May 6 2014, 12:12pm CDT | by Forbes
Consider the typical B2B buyer: following a hard week at the office, she goes home, maybe binge watches the latest season of House of Cards and spends hours in a consumer’s paradise of fun, engaging, anytime, anywhere shopping experiences. On Monday morning, she heads to the her shop, and after her second cup of coffee kicks in, she decides to refill the stick with the required supplies and inventory for the next couple of months.
Does she start calling vendors for pricing? Browse the stack of print catalogs collecting dust on her bureau? Maybe fill out an internal procurement form? Not a chance. Instead, she goes online, expecting to find the same high quality commerce experience she enjoyed over the weekend. And in many cases, she is sorely disappointed by what she finds.
A major shift is happening in B2B commerce. It’s an online-driven, omni-channel transformation that is forever changing the way the world’s most successful B2B brands connect with, engage and retain their customers. In fact, B2B e-commerce has now more than doubled B2C, with $559 billion in 2013 sales. In many ways, it’s a brave, new world in B2B commerce—and it’s happening right now.
The Beginning of An Important Transformation for B2B
Awareness isn’t the problem. To be fair, many B2B brands already realize that the B2B commerce journey is evolving. A recent study conducted by Forrester Research (commissioned by hybris Software) showed that 67 percent of North American B2B firms believe that e-commerce is fundamentally changing B2B commerce.
But what these same firms fail to understand is that they are not just competing against their direct competitors. The market for B2B commerce buying experiences has the attention now of massive online marketplaces like Amazon, Google, eBay and Alibaba, creating a scenario in which the kind of marketplace transformation that occurred in B2C will happen very quickly in B2B. The B2B buyer already uses their sites and apps, and understands what to expect – that it will be easy.
So, when our well-intentioned procurement officer fires up her laptop on Monday morning, there’s a good chance she will visit some of the same marketplaces that she relies on for her B2C purchases—unless B2B businesses can significantly improve their ability to support the B2B buyer journey.
Nailing the B2B Commerce Experience
With large, global e-commerce brands like Amazon and Alibaba zeroing in on the B2B space, businesses have no time to spare when it comes to developing and improving the B2B commerce experience they deliver to their customers.
What you don’t know can kill your business. Whether they’re on the prowl for manufacturing supplies or sophisticated IT solutions, today’s buyers expect to have it be easy, and that means web and mobile self-service shopping experiences that compliment the other channels which may still serve a role – this is omni-channel. Going forward, the best B2B brands will rise to the challenge and deliver mobile-enhanced, omni-channel opportunities that rival the best the B2C space has to offer. In fact, B2B businesses know far more about their customers than B2C businesses do, which means there is no excuse not to deliver relevant, contextual experiences to those customers.
Technology obviously plays an important role in helping B2B brands compete in the new world of B2B commerce. But the challenges to becoming omni-channel reach far beyond technology into core business processes, how you are organized, and how you even compensate people. But this is an important a time as any to ensure your business survives and thrives, because the customer is changing and you better be there with them or risk seeing that business go elsewhere.
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