Disconnected technology and 5 other sure-fire ways to waste your B2B sales efforts
Mistakes are inevitable; no business can learn or grow without getting it wrong sometimes. In fact, one of the benefits of a composable DXP is that it gives you the agility to experiment with your sales channels, and to change course if need be. You could open an online shop for a line of products, for discounted stock, for after-sale goods and services – you are dipping your toes in the water. B2B manufacturers are increasingly bypassing the middlemen to sell part of their assortment directly to the end-customer; gauging which products work best in D2C is often a matter of trial and error.
Allowing yourself to make mistakes is not the same as carelessness of course; you should do whatever you can to optimize your chances of success. And that is the purpose of this article: to alert you to some of the big pitfalls of B2B e-commerce. These are in no particular order of seriousness although the first – siloed systems and technology – is at the basis of many and needs to be sorted out as a priority.
What information matters most to a B2B buyer? The specifications of the exact product he is looking for; his price for that product as a loyal customer of this and other products, as well as his additional discounts for orders that exceed 5,000 units, or have a billable value greater than €10,000; the stock position of the product and how soon can it be delivered?
We know that B2B buyers like to complete as much of the order process as they can independently so it comes as a rude shock if some of that information is difficult to access – or, worse, if the story changes as he is poised to confirm the order. It turns out there are just 3,000 units in stock, and instead of the precise date given earlier, there is a delivery window of five to seven working days. Now the B2B buyer has to do something he had wanted to avoid: ring the sales rep. And even if the sales rep has good news, (“We have 4,500 units of that SKU in stock”), the damage has been done and the buyer’s confidence in you is shaken.
Your buyers prize their excellent and long-standing relationship with you, but that relationship serves only one purpose: that the purchase process be as effortless and efficient as possible. A DXP can help you do that better than a sales rep, which is why buyers want to rely more on the technological platform than on human intervention.
No business system can capture all the activities of a B2B business (although some monolithic solutions try). Stock, pricing, and fulfillment data are typically stored in the ERP system. To get an accurate near real-time view of inventory and delivery information, the ERP has to feed data to your DXP, and receive updates from the e-commerce functionality as soon as an order has gone through – and stock levels have diminished.
ERPs are too vast and have too many tentacles reaching into business workflows to be a part of your DXP. Product information is another matter. B2B businesses tend to have extensive catalogs, and customers often have very specific requirements. An integrated or native PIM module allows buyers to do complex searches, and in a catalog that has been customized already through segmentation in your backend.
Siloed data and systems are pain points in your own workflows that negatively impact the kind of customer experience you are able to create. Connected technology is also the starting point of another must for B2B sales: omnichannel.
Not going all-in on omnichannel
The millennials that make up the bulk of today’s B2B buyers and decision-makers have an omnichannel mindset. Digital natives move fluidly and unselfconsciously through a variety of channels as they engage with their friends and as they conduct business. Our friends do not look different, talk differently, or have a different name depending on whether we communicate with them through WhatsApp, by email, or face-to-face – but this is effectively what happens in to B2B businesses that do not commit wholeheartedly to omnichannel.
The tide has certainly turned. According to McKinsey, Covid was decisive in convincing B2B leaders of the effectiveness of omnichannel. In April 2020, at the start of the pandemic, 64% of them believed that omnichannel was at least as effective as traditional face-to-face sales; in November 2021, as the global economy began – slowly – to put the crisis behind it, this figure had climbed to 94%.
The term omnichannel can be a bit confusing because it can refer both to how you sell (through an e-commerce portal, on a website or marketplace, through sales reps) and where you engage with customers in their B2B sales process. Another fascinating statistic from McKinsey reflects the proliferation of these channels of communication and interaction. Up until a few years ago, the decision-making process “looped” through five distinct channels; now that number is 10 – and growing. They are:
- Online chat
- Physical store/pick-up point
- Mobile app
- Social media
This is where your customers are and this is where you need to be – and with the same story and the same facts on each channel. Every channel presents a different opportunity for a sale, but also a reason for the B2B buyer to disengage if your presence is a source of confusion.
Not controlling your digital landscape
It is very common for a successful B2B business to “suddenly” find itself operating multiple distinct websites across the markets where it is active. Of course there is nothing sudden about this state of affairs; on the contrary, it builds up gradually as the business expands organically or through expansion and spins off new sites. Often, this involves re-packaging existing sites on legacy technology. This is another instance of disconnected technology because the digital landscape is siloed across different content management systems.
