The New Face of Business & Winning the Millennial B2B Buyer

Millennials already play a key role in B2B purchasing processes at their companies. According to the study “The Next Generation of B2B: How the Millennial Buyer is Changing B2B Sales & Marketing,” 73% of Millennials are already involved in overall decision-making processes; those responsibilities will only continue to increase as Millennials become more experienced players.

By 2025, Millennials will become 75% of the global workforce. So brands need to start figuring out the Millennial business buyer. Let’s take a look at some of the key insights into how Millennials are changing the B2B game.

Digital Is the Most Important Channel

Google surveys find that most B2B buying starts online with product or service research, not brand research. This means your website must clearly and quickly convey the added value by your company.

Key Considerations:

  • Your digital ecosystem is bigger than your website. It includes, for example, social media. Make sure your digital touch-points complement and support each other.
  • Mobile devices are important to Millennials. Are your digital touch-points mobile friendly?
  • Does your website have clear calls to action that make it easy to access sales or customer service staff?
  • Does your website clearly communicate your value proposition and what makes you different than the competition?
  • Is your website customer-centric and is it easy to complete transactions?

Education on Products and Services is Essential

Nielsen reports that when interacting with social media Millennials “value authenticity—they want to feel like they have a personal, direct interaction with the brand—and in return, they’ll advocate and endorse that brand.” Millennials want to get to know a vender’s products though informative and engaging content. Case studies are the second most preferred type of content: Millennials want to evidence that a company delivers on what they promise.

Key Considerations:

  • Are you using video to communicate information on your products and services?
  • Do you provide evidence or data that demonstrates that you deliver what you promise?
  • Do you tap into social content and customer feedback to help guide your brand strategy?
  • Are you educating your buyers on your product or service, or are you just talking about your brand?
  • Is your brand story authentic?
  • Are your product descriptions robust and accurate?

Brands Need a Social Conscience

Nielsen found that Millennial buyers often gravitate toward a vendor that supports social causes endorsed by the buyer—particularly causes focused on education, poverty, and the environment. This goes beyond donating to charities. It’s not about logos, taglines, and products. It’s about creating a human and emotional relationship with the community and your buyers.

Key Considerations:

  • What human and emotional attributes do you want your brand to inspire and represent?
  • How does your brand give back to community?
  • Does your brand further social causes?
  • Is corporate consciousness embedded in your culture or is it just lip service?

E-commerce Challenges for B2B and B2C Firms

The channel shift to online for B2B buyers shows no signs of slowing down; in fact many would say that the convergence of B2B & B2C e-commerce is here.

B2C and B2B Firms Face Overlapping Challenges

A recent Aberdeen survey of the e-commerce activities of both B2B and B2C firms reveals many overlaps among the roadblocks impacting B2B and B2C e-commerce activities. According to the survey, the top four challenges facing both B2B and B2C firms are:

  • Customers are increasingly using digital channels to shop; we need to be there.
  • We need to reach a wider shopper base to sell our products.
  • We need to differentiate ourselves from competitors by delivering dynamic and transformative digital shopper experiences.
  • We need to better respond to empowered requests to shop anytime and anywhere seamlessly across multiple channels.

Special Considerations for B2B Firms

Although B2B & B2C e-commerce have converged as it relates to priorities, challenges and shopper expectations, it’s also important to recognize the unique needs facing B2B firms.

What are the notable differences?

  • B2C is simpler. Generally speaking, prices are fixed, shipping is easy, there’s little to no tax complexity, and most consumer products aren’t heavily regulated.
  • Contrasted with B2B: prices are highly variable, fulfillment and distribution are more complicated, and there are many concerns about sales tax and regulatory restrictions.

So what steps should a B2B firm take to deliver a best-in-class omni-channel experience? Build a B2B e-commerce strategy that puts customers first.

Three key things to keep in mind as you’re formulating your B2B e-commerce strategy are:

  1. B2B buyer expectations have been shaped by their B2C transactions
  2. By 2025, Millennials will become 75% of the global workforce
  3. Thinking digital first means thinking mobile first (yes, even for B2B buyers)

B2B firms can learn a lot by modeling customer experience best practices after the top B2C online retailers. But don’t forget these key B2B buyer needs:

  • Split shipping and multiple ship-to addresses
  • Quotes and Request for Quote (RFQ)
  • Competitor cross reference
  • Custom catalog and contract pricing

If your B2B e-commerce platform isn’t where it needs to be, now is the time to make the investment in modernizing the way you do business.

Part 4 | Long-term B2B Success Starts With the Fundamentals

We hope you’ve enjoyed our series inspired by the Forrester report “B2B E-commerce: A Trillion Dollars For the Taking”. Parts I-III covered:

Optimizing the B2B Experience to Meet B2C Expectations 

Overcoming B2B E-commerce Channel Conflict

Source B2B E-commerce Talent Creatively

In this final Part IV of the series, we’re going to wrap up with a summary of the fundamentals for today’s B2B sales organization.

