Driving B-to-B Ecommerce with Personas

In “Ecommerce Key for Manufacturers and Distributors,” I addressed some of the challenges that manufacturers and distributors face as they grow their ecommerce operations. In this article, I’ll explore the importance of using personas to design a B-to-B user experience and implement digital marketing strategies.

For B-to-C businesses, the shopper and the buyer are generally the same person. The path to purchase is a more direct: product research, pricing research and comparison, and purchase.

In B-to-B, the path to purchase may include many different people in different roles with different levels of authority. These people, roles, and processes make ecommerce much more challenging than a typical direct-to-consumer store.

In most cases, a corporate administrator must authorize B-to-B buyers. Since most B-to-B sellers offer multiple pricing tiers, most require a login to make purchases, which are frequently done via purchase order rather than credit card. Hence, the process of ordering is quite different than online retailers are used to.

Why Personas?

In digital marketing and user experience design, personas are generally used to define a fictional person that represents a specific role, a common set of behaviors, or a specific demographic group.

In digital marketing and user experience design, personas are generally used to define a fictional person that represents a specific role, a common set of behaviors, or a specific demographic group.

The use of personas helps define a set of behaviors and responses that designers utilize to improve the user experience and improve results. Here is a typical B-to-B buyer persona.

Randy is a corporate buyer who needs to purchase products for many locations in the Rocky Mountain region for XYZ plumbing contractors. Randy is 32 years old and generally works in the office on a desktop computer. He is responsible for purchasing goods to meet specific delivery dates, at the lowest price. He has the authority to place orders up to $10,000, but requires a requisition process for orders larger than that amount. Randy frequently aggregates orders from several XYZ locations to obtain the highest possible discount from several sourcing options.

Randy is not a real person, but he represents the typical corporate buyer. Once you define a persona, designers and marketers can do their jobs and figure out the best way to attract him to your site and acquire his orders.

User Personas

The personas used for user experience and digital marketing are sometimes different.

Here are some typical user personas used to design the customer experience for manufacturers and distribution. Note that there are many variations of these roles based on the company and industry. In this case, the persona defines the level of access and authority in the procurement process.

  • Researchers. People who usually investigate products but have no authority to requisition or purchase.
  • Requisitioners. People who are not authorized to make a final purchase, but who may either create a purchase request, a request for quote, or save a cart for approval buy an authorized buyer.
  • Buyers. Fully authorized. They may receive requisitions and approve them, consolidate orders, and edit and change orders or vendors.
  • Administrators. Buyers who have the authority to administer roles for their company. They may be able to define procurement workflows, authorize and create roles, and define budgets.

Here are processes that are used by purchasers to support the buying cycle. Note that different personas likely have different roles and authority in each of these processes.

  • Direct purchase.
  • Request for quote.
  • Configure, price, quote.
  • Requisitions and approvals.
  • Order pooling.

In the simplest scenario, a buyer is authorized to make any purchase on behalf of the company based on a purchase requisition. She simply chooses a vendor, checks out, and makes a payment via an authorized payment method similar to most retail stores.

In more complex situations, a technical researcher may recommend products, but other roles may be involved to ultimately approve and purchase them. In some cases, that may also include receiving a quote from the supplier and making the final purchase using electronic data exchange or punchout (i.e., the electronic communication between a supplier’s website and a buyer’s procurement application). This may involve multiple people and processes from the supplier’s sales team.

In more complex situations, a technical researcher may recommend products, but other roles may be involved to ultimately approve and purchase them.

The impact that these various personas have on user experience design is significant. Different roles may exist to see only certain products or pricing. Some roles may be budget restricted. Buyers may want to log in to their dashboards so that they can see what orders are waiting for approval or check order status.

User experience personas are used for:

  • Personalized catalogs;
  • Customer or location-specific pricing and freight;
  • Personalized promotions;
  • Triggering workflows to support processes;
  • Personalized landing pages.

Marketing Personas

Marketing personas are generally used to associate rules for content or promotion to site visitors. In some cases those rules are tied to the user experience personas. But, if a visitor is not logged in, it is more difficult to identify them as a requisitioner, administrator, buyer, and so forth.

Here are a few high-level personas that are frequently employed in B-to-B marketing.

  • New visitors. Someone who has never visited your site before.
  • Returning visitors. Someone who has visited before, but is not logged in. Some previous behaviors may be available.
  • Existing customer. Generally a user who has logged in.
  • Specific demographic groups. These may be identified using third party databases. Though common in B-to-C, this is a relatively new tactic within B-to-B ecommerce marketing
  • Referral. Identifying a persona based on the referral source. An example might be an affiliate or partner that provides more reference or context on the persona of the customer.
  • Geographic. Different tactics may be employed based on where a prospect is located.

As with user experience personas, marketing personas generally have a different set of rules that define content and promotional activities. For the most part, the ecommerce platform must be able to support rules that are associated with a given persona.

Linking User Experience Personas and Marketing Personas

In a perfect world, sites will recognize a visitor’s persona and immediately present the user experience designed for it. For visitors who log in, that is straightforward, assuming you have a B-to-B platform that supports multisite customers, pricing tiers, multiple roles, and workflow.

The real challenge is delivering relevant experiences to visitors who are not logged in. As with online retail, designers are forced to leverage the personas developed to target visitors with a relevant experience. Most sites aggressively try to entice new visitors to log in or create an account. Some do not present a catalog until a visitor has logged in to an account. Others will present a product catalog, but no pricing.

There is no right answer. Define your personas and determine the most likely path to purchase for each. Start with understanding your customers and their employee’s roles in the purchasing process.

Dale Traxler
Dale Traxler
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