2016 is here, and business as you know it is about to change.
In fact, that sea of change has already begun. Businesses that derive most of their revenues through B2B channels are rapidly following their B2C cohorts, going digital and moving complex operations to the cloud. Cloud technology, platforms, APIs and the rise of large, integrated ecosystems are creating huge opportunities for businesses to connect their systems, and for developers to build modern ecommerce solutions for their business which move beyond the restrictions of yesterday’s dinosaur, in-house and on-premise systems.
I believe this year could be pinned as the year of the B2B customer, and as such, a customer-centric strategy is the key to a successful year. Keeping these five B2B ecommerce trends in mind will be critical to ensuring success:
Mobile Millennials Will Take the Lead
You’ll find in 2016 that your customer or buyer is increasingly the “mobile millennial.” They’re younger, online and mobile. In fact, almost half of all online researchers in the B2B space are millennials and 42% of B2B buyers use a mobile device at some point during their purchasing process (source: Think With Google). The millennial generation already represents the biggest portion of your customer base, with The Economist reporting millennials occupied 34% of business positions in 2015, compared to 29% for baby boomers.
This digital-first generation requires a seamless mobile experience. Eighty-seven percent of this constituency uses between two and three technical devices every day (source: Forbes). It’s important to consider mobile the ‘first screen’ for your marketing activities, including everything from your website and landing pages, to your checkout process, approval rules and product search.
B2B will Continue to Learn from B2C
B2B buyers and sellers today are seeking a better, more personalized user experience and the sophisticated kind of product search function buyers have learned to expect from their B2C shopping. Since business buyers are used to having everything available to them at their fingertips on their mobile device in an instant, they now demand the same when it comes to business purchases.
While B2B ecommerce personalization may vary slightly from B2C practices, it will gain a higher level of importance this year. You’re customizing toward both the individual’s tastes and their needs, ultimately getting them from point A to point B in the most efficient, simple way possible. Things like multi-brand, multi-site, user-based permissions, pricing schedules by user, group or company, and streamlined processes characterize some of the personalization needs of B2B companies. Gartner predicts that B2B companies with effective e-commerce personalization will outsell competitors without these strategies by 30% before 2018.
Omnichannel will Separate the Good from the Great
Businesses today more than ever need to adopt a strategy and technology that enables them to create a needs-based, optimized experience for each of their go-to-market and supply channels. In B2B ecommerce and order management, this means optimizing the buying experience around the departmental and individual needs of each channel through which orders are processed.
For example: A multichannel merchant has many channels through which they manage orders: direct to consumer, wholesale distribution, resellers, VAR, and via their inbound contact center. With a B2B ecommerce platform that supports omni-channel effectively, organizations can deliver a unique buying experience for each of those, optimized around their unique job function or preferences.
Enterprises will Take on the Cloud, Driving Down Costs and Increasing Scale
The digital transformation of business will continue to gain momentum this year and become a key item on the majority of business IT roadmaps. The rise of cloud, mobile and social computing has accelerated the need to put flexible software at the core of what organizations do. With the customer at the center of that strategy, businesses will increasingly ditching servers in favor of cloud-based software.
In 2016, newer cloud technologies, such as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), and Platform as a Service (PaaS) will become king. Both are enabled by the power of APIs. PaaS, specifically is becoming the choice of businesses needing their unique needs filled, while avoiding inflexible SaaS interfaces or expensive in-house systems. PaaS will become the preferred cloud technology as businesses realize the increased scale, connectivity and agility it provides–ultimately creating significant economies of scale.
Strategic “Self-Service” Will Become the New “Full-Service” or “Best-Service”
Businesses throughout 2016 will strategically commit to becoming easier to do business with, not only for their customers, but for the cost reduction potential it affords. As Andrew C. Oliver said in his 2016 predictions piece published by InfoWorld, “The old IT mantra, ‘say no first until someone makes us,’ doesn’t work anymore. [In 2016,] the best companies will build cultures of performance and doing the right thing — and will make data and the processes around it self-service for all their employees.”
Not only will this transformation result in happier customers, it will also result in happier stakeholders. Forrester reported that B2B companies can reduce client service costs by as much as 90% by moving to a self-serve ecommerce environment. Strategic self-service will help to streamline processes, create efficiencies and, again, improve the B2B customer and buyer experiences.
The future is bright for B2B ecommerce. More business than ever will be done online, pushing costs of managing orders to new lows and customer satisfaction to new highs. Centralizing your business’ strategies around the B2B customer will be key to your success.
Mark Johnson is CEO of Four51, a provider of B2B ecommerce solutions.