The typical B2B buyer is not difficult to understand. They need to make quick and accurate purchases that are cost effective. The B2B supplier’s job is to make this happen in as easy and self-serve a manner as possible.
That puts the emphasis on customer experience among the many considerations for a B2B supplier’s omnichannel strategy. They must assess a typical buyer’s journey through their site using the same lens applied by top B2C sites.
Vendors with both B2C and B2B customers have been quick to take their cue from the B2C market. Dedicated B2B vendors, by and large, have been more cautious. Regenerating an ecommerce platform to add more of that B2C feel and functionality can represent a substantial investment.
How great a leap should a B2B business take as a first step? The answer often depends on the state of the competition’s ecommerce platforms. What is required to give your business an effective edge?
It also depends on the needs and expectations of the buyer, which will vary based on industry and market vertical. Even in situations where the B2B retailer dominates a specific vertical niche, employs a closed business model in which only registered users can access customized catalogs, or has buyers with a clear idea of what they need and where to find it, a B2C approach can still increase satisfaction and loyalty, and boost revenue.
So where do you draw the line between adding some B2C sex appeal to your B2B ecommerce platform, and making a cost-effective, practical investment in line with where your business is today?
Enhanced search is table stakes
When asked to cite the top features or functions they would most like from suppliers in the selling process, most business buyers chose enhanced search functionality, according to a study published in November 2014 by Multichannel Merchant.
But what constitutes general best practices for search?
A buyer should be able to easily find and compare products, or groups of products, just like in a B2C context, according to individual shopping behaviors and preferences.
This begins with features such as spelling auto-correction, type-ahead functionality, and faceted search that allows buyers to filter results in various ways.
A B2B retailer’s platform must have the functional flexibility to establish an effective search-relevancy strategy so search scenarios can be customized for all priority customer personas. This requires a flexible search platform that empowers subject matter experts to create business logic to trigger the most relevant results in response to any buyer’s query.
Consider, too, the ability to showcase particular results by boosting some products and burying others. An example of this could be where a brand has struck a deal with a retailer to have the brand’s products appear first for a particular search term.
Personalization is also a must-have
Depending on their role within their organization or department, buyers may have authority to purchase only from specific groups of products, and within a set order volume or price range.
This means they must be able to tweak account settings as required to adjust how results are displayed; set preferences based on price, specific features or brand; or check the availability of a product at local brick-and-mortar locations.
The B2B retailer must also be able to personalize account settings so that the right buyer sees the right products at the right time. Consider the scenario where the same product is priced differently for different buyers, perhaps due to a loyalty or volume discount. It’s important from a customer relations perspective that individual buyers only see the prices that are appropriate to them when they search the catalog.
Internationalization: The only thing on the other side of the line
If enhanced search and personalization are must haves, what’s left that can be incorporated into a future roadmap? The answer is internationalization.
If a business is online, it’s global by default. The question at a strategic level is whether it’s appropriate for a B2B retailer to invest in the features and functionality to be a truly international business.
Supporting multiple languages, currencies and shipping options is fundamental if your business crosses borders.
When is it the right time to invest in these capabilities? It depends on how important international sales are to the business, or are likely to be in the near future. The key is to invest in an ecommerce platform that has multi-site capability built in so it can easily scale with the business as it grows.
There is a direct line between making the purchase journey faster and easier for your buyers, and enjoying higher conversions and AOV and more repeat orders. Enhanced search and personalization helps buyers restock faster and easier by giving them quicker access to the product, pricing and inventory information just how they want it. It isn’t practical, and it certainly isn’t sexy, to do without them.
Richard Isaac is president and CEO of RealDecoy