Home Opinion Chris Green looks at the rise of business consumers and how to create outstanding B2B experiences

Chris Green looks at the rise of business consumers and how to create outstanding B2B experiences

Chris Green, Marketing Director UK&I at Schneider Electric, looks at the rise of business consumers and how to create outstanding B2B experiences.

Until recently, B2B and B2C customers were often treated to wildly different experiences. While B2C shoppers enjoyed the latest technologies and trends, from self-checkouts to virtual fitting rooms and same-day delivery, B2B still relied on traditional trading methods—partner-client liaison and sealing deals with a signature and a handshake.

However, times have changed. B2B buyers now expect the same customer experiences they receive from B2C companies. They want convenience and the freedom to purchase goods and services digitally, 24/7, where pricing is more transparent and delivered via a frictionless buying process. In fact, recent research reveals 90% of buyers now expect a similar shopping experience on a B2B website as they do on a B2C website.

So, what’s changed? And how can B2B businesses meet these soaring modern expectations? Let’s take a look.


The convergence of B2B and B2C

The pressure for B2B companies to enable online ordering, and raise their experiences to B2C standards, was amplified by the pandemic, as digital temporarily became the only way to access certain products and services. Forty-three per cent of B2B buyers switched suppliers during COVID-19 simply because their supplier had no online ordering available. And before the pandemic, 44% of buyers said they would purchase directly from a sales representative, but this fell dramatically to just 16% post-lockdown.

Simultaneously, millennials and Gen Z are forming a large, influential portion of the wider workforce. Seventy-three per cent of millennial workers are now involved in product or service decision-making within their companies; these digital natives no longer expect the same level of face-to-face interaction and account management that historically has been paramount in B2B. B2B buyers are also increasingly self-educated, turning to online sources for product information.

Now, more than two-thirds of buyers say they prefer remote human interactions or digital self-service. Gartner forecasts that by 2025, 80% of B2B sales interactions between buyers and suppliers will take place on digital channels, with a third of all buyers, and approaching half (44%) of millennials, already indicating a preference for a seller-free sales experience. So, B2B businesses must begin harnessing new strategies and technologies to meet these new customer expectations.


Reshaping B2B journeys

A crucial part of the modern digital shopping experience is personalisation. Data allows businesses to get to know their customers more closely than ever, and then tailor their offerings to satisfy customer needs. From detecting a customer’s location to show real-time local stock availability, to serving up product recommendations and promotions based on search histories, B2B personalisation can supercharge sales conversions without the need for a sales rep go-between.

This requires a strong data and analytics strategy. Organisations must regularly clean and prepare their data to remove anomalies, automate its extraction, display it within a visual dashboard to uncover important insights, and remain alert to any fluctuations. Once set up, organisations are then near guaranteed to enjoy a competitive advantage. McKinsey research found that “B2B companies that effectively harness analytics in service to marketing and sales performance are 1.5 times more likely to achieve above average growth rates than their competitors.”

B2B businesses must also become agile, building a faster speed-to-market for new products and services. By streamlining production and go-live processes, the company can capitalise on lucrative trends and position itself as an industry leader, rather than a follower. But perhaps the most important strategy of all is the expansion of B2B channels.


Integration for omnichannel e-commerce

For top B2C businesses, omnichannel has become the dominant form of commerce. Customers are increasingly demanding seamless experiences across online and in-store shopping. Many brands now allow their customers to shop in-store, on their website, on their app, via social media marketplaces, and more. Not only does omnichannel drive loyalty by giving customers the freedom to shop in the ways they prefer, but it also helps the business to reach new customer segments—boosting sales, efficiency, and inventory turnover.

As a result, omnichannel is increasingly seeping into the B2B world. Corporate customers now use 10 or more channels to interact with suppliers, up from just five in 2016, while 94% of B2B decision-makers agree that new omnichannel sales strategies are equally or even more effective than pre-pandemic models. Even established B2B brands like Schneider Electric are developing online marketplaces for distributors, with the company’s customer-facing web shop launching in Egypt, France, India, and Indonesia.

B2B suppliers cannot solve the needs of an entire segment of customers through one channel, nor can they ignore e-commerce. The option to engage via face-to-face, remote, and self-service should be available to all customers, from small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) up to the largest organisations. After all, B2B purchases are still ultimately made by people, and they must be treated as individuals throughout every stage of the process.


The drivers of successful digital transformation

Digital transformation is an ongoing journey. Customer behaviours and expectations evolve so quickly that companies must think in non-traditional ways and invest in flexible innovation. It’s a complex undertaking—but businesses will be rewarded with greater impact, growth, and sustainability. Along every stage of this transformation, staff must be supported and upskilled to help prepare them for the jobs and business models of the future.

Though a transformation strategy will fluctuate slightly depending on the organisation, there is a handful of drivers that all B2B businesses can follow to ensure they digitally transform towards B2C standards. As discussed, businesses must be customer-centric, data-driven, and agile. They also need to employ both ‘makers’ and ‘doers’ within their organisation—those who ideate and innovate, and those who can transform those visions into a reality.

Meanwhile, cultivating a culture of transparency creates employee trust, engagement, and buy-in, a prerequisite for any successful transformation. And finally, B2B businesses must uphold a collaborative, ready-to-learn mindset—after all, remaining receptive to new partners and ideas is the only way to keep pace with B2C progress, and meet growing B2B customer expectations long into the future.

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