Three Fundamentals for B2B E-commerce Success

1. Build a customer-centric B2B e-commerce experience

  • It’s not like the old days — Online commerce has made customer loyalty harder to come by. It’s not like the “old days” when there was a high cost associated with changing vendors and the interaction with a sales rep was the buying experience.
  • B2C sets the standards — Today, B2B e-commerce organizations need to adopt a customer-first strategy and build experiences that meet or exceed customer experience standards that have been set by leaders in the B2C industry.
  • B2B competition is about adding value even after the initial sale — The B2B organizations that will succeed in the future are the ones that employ best practices to deliver relevant and value-added experience that go beyond the initial sale.

2. Implement self-service tools and migrate customers online

  • Make it easy and profitable for your company to do business with companies of any size and reduce the costs associated with routine account management tasks by using an e-commerce platform with self-service tools.

3. Think creatively about staffing

  • Think about B2C experiences — In addition to educating and training internal resources to be valuable contributors to your e-commerce team, invest in experienced B2C professionals to add to your team.
  • Use recruiting tools — Find B2C pros through organizations such as Shop.org, tap into personal and professional networks and use recruiters such as Ecommerce Recruiter, who specialize in finding and placing e-commerce professionals.

Part 3 | Source B2B E-Commerce Talent Creatively

Welcome back to Part III of our series discussing the three key issues highlighted in the Forrester report “B2B E-commerce: A Trillion Dollars For the Taking”. Now that we’ve talked about the importance of optimizing the B2B customer experience and reviewed some tips on how to overcome channel conflict between e-commerce and direct sales, it’s time to talk about staffing.

Technical and Nontechnical Talent Needed for B2B Organizations

B2B organizations moving into e-commerce need to begin staffing to optimize the B2B experience to match B2C expectations. This will include:

  • merchandising,
  • personalization,
  • marketing, and
  • technical management

for creating online features such as those common to B2C online shopping.

In addition, B2B organizations need to address more complicated:

  • Customer relationship management (CRM)
  • Sales force enablement
  • Purchasing workflows
  • Complex pricing models
  • Custom catalog and contract pricing
  • B2B specific fulfillment methods

Finding the Right Team

Staffing for the future of B2B e-commerce is going to necessitate training, collaboration, and creative thinking. The Forrester report “B2B E-Commerce: A Trillion Dollars For the Taking” offers a couple of insights:

  • Import talented B2C staff — According to the report, “Most B2B e-commerce executives tell Forrester that they prefer to hire employees who have a background in B2C e-commerce on the grounds that many strategies and tactics that have succeeded in B2C will also succeed in B2B.” A winning strategy is to hire talented B2C professionals: they can share insights to help create B2C-like experiences while being trained on B2B needs.
  • Convert promising internal employees — Many companies initially grow a B2B e-commerce presence by establishing a cross-functional team from tech management, marketing, and customer service for initial website setup. Rather than repositioning your focus or looking for outside staffing after your website is up and running, the report suggests that success may come from retraining these internal resources as part of an ongoing e-commerce team.

Part 2 | Overcoming B2B E-Commerce Channel Conflict

Welcome to Part II of our four-part series on Optimizing the B2B Experience to Meet B2C Expectations. In this series we are looking closely at three key issues identified in the Forrester report “B2B E-commerce: A Trillion Dollars For the Taking”. Today we’ll talk about the potential for conflict between direct sales and e-commerce for B2B organizations.

The Perceived Conflict

If your company has experienced success through a traditional “feet on the street” approach for B2B sales, it’s no surprise that you may view the heart of your operations as your sales team—not an online selling platform. The question is: should a company really be one or the other? Will investing resources in developing an e-commerce presence really undermine the work of your sales team?

The answer is No. But transitioning into the world of B2B e-commerce does mean a changing role for your sales force. Many B2B transactions are complex and require in-person client education, even when online sales are available. Direct sales combined with e-commerce gives your company the ability to maximize revenues by deploying your sales team when in-person help really adds value, but allowing customers to easily complete straightforward and repeat purchasing tasks.

How Technology Can Bridge the Gap Between Channels

  • Let your sales force focus on new business and complex sales— Using an e-commerce platform with online customer service tools make it easier for sales people to focus on finding new business, growing existing accounts and handling complex sales instead of being tied up with routine customer requests.
    • Move routine tasks online by implementing self-service models – Offer your customers online self-service tools such as placing repeat orders, immediate access to sales history and account activity, bill payment, order tracking and other customer service related tasks. 
    • Expand your customer service capabilities to expand into new markets – Self-service tools can also make it affordable for B2B organizations to address the needs of small-scale customers, which can allow your company to cover more markets.
  • Arm reps with mobile-assist technologies to increase efficiency — Outfitting your sales force with mobile assist technologies such as tablets and smart phones makes it easier for them to access relevant sales collateral on the fly as well as increasing their efficiency and ability to service a large book of business.

Part 1 | Optimizing the B2B Experience to Meet B2C Expectations

In the Forrester report “B2B E-commerce: A Trillion Dollars For the Taking,” Andy Hoar does a great job of outlining the current challenges faced by B2B e-commerce organizations. Largely driven by the growing influence of the millennial generation, the Forrester report outlines three key issues facing B2B organizations:

  1. B2B buyers are growing increasingly impatient with suppliers that don’t provide a B2C-like online experience
  2. The channel conflict between direct sales and e-commerce operations is growing
  3. There is a rising demand for scarce B2B e-commerce talent

In this 4-part series, we’ll discuss the key takeaways and recommendations from the report, starting with optimizing the B2B experience to meet B2C expectations.

