Insights & advice

What should B2B buying experiences look like

We’re just beginning to uncover all the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, but perhaps one of the earliest lessons to emerge was the power of an effective digital buying experience. When widespread lockdowns in spring 2020 made in-person shopping impossible, business ground to a halt. In response, retailers scrambled to offer online ordering with curbside pickup. By August, the percentage of retailers with stores in the top 500 offering this option had shot up to 44%, effectively setting a new bar for digital buying experiences.

While this trend started in the B2C retail space, it didn’t take long for those expectations topermeate B2B. Today, buyers are demanding en masse that their business partners improve the B2B buying experience by eliminating barriers to doing business. What does that look like
in practice? This is one of the many questions our company sought to answer when we surveyed 150 American employees at B2B businesses in financial services, manufacturing, and consumer packaged goods spaces.

Our findings indicated that buyers maintain high expectations for supplier relationships and B2B buying experiences. Almost every respondent (94%) told us they’d prefer to work with a supplier that continually grew its digital capabilities and experimented with offerings to make their jobs easier. Another 81% said they’d prefer a supplier with excellent e-commerce and customer portal capabilities, even if that meant paying more for their product. And more than 8 in 10 respondents said they were prepared to switch to a competitor if their supplier’s digital channels couldn’t meet these desires.

Before you can work to improve your B2B buying experience, however, it’s important to understand what’s not working with your current digital buying experience. Our research revealed that online buyers are often frustrated with the accuracy and consistency of product information during the various stages of the B2B buyer’s journey.

Consider, for example, the research phase of the purchasing cycle. Inconsistencies in product data between the manufacturers and distributor’s sites stoke confusion among prospects, who must then spend more time researching. Irregularity in names, descriptions, pricing, or other pieces of product data drives buyers straight into the arms of third-party sites and, ultimately, competitors.

Even after placing an order, buyers often struggle to get accurate information, edit their orders, or engage with customer service representatives. In fact, nearly 40% of our respondents said they’ve struggled to connect with a knowledgeable support team, and another 34% said they’ve had to go through other channels (like calling a sales rep) to get the answers they need.

Just like the widespread shift to curbside pickup, these customer expectations are driven by an undercurrent of economic, societal, technological, environmental, political, and legal factors. As a result, your business must adopt a broad strategic view — including the full spectrum of current and potential opportunities