Those in the world of B2C commerce are no stranger to concepts like subscriptions, promotions, delivery options, and giving customers the ability to effectively self-serve online. It’s something that gained an incredible amount of traction during the pandemic, with more than 40% of consumers actively preferring self-service over human contact, and nearly 80% preferring to serve themselves on a company’s website instead of chatting to a representative over the phone or via live chat. Until recently, this kind of customer behavior was almost exclusively associated with the consumer-facing world of retail, but that’s all now beginning to change.
Players that historically reside firmly in the world of offline B2B, such as manufacturers, are slowly beginning to differentiate themselves from competitors with e-commerce solutions designed to remove all friction from the customer journey. This is all thanks to shifting expectations from B2B buyers who want the same modern, dynamic and consistent approach to purchasing that they experience in their own daily lives, albeit catering to a business audience. In this article, we’ll explore the nature of digital commerce, how it can address the unique needs of the B2B sector while improving sales enablement, and the emerging gap in the market for composable technology stacks designed specifically for B2B players.
The unique needs of B2B commerce
While B2B buyers are beginning to demand the same kind of technology and self-service they’ve come to expect in the world of B2C, their needs are nevertheless very different. The first hurdle vendors are likely to face if they try to lift B2C technology and move it to a B2B environment is cultural compatibility.
According to Gartner, the average B2B purchase involves seven different employees, and more than 70% will fully define their needs and make up their own minds before wanting to engage with a sales representative or make a purchase. That means the purchase journey for the average B2B company is much longer than that of a consumer, with far greater scope for customization and optimization.
A pre-pandemic survey highlighted a ‘B2B buyer apathy loop’ due to a lack of investment in digital commerce solutions from B2B businesses, with countless buyers simply choosing to stick with their current suppliers instead of shopping around or looking to innovate their own product line-up. It found that more than two-thirds (68%) of B2B customers saw “little to no” difference between suppliers. This stagnation is only likely to have gotten worse during the pandemic as businesses place a premium on stability and security above all else. But in the latter half of 2021, as global economies begin to emerge from the pandemic, there’s a distinct opportunity for technology vendors to fill the digital commerce gap in the B2B market if they’re willing to collaborate and move quickly.
A composable approach to commerce
The pace of change when it comes to digital commerce technology is now at lightspeed, with new innovations, features, and software capabilities being created on an almost daily basis. This forever broadening landscape, combined with a modular, headless approach to digital architecture, has given rise to niche vendors with very specific capabilities that outperform anything created by the more generalist vendors that came before. It now makes more sense for technology vendors to pick one thing and do it very, very well, rather than be a jack of all trades to all businesses. This move away from monolithic architecture has led to something Gartner called ‘Composable Commerce’ - the need for businesses to orchestrate a selection of best-in-class tools in order to compete with one another. In 2021, composable commerce is as relevant in the world of B2B as it is in B2C; vendors simply need to adapt the technology and partner with the right specialists.
The role of composable commerce in B2B
As outlined above, B2B businesses such as manufacturers and suppliers have a very current opportunity to differentiate themselves with composable commerce technologies that allow their customers to self-serve to a large degree without compromising on the ‘sales rep’ experience they’re used to. Because a significant proportion of the average business customer’s experience is now digital, B2B organizations can do more to customize and tailor their experience in the same way as retailers do for consumers.
Take things like trade promotions, dynamic pricing, and product recommendations for instance. It’s now possible for a supplier or manufacturer to pre-empt their customers’ needs based on previous purchasing behavior, looping them into tailored communications designed to engage them and initiate the sales process. Things like frame contracts that suppliers have with B2B businesses make a personalized approach even more important than in some B2C instances.
What’s more, tens of thousands of customers can be carefully segmented based on their purchasing history, allowing businesses to tempt them with relevant offers at opportune moments automatically. And then there’s the purchasing journey itself, which can be customized with a plethora of service wrappers designed to remove friction and encourage repeat purchases, such as subscriptions and recurring delivery slots.
All of these are features usually associated with B2C retailers, but as B2B companies look to compete in an increasingly digital landscape they’re beginning to prioritize the self-serve element of customer experience in a way they never have done before. While this might not necessarily be the end of the ‘sales rep’ era, it is nevertheless a step toward fully integrated composable commerce solutions, and vendors must be willing to collaborate and play to their own strengths if they are to service this emerging gap in the market.
To find out more about Emporix, our range of composable B2B commerce solutions, and our partner network, get in touch today.