Business to business (B2B) buyers continue to demand omnichannel capabilities and a high customer experience when making work-related purchases. This is driven by their online buying experiences. Indeed, high consumer expectations are translated into rising expectations about a similar level of services at the workplace. This is a long-known phenomenon. Who does not remember the discussion about the better computing experience at home, where the work environment hopelessly left behind? But for B2B sellers, in today’s rapidly changing world, building an effective omnichannel experience for buyers is not easy. It requires the integration of technologies and transforming legacy organization structures and process, all at the same time. E-Commerce can help.

It seems logical for large B2B companies to choose for EDI solutions. Being in branches that have a predictable and recurring order flow and with are few changes to orders and products. In these branches like food, manufacturing, DIY or automotive branches, products and components are extensively standardized. Integrated core systems are able to communicate fast and accurate, supporting high volume / high-frequency transactions with low margins. EDI support easily placed repeat orders, but this can of course only for products that are known to the purchaser.

If you work in a process where suppliers require constant tuning of products and supplies, you can better choose another form of integration. EDI is specifically a technical solution to which (human) communication has a limited place, so you need partly manual processes to follow your individual buyer and to fulfill demands.

A step in between, to support more demanding customers, is to introduce a B2B portal. B2B portal solutions provide the ability to automate both ordering processes as well as to improve cooperation between customer and supplier. Customers can inspect material requirements, can communicate on anomalies, actively send delivery performance and of course it is always available everywhere through mobile or tablet. Customers with a relatively low volume work entirely through the portal. Customers who purchase larger numbers automate their order flow via interfaces but communicate (as a person) or through the portal on deviations. The format used to automate order flows may even EDI.

With e-Commerce, new, unfamiliar products are found by the purchaser and cross- and upsell opportunities created. E-Commerce has great potential for the less structured and occasional purchase orders. Even if the majority of customers with a B2B organization with EDI works, there will always be a part of customers who will not cooperate here. With e-Commerce, so-called low-volume customers still stay controlled automatically. This eliminates manual work and thus contributes to improving margins. At the same time gives a better picture of the behavior of buyers and potential prospects, so conversion is improved and better opportunities are identified.

We experience that B2C multi-channel shoppers and B2B buyers have shared expectations when shopping online in terms of features and capabilities they expect. The B2C market leads the way and gives adequate answers to the customer demand. The B2B customer asks for more relevance, more convenience, and better cooperation between buyer and seller. Yet fail many B2B organizations to meet the needs, expectations and a high degree of relevance. E-Commerce offers B2B organizations the ability to exceed expectations anyway. It is now time to take the first step.

If you are such a company, there is a need to develop a digital strategy to increase your brand or product reputation to add value and gain more profit. E-Commerce platforms are a core component of new digital initiatives and cannot and be moved away as another fail-fast, succeed-faster initiative. So, to develop a digital strategy that encompasses e-Commerce, what is relevant here?

Challenge yourself: Challenge your own business model and your current way of working by evaluating your business model. Firms that failed to challenge their incumbent businesses include Saab, Nokia, and many others. Incumbent managers and organizations tend to defend their own profit sources and their well-proven (in the past) business models. Continue to ask questions yourself.
Know your customer, focus on both the buyers’ organization as the individuals inside: Introduce marketing automation on an individual level. Know them and understand them. Listen. Add personalization. Make it in a way that the e-Commerce platform supports multiple versions of product catalogs and individualized pricing for your customers, in addition to supporting multiple sites — for example, for different brands and different countries.
Trust is key in B2B services, and trust is determined first of all by reputation (brand image and customer experience), which is becoming more digitized. To maintain profit margins, B2B companies must continue to invest in customer confidence. Improving your reputation and satisfaction scores will bring you additional customers at lower costs. As trust is key, it is recommended to create insight. Think of personalized recommendations, ratings, reviews, and product comparisons. This enables B2B sellers to respond quickly to their customers’ demands and build confidence.
Evaluate your value propositions, note that on-site and on-line value propositions should support each other:
The product or service offered is based on factors that impacts purchase- and loyalty behaviors and must be redefined based on the actual experience with the on-line value proposition by customers.
The value proposition must be clear, concise, credible, and consistent over time.
Pursue an omnichannel delivery model: On-site and on-line, the fact is that customers are using multiple devices and multiple channels to accomplish a task or search for information over time, and this is especially true when purchasing new products and services. The customer expects the same experience on every device and on every channel, and they expect to be able to perform a seamless handover between devices and channels. Provide a single view of inventory across all channels. Provide enhanced search functionality to help customers to find the right product or service. Enhance your fulfillment for small orders. Provide the integration with call center systems, fulfillment systems, and popular social media platforms.
Build a customer-centric culture: You need to build a digital, customer-oriented culture inside the organization. Create an understanding of both the large customer as the individuals that make buying decisions within your customers’ organization. Make sure that your value proposition, products, and services are known, understood and (if possible) experienced by your employees, in such a way that they understand the context they are applied to the customer. Find a way to align objectives across channels and neutralize organizationally driven internal competition. Avoid the silos and break the conflicts internally.
Build an open IT environment: If you want to build your competitiveness with the help of agile e-Commerce applications or platforms and open up your offering to partners and third parties, you need to evaluate your current technology and to be open to completely rethink your IT architecture, systems, and tools. Openness and flexibility are the keywords. You need open, programmable, agile architecture and systems to connect your channels and so profit from the centralization of information and data.
Gather and use your data: Organizations that conduct e-Commerce can greatly benefit from the insights that data mining of transactional and surfing data provides. Such insights helps not only to improve the on-line experience, but it is also a learning vehicle for the total organization conducting business on-site. E-Commerce serves as an early alert system for emerging patterns and a laboratory for experimentation. For successful data mining and analytics, several ingredients are needed and e-Commerce provides all the right ones.
Assign a leader, embrace cooperation and address urgency. Assign a leader and find a way to align objectives across channels and neutralize organizationally driven internal competition. The time where organizations could run their business in isolation, with very little sharing of cross-industry platforms, is over. A large number of organizations is under a massive attack from internet giants and legacy-free startups. They stimulate the need for systematic, cross-industry alternative digital solutions that encompasses e-Commerce.
At last, but not least: in case your organization is not ready for change, it could be an option to support a multichannel approach. Initiate your own new business, support and participate in a start-up, acquire a scale-up or partner in a joint-venture. Independently of your existing business. There are enough options. With regards to those initiatives, it may be better to partner than to compete. For example, initiatives to start with an e-Commerce environment that are developed in a separate context, under a separate brand, but supported with your infrastructure, logistics, and capital could be very fruitful.

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