Manufacturers and distributors know that they need to offer their products online for easy, self-service ordering. But many of those same businesses fear they won’t be able to meet customer expectations.
A recent survey from Episerver of 700 business-to-business sellers found that 84 percent believed failing to meet rising customer ecommerce expectations is among the top threats their businesses face in 2019 and beyond.
“Like consumers, business buyers expect interactions with companies to be effortless, and don’t care why something doesn’t work the way it should…even if they struggle with the same challenges at their own companies,” wrote the survey’s authors.
This should not be a surprise. The very same folks who are shopping for business products — perhaps ordering inventory or procuring components for a manufacturing process — are also placing orders on Amazon and other consumer-focused ecommerce sites.
“It is a mistake to imagine there is a fundamental difference between your customers — the purchasing professionals at businesses you sell to — and retail consumers shopping B2C,” wrote Gonzalo Gil, the founder and CEO of 3dcart in a 2017 article.
“In fact, it is very likely your customers will expect a B2B buying experience that combines the best aspects of B2C ecommerce with the personalized service your sales team provides now.”
In 2019, something like 75 percent of B2B purchases was managed online via ecommerce, according to a Sana Commerce survey of more than 500 B2B buyers. Despite this, there is still a need for more and better B2B ecommerce.
Across all of the industries surveyed, about one-in-three professional buyers wanted to make 90 percent or more of their purchases online, and buyers were more likely to work with distributors or manufacturers that offered an excellent ecommerce experience.
Addressing a purchasing professional’s expectations falls into two areas. First, a business should recognize and understand its B2B customer’s goals or key performance indicators. Second, it should understand specific B2B shopper expectations and how it is doing relative to those.
The professional purchasing agents shopping in the B2B channel are evaluated internally for three things, according to the Sana Commerce survey.
- Cost savings. B2B shopping is price sensitive. Whether it’s buying auto parts for a chain of repair shops or toys for a retail boutique, price matters. Buyers want to get the best prices for the items they buy. They also want good prices relative to their competitors.
- Increasing the efficiency of the purchasing process. Ordering, reordering, and adjusting orders take time. If this process is easy and fast, buyers like it.
- Internal client satisfaction. B2B buyers have internal customers to keep happy. This may be a manufacturing manager, a supervisor, or someone in another department.
Once a B2B seller, such as a distributor or manufacturer, understands what is important to its customers and how those customers’ performance is measured internally, it may be easier to see how a few simple features could impact the seller’s success.
The KPIs of business buyers lead to specific expectations for the shopping experience.
Some features are minimum requirements for buyers. These include placing orders, tracking orders, and modifying orders, including processing returns.
Beyond these basic features, B2B customers have other B2C-like shopping expectations.
Product information. B2B buyers want detailed information about the product. This includes not just product facts and specifications, but also product inventory levels, payment terms, pricing tiers, delivery information, and return options. In many ways, this is similar to what some consumers hope to find on a good product detail page.
Easy and fast checkout. Remember, the same buyers shopping B2B are also using one-click checkouts (or at least very simple checkouts) on B2C ecommerce sites. These buyers want a similar experience when they source products, components, and materials for work.
Easy repeat ordering. The vast majority of B2B purchases are not one-time orders. Rather, buyers repeatedly order the same items. Manufacturers and distributors should make reordering seamless.
Fast delivery. Call it the Amazon Prime effect, but B2B buyers expect fast delivery. This is especially true for in-stock items. If you have manufacturing lead times, communicate them on your ecommerce site.
Improved order tracking. Provide detailed order tracking throughout the entire process. If the shipment of components is being loaded on a container ship in Taiwan, the buyer should learn that fact online. Likewise, if the order is out for delivery with UPS, FedEx, or a third-party logistics company, the buyers should know that, too.