This fragmentation creates a brand and customer experience that is less than cohesive. The second problem is operational, as content has to be uploaded multiple times, or sites have to be checked one by one to monitor if local content managers or product owners have translated the latest product information.
Many B2B digital transformation projects are about the consolidation of multiple “disconnected” sites to a single instance in the backend of a DXP. The global leader in airport services, Swissport is active in 48 countries – and before it re-platformed on Ibexa DXP, it operated many discrete market sites. This did not position Swissport as the global front-runner it is. The new consolidated site creates a much better and more holistic customer experience and speeds up content creation across the group.
Although there is no right or distinct moment where “just-about-manageable” becomes “unworkable and damaging to the business” B2B companies invariably breathe a huge sigh of relief once they have consolidated and agree, without exception, that they should have done it much sooner.
Being seen as a vendor instead of an expert
B2B buyers are seeking more autonomy in the purchase process, even for very substantial orders. But sales reps are far from redundant; almost 60% of B2B leaders will only buy from a supplier if they have met in person at least once. But if cold calling was ineffective before digitalization, it is now an insurmountable source of frustration, especially if you are ringing to tell a buyer something he can research online the way he prefers.
As sales shift inexorably from the traditional face-to-face model to a more hybrid approach involving many channels, sales reps are rethinking their roles. They are no longer “selling” but acting more as consultants, inserting themselves thoughtfully in the non-linear process of B2B decision-making. The Covid lockdowns were a rehearsal for this new reality, as sales reps could not travel and sales fairs were cancelled. The budget saved on travel could be invested in digital tools or the creation of additional content, which helped sales reps find new ways to add value.
The strength of a successful B2B brand revolves around trust and expertise, and this is where sales reps have to focus their efforts. It’s less about “clinching” sales and much more about building fruitful relationships. Sales reps can leverage their unrivalled knowledge of their customers or customer base to suggest additional products or services and alert buyers to requirements they had not actively considered before. Acting “nakedly” as a vendor will diminish trust; giving relevant advice enhances it. This is why personalization is so important, and why ignoring it is such a pitfall.
For many years it was assumed that personalization did not “belong” in B2B but was more suited to the shinier world of online retail. This is odd because the face-to-face model that until very recently dominated B2B sales is as personalized as it gets – a segment of one, the buyer.
It is true that personalization is typically expressed differently in the two business models. B2B buyers usually need a very specific product or product version, but the point of personalization in B2C is to tempt customers with products that they didn’t realize they needed!
What matters in B2B are custom – i.e. personalized – prices, and relevant content for each stakeholder in the long and winding B2B purchase process. These stakeholders can be segmented as personas or “typologies” in the backend to create an experience that understands them as customers. This ties in with PIM integration. Printed catalogs or unsegmented product information burden the buyer with data he doesn’t need, but linking his role through his account log-in with a custom catalog and custom content transforms the experience.
Atlantic France is a manufacturer of thermal solutions such as heaters, water pumps, boilers, heated towel racks and so on. Before replatforming to a DXP, the company ran separate websites for each product. This is a variation of the consolidation theme we discussed above, but for products rather than markets. The benefits are the same.
Instead of opening multiple sites – there were 10 product portals – the engineers, architects, design agencies and builders that use many of Atlantic France’s products now only have to log in once to get an experience that is unique to them. Every persona is addressed differently although the information is consistent across all these segmented voices.
B2B buyers are looking for relevance and thoughtfulness in the purchase process. With a DXP, this kind of intelligence can be embedded and automated in all your B2B interactions.
Making the sales process about yourself
Customer-centric is an ugly word, but customer centricity is the name of the game. There is nothing remarkable about that because if customers don’t buy your product no one else will. But here’s the thing, markets and sales reps are sometimes so engrossed in their product, the real hero of their content is not the customer, but their own passion for what they are trying to get the customer to buy. However, your belief in the product is not a decisive argument for anyone else.
You can’t blame your customer for not believing in your product quite as much as you; the only way you have of convincing him is to put yourself in his position. This is why the customer experience is your primary sales tool.
The only consideration for your customers is to what extent your product will help them get his job done – not yours! The distinction between “what can my product do?” and “what can my product do for you?” seems subtle but turns out to be huge in practice. A lot of content, far from being customer-centric, seems to turn its back on the customer. B2B buyers don’t have the time or inclination to absorb information that does not address their needs. Make it worth their while to engage with your content.
You can only change the perspective of your customers if you understand what this perspective is.
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