patterns, anticipating their needs and speeding their path to those exact products.
Search analytics are crucial
Finally, but equally as important, B2B sellers must employ site search analytics in addition to tools that measure click-through rate, conversion rate, and average order value. Site analytics answers important questions such as what visitors searched for, what was learned about them based on their search and the products they sought, and whether the buyer found the products they were looking for.
Or did they leave the site without making a purchase or asking for a quote? The answer to these questions can help companies refine their content and search strategy to better engage buyers, deliver a better experience, and drive more conversions (and ultimately, more revenues).
One thing is certain: rising inflation continues to pose challenges to B2B companies. One way to keep ahead of the competition is to modernize the B2B commerce buying experience.
By leveraging technologies like AI and machine learning, companies can deliver a better, more customized buying experience to their customers, with more intuitive search capabilities, enhanced search results, and more relevant product recommendations. This approach reduces online friction for a quicker, more seamless buying experience, encouraging repeat purchases.
About the author
Brian McGlynn is general manager of commerce at Coveo, a provider of AI-powered site search and personalization technology. Prior to Coveo, he most recently was general manager of North American business for Intershop, an ecommerce platform provider. He has more than 20 years of experience in the high-tech industry, including at HP and IBM.