The Importance of the Entire Customer Lifecycle: Digitalizing B2B Commerce Means More Than an e-Store
When you're looking to refresh a stale B2B sales strategy, it's all too tempting to focus entirely on your e-store. But that's not the answer. This blog post will examine how concentrating too much on one phase of the customer lifecycle can be detrimental to your business. We'll also discuss what you can do to ensure the digitalization of your sales strategy is a resounding success.
COVID-19 and the need for digital solutions
The COVID-19 crisis has forced many businesses to embrace digital as the central pillar of their sales strategy. For those companies that haven't yet implemented a robust digital transformation plan, it may be tempting to go full speed ahead and launch new e-commerce projects as quickly as possible.
However, businesses must be careful not to drive their digital initiatives into a dead-end. An unconsidered approach to digitalization and too great a focus on one aspect of the customer lifecycle are two of the main reasons why so many B2B digital transformation initiatives fail.
Pure e-Commerce platforms cover a fraction of the customer lifecycle
While many pure e-commerce solutions offer a quick and easy way into the digital arena, they often fall short when it comes to delivering a valuable online experience. Platforms such as Magneto, Shopify, and Demandware provide you with a means of listing and selling your products and services. However, they're overwhelmingly focused on a single aspect of the customer experience - the purchase phase.
To succeed, B2B companies must recognize that digitalizing a sales strategy means looking at the entire customer lifecycle. It starts long before customers add products to their shopping basket and continues long after they hit the purchase button. The customer journey must be considered in its entirety, and the short-termism of focusing solely on the purchase stage will lead to long-term problems.
Not only do you risk neglecting to build solid and sustainable demand that attracts a steady flow of prospects to your digital stores, but it also makes you lose sight of the post-purchase experience. This post-purchase phase is critical to creating a memorable customer experience that encourages brand loyalty, provides opportunities to upsell, and results in greater customer advocacy.
Importantly, too strong a focus on the purchase stage will also mean you're trying to compete with some of the world's biggest B2B organizations. Leading B2B marketplaces, such as Amazon Business, have mastered the purchasing phase and are capturing an increasingly large share of business customers. In this context, it isn't easy to conceive how a single e-store can differentiate itself or develop a competitive edge over larger marketplaces.
What is either side of the purchase phase?
In the early phase of your customer lifecycle, the focus should be on branding and content marketing. To fuel the demand and the traffic to your digital channel, you need to exist independently in the digital world, developing your brand to attract those prospects who are still researching solutions. The importance of developing your brand so you're not competing solely on price is covered in one of our earlier blog posts.
79% of B2B buyers said the winning vendor’s content had a significant impact on their buying decision.
The 2019 B2B Buyer Report
In the later phase of the customer lifecycle, it is all about building loyalty and delivering outstanding experiences that will simplify the life of your customer: self-service options, subscriptions to repeat purchases in an automated way, support, customer service, etc.
Customers have more and more options where to shop. Disjointed experiences after the purchase cost millions and will lose your customers to the competition.
Complex products demand more than a simple "check-out" interaction
Today, a few B2B companies sell products in a relatively simple way that somewhat resembles the consumer e-commerce model. However, many are selling complex products that demand and deserve more than a basic buyer journey.
Often, these complex products require heavy personalization. Pricing, purchase terms, volumes, and supply chain and distribution considerations must be adapted to meet the needs of specific customers.
Rushing to go live with an e-commerce storefront means you’ll neglect essential aspects of the customer experience and over-simplify complex sales scenarios. While this may result in small short-term gains, it will ultimately lead to the failure of your digital sales strategy. The risks inherent in such a strategy are as follows:
- After an early uplift in sales, your initial success will quickly level off, and sales will plateau or begin to fall. Despite your shop being fully functional, you haven't developed the brand presence you need to sustain traffic.
- Customers will be disappointed by their experience and will not stick with your brand, especially if your competition offers a superior experience. This can do considerable damage to your brand.
- You'll build a technical debt that will erect barriers to further digitalization and the development of more advanced, self-service customer portals.
Ibexa DXP - a platform designed to improve the entire customer journey
At Ibexa, we've seen numerous B2B companies give up on e-commerce because their initial attempt was rushed and unsuccessful. In the modern market, giving up is no longer an option. Consequently, we would like to share the following advice:
As a B2B business, your primary focus is the customer. They need to be an obsession - the first and last consideration in every decision you make. They must be positioned at the center of every phase of the customer journey - whether that’s awareness, acquisition, product experience, customer service, or retention. Critically, all of these phases of the customer journey must also be aligned and working in concert. You’re aiming for a seamless customer experience that delivers everything your customers could need.
For that, you'll need a customer-focused culture. But you’ll also need a technology platform that enables your team to turn this obsession with the customer into valuable digital experiences. Ibexa Commerce is the most comprehensive of our software packages and offers all the B2B e-commerce features and functionality you need. It also includes a digital experience feature set that empowers you to do so much more than a simple e-store build.
Ibexa Commerce is not a like-for-like replacement for other e-commerce solutions like Shopify, Magento, or Woo-commerce. While these platforms may let you go live quickly, they're primarily focused on the purchase phase. Ibexa DXP is a powerful Digital Experience Platform that features specific e-commerce capabilities that enable you to digitalize your sales strategy in every step of the customer lifecycle.
Photo by Gervyn Louis on Unsplash