Simplifying the B2B eCommerce Experience
By Dave Batt, CEO, FPX
From shopping malls to manufacturers, the lesson is the same: ecommerce has changed the way businesses connect with customers. Not surprisingly, today's business-to-business (B2B) customers are now driven by business-to-consumer (B2C) online shopping experiences. They conduct research on their own, desire the convenience of self-service, and want better experiences working with sellers. Simply put, there's no longer a distinction between B2B and B2C - customers, regardless of what they're buying, expect a good experience.
Facilitating this better experience is the challenge facing major B2B sellers across a variety of industries. With costly, configurable and complex products and services, buyers require features and functions like guided buying, product recommendations, rules-based configuration capabilities with comprehensive visualizations, as well as the ability to connect with a sales rep, service rep or vendor at any point in the engagement. Providing these capabilities is no small task for B2B sellers who often lack the tools and resources to take their entire enterprise online while delivering a seamless, B2C-like experience to the end user.
A recent study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of FPX evaluated current sales channel strategies, practices, and challenges at 406 B2B companies around the world. The survey found that almost all of these B2B businesses have begun their digital transformations, with 97% of the respondents embracing some elements of ecommerce today. Yet on average, ecommerce sales account for only 35% of their sales mix - despite the fact that most of these companies said they hope to achieve a 50-50 balance between ecommerce and traditional direct and indirect sales channels.
So what's the problem? The complexity of B2B sales.
As mentioned, the inherent complexity of B2B product and service offerings makes it difficult for companies to take their offerings online. Custom product bundles, sales technology ecosystems and sales processes/touchpoints make it nearly impossible for B2B firms to quickly and accurately sell complete solutions in large part because of outdated and disconnected technologies.
In many cases, the architecture, business rules and sales software platforms vary so much across the organization -even division to division within a company-that assembling an overall quote sometimes takes weeks to complete-and often contains costly errors that can further derail an engagement.
How can companies communicate in a seamless, personalized manner with customers when they can't even do so across their internal or partner networks?
The good news is that there is a technology solution to this problem that is driving the transformation to a B2C-like experience.
Configure Price Quote (CPQ) enterprise software provides B2B enterprises with the power and agility to take their entire business online while connecting traditional sales and partner channels. With a platform agnostic application, businesses can extend the capabilities of their existing technology solutions, including ecommerce. With CPQ, companies are able to harness the data, rules, logic and information from across their organization in a single tool that can rationalize, manage and distribute this data to partners, sales reps and the ecommerce platform. By leveraging these resources, firms can deliver the features and functions that enable a better overall experience for ecommerce buyers as well as internal users in sales and the partner network.
While there are many options available, imperative to any successful CPQ application is the ability to:
- Provide guided selling. Firms must make sure their CPQ application helps guide the sales process in all channels to direct customers to their optimal solution. CPQ-guided selling not only streamlines the process for customers and users alike, but also ensures the solution is designed to effectively meet the need in question.
- Give partners full visibility into availability, compatibility, and fulfillment. Many B2B companies rely on partners to extend their sales reach and deliver additional value to their customers. A good CPQ application must deliver real-time information to meet the needs of indirect channel sellers by providing partners with the same access to information as customers and direct channel sales.
- Enable sales of complex solutions. Forrester data shows that buyers increasingly want to self-serve, including conducting more complex transactions on their own via ecommerce. This is not easily done. B2B sales, by their nature, are complicated and often frustrate buyers and even sellers. When end products come in millions of different variations and often involve parts that are not always compatible, the sales process can become slow, tedious, and extremely complex - especially through online channels. Having a solution powerful enough to manage and rationalize intricate sales data is essential for creating a B2C-style ecommerce buying experience.
B2B firms that deliver a consistent, high-quality sales experience to customers and partners across all channels improve satisfaction and loyalty as well as increase sales. Survey data shows that a superior customer experience leads to tangible benefits in customer acquisition, loyalty, profitability, and market share. In fact, 51 percent of the B2B companies in the FPX study reported increased spending from omnichannel customers in the past year. Bottom line: by using the right CPQ platform to cater to omnichannel users and empowering their ecommerce and partner ecosystems, B2B businesses can take advantage of the nearly $1.13 trillion ecommerce opportunity expected by 2020.