Shoppers want a personalized experience. It used to be that ecommerce sites offered what shoppers asked for. Now, thanks to personalization, ecommerce sites do that, and more. They know in advance what shoppers want or need.
Personalization adds value. It builds a relationship.
Personalization is common in B2C ecommerce. Netflix recommends shows based on a user’s browsing and viewing history. Goodreads recommends books based on reading history. And so on.
B2B ecommerce sites can personalize, too. Certainly Amazon Business personalizes a buyer’s experience. In fact, if a B2B site is concerned about competing with Amazon Business, personalization is the feature to implement.
Types of Personalization
There are many ways to personalize for B2B ecommerce. Here are four of them.
Product recommendations. Suggest products to shoppers based on the products they have indicated an interest in. It may be based on a product page they are reading, or products they have added to their cart. Many merchants do with a “Customers who bought this also bought” section.
For B2B, product recommendations are a powerful way to sell products that customers may not be aware of. One of our industrial distribution clients, which had historically sold through reps, found that 40 percent of the products sold online had never been purchased by customers offline. Use what you know about your customers to offer them products they likely need.
Tailored content. B2B sales are often complex. Help lessen the complexity by prioritizing the content buyers are shown based on the role they serve internally, the type of equipment they have, or the industry they are in. You may have a sidebar on a page that suggests resources — how-to articles, products specifications, maintenance tips, videos — that a prospective customer may find of interest. You could personalize which resources appear based on the pages a shopper has visited or based on the role she has indicated.
Emails. Send personalized emails to customers based on their interests or their actions on your site. You might, for example, send customers a special offer based on a product page they have viewed. You could share a whitepaper that written for their industry or their role.
Search results. With personalized site search results, two different people searching on the same words may see different results based on their activity on your site. Say, for example, someone comes to a site and searches on “epoxy resin.” While there could be hundreds of potential products, uses information from the pages he has visited to determine which products to include in the search results.
For each type of personalization, there are several approaches to implementing.
Bundled with platform. Most enterprise commerce platforms offer built-in personalization features. Research the existing personalization features for your platform. If you are considering changing platforms, ask about personalization features. SAP Hybris, Salesforce Commerce Cloud, and Episerver all offer personalization features driven by machine learning. (My company is a reseller of Episerver.) Find out what personalization options exist and what is involved in setting them up and maintaining them over the long term.
Third-party tools. If your ecommerce platform does not offer the personalization features you are looking for, consider third-party tools, such as RichRelevance, Certona, 4-Tell, and SLI Systems. (My company resells 4-Tell and SLI Systems.)
Custom code. You may be asking, “Can’t we just build it ourselves?” Certainly anything is possible with software. But it’s not always advisable. It is a matter of time and money. Custom-built personalization could easily be more expensive to maintain and, also, less powerful than reputable third-party tools.
How to Choose
It is easy to measure return on investment from personalization. It often pays for itself quickly. When evaluating vendors, ask about expected ROI and how to calculate. Beyond that, consider these criteria.
Work required. How much time will your company need to set it up and keep it working? Some systems require a few people working full-time to maintain. Others minimize the time required. Understand the effort required to see the promised benefits.
Innovation. Product recommendations are increasingly a standard feature. Buyers expect them. Ask how the vendor is investing in new technologies — beyond what everyone else is already doing. Ask what is next on the horizon. For example, product personalization is much more common than content personalization. How will the vendor support personalized content?
Also, find out the time lag from when recommendations are calculated to when they are shown to a user. Are recommendations being calculated in real-time during the user’s session?