Customers today are in control of the shopping experience. They select when, where, and how they engage with brands. The ease of mobile ordering and the wealth of information from online communities have provided consumers with enough information to make a purchase without even stepping foot in a store.

In light of experiences in personal shopping, B2B buyers now expect the same omnichannel and digital engagement when they make business purchases.

Business buyers are increasingly adopting digital throughout every stage of the customer journey by setting expectations and making purchases on their own terms. They expect seamless, consistent, and convenient buying experiences as they shop in the channel of their preference.

B2B brands need to catch up and cater to those evolving needs.

Crossing the Channels

Just as in the consumer shopping journey, B2B buyers cross channels as they make purchases, so B2B sellers must provide consistent context on each channel. Some 38% of buyers exclusively use digital channels, and 32% mix online and offline channels, according to recent research conducted by Forrester Consulting, commissioned by Accenture and SAP Hybris. The study also found that online is the most popular channel for B2B purchases. A total of 44% of those buyers make purchases via Web, mobile, or tablet more than half of the time.

Digitization is another major contributing factor to the increasing tendency for B2B customers to cross channels; 98% of buyers are doing at least some online research on work-related purchases that they make offline.

The rise of digital channels has encouraged most B2B customers to begin their research using either consumer marketplaces, such as Amazon or eBay (33%), or search engines (26%). So not only are B2B buyers buying online but they also are conducting their research there—which increasingly includes consumer sites.

Moreover, traditional B2B online destinations declined significantly from last year, with brand manufacturers' websites down 19 percentage points and distributor websites down 16 points. The research further indicates the declining role of the sales representative, with only 20% of buyers purchasing directly from a sales representative more than half of the time, and phone or email customer service lagged at 17% as well.

As a result, B2B sellers need to find ways to keep their websites (and salespeople) relevant and be a viable channel in the digital era.

The Omnichannel Experience

B2B suppliers also should rethink their strategy to ensure it meets their customers' current and future needs.

Specifically, organizations should be prepared to deliver a seamless omnichannel experience to provide consistent, relevant, and contextual content across all channels, both online and offline.

B2Bs should also begin implementing a "single source of truth" to easily house and share customer data (e.g., account, order history, and behavioral information) among channels and departments to capture context of prior interactions and make effective use of them.

Centralizing and aggregating data across channels will ensure consistency for customers, so they are less likely to notice a difference in their experience when they shop on different channels.

By offering an omnichannel experience and using data across channels, sellers will ideally provide a positive customer experience with price transparency and personalization. According to the Forrester study, those two factors are critical to winning repeat business and purchases.

Moreover, B2B buyers look for the following capabilities in the future:

  • Enhanced search functionality (62%)
  • Rating and reviews (56%)
  • Personalized recommendations across interactions (54%)
  • Information about promotions and special offers (51%)
  • Mobile-optimized website for phone or tablet (41%)

B2B sellers that can quickly adopt those components into their customer experience and commerce strategies can capitalize on winning repeat business over competitors.

Though B2B sellers must adapt to this consumerization of B2B buying, they should not exactly mimic an ideal consumer experience such as the "Amazon experience." In reality, an Amazon-like (or any other B2C site for that matter) experience is not the goal for B2B sellers because they should focus on what their buyers want.

User experience should not be classified by just industry, but B2B sellers can implement best-practices from Amazon, such as delivering consistent, relevant and contextual content and interactions across all touchpoints—on the device and channel the buyer chooses.

What B2B Buyers Expect

As the digital shopping experience continues to evolve, B2B buyers expect more consumer-like engagement; it's up to B2B suppliers to meet this mandate. A cohesive omnichannel strategy coupled with a single source of truth for customer data will result in a positive customer experience and an increased likelihood of repeat purchases.

Though business buyers have been hinting at their expectations for the past few years, those expectations have transformed into demands.

B2B sellers must take their customers' preferences seriously or risk a sharp decline in transactions and customer satisfaction.

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B2B Buyers Expect an Omnichannel Experience From B2B Suppliers

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image of John Fisher

John Fisher is Global Head of Industry Marketing at SAP Hybris, a provider of enterprise multichannel e-commerce and product content management software.

LinkedIn: John F. Fisher