Series Part I: Creating a B2C-like Online Experience for B2B

The lines between B2C and B2B e-commerce are blurring; B2B consumer desire to conduct business online with a sophisticated level of functionality continues to increase. The importance of e-commerce as a sales channel means that B2B organizations cannot continue to limp along on outdated platforms.

Amazon sets the standard for consumer expectations, noted many of the B2B executives interviewed by Forrester. According to the report, this means there is an increased pressure on B2B e-commerce sites to offer the following:

  • Personalization — B2B companies have a big advantage when personalizing. Since most B2B e-commerce transactions require an account and login credentials in order to place an order, it’s relatively straightforward to use information about a customer’s company, industry, and transaction history to personalize product recommendations, pricing, and promotions.
  • A long-tail selection that attracts attention — Amazon is the go-to “search engine” for product research and they’ve proven that a long-tail strategy can be profitable. This strategy takes advantage of infinite virtual shelf space and the ability to easily update online inventory. It’s especially effective using a marketplace model where third-party sellers fill out selection.
  • B2C-like pricing that appeals to deal-seekers —Let’s face it: consumers love a deal that includes great product pricing and free shipping. One executive told Forrester, “B2C shipping wars have reset the expectation of B2B purchasers in terms of shipping cost and service.”

Many of the best practices for B2C e-commerce carry over to the B2B world; yet, B2B sellers need to understand the unique considerations of a business buyer that are not relevant in the B2C experience. Join us for Part II of our 4-part series for more insight on B2B buyer needs.

5 Ways Customer Experience Impacts the B2B Bottom Line

B2B companies are seeing the impact of happy online customers—repeat web business has been key to growing sales. For example, industrial supply giant Grainger has found that an easy, well-designed online shopping experience can triple sales by existing customers.

A Gartner survey confirms that “Customer Experience is the New Battlefield.” Eighty-nine percent (89%) of companies expect to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience. That experience is becoming mostly defined by online interactions—by 2020 85% of the activities associated with the relationship between the customer and a business will be virtual.

So, among all of the many good reasons to focus on and invest in a world-class customer experience: it’s good for the bottom line.

5 Stats on Customer Experience

  1. 86% of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience — Remember that your B2B buyer is also a B2C shopper. Their expectations have been shaped by their B2C experiences: they want high-quality customer service and thorough online shopping options.
  2. 74% of consumers have spent more due to a good customer experience — An American Express study shows that happy customers spend more.
  3. Up to 20% of annual revenue is lost from poor customer experiences — This Oracle CX survey highlights the need for new approaches to deliver a seamless experience.
  4. 42% of service agents cannot efficiently resolve customer issues due to outdated systems — There’s a huge opportunity to improve bottom-line profitability by improving both processes and infrastructure.
  5. 59% (three in five Americans) would try a new brand or company for a better experience — Consumers vote with their wallets. According to this American Express survey, 78% of consumers will bail on a transaction because of a poor experience.

There’s no room for doubt: it’s time to take a hard look at your current customer experience and invest in the people, processes, and e-commerce technology that can help you make it better.

Are B2B Buyers and B2C Shoppers Different?

Thanx Media Blog B2B vs B2C shopper

The blurring line between B2B and B2C buying continues to be one of the most popular topics in e-commerce. When we know that B2B consumers have begun to expect a B2C-like experience online, should we just use one model?

Not quite. A B2B buyer is not the average online shopper looking for the best deal on a new pair of shoes. No, B2B buyers are not leisurely browsing commercial furniture or appliances; they don’t “window shop”. Instead, B2B buyers are more directed, want real details about your products and services, and want to build long-term relationships.

The B2B Buyer vs the B2C Shopper

Business buyers are sophisticated and may even understand your products better than you do. They:

  • buy products to stay profitable, competitive and successful
  • are far less likely to succumb to impulse buying behavior
  • have a high interest in educational content about the products and services they buy
  • negotiate pricing contracts
  • may place frequent repeat orders
  • need access to purchase history and account activity

B2C shoppers are increasingly tech savvy and are usually looking for the best price. They:

  • are less directed and spend free time browsing their favorite e-commerce websites
  • are heavily influenced by shipping costs
  • often make impulse purchases (especially when there is free shipping available)
  • do not negotiate prices, but instead research the competition prior to making a purchase
  • are less brand loyal and more likely to buy from a competitor based on price alone
  • often choose guest checkout—access to order information after the order has shipped is less important

Where do they overlap? Both want:

  • high quality customer service
  • an easy-to-use and well designed online experience

So, when building a B2C-like experience to meet the demands of your B2B buyer, remember that in additional to beautiful images of your products you need comprehensive details about the product’s specifications, that your platform should simplify access to user information, and that your customer service contact information should be prominent. Don’t lose B2B buyers with an e-commerce experience that is too sparse for their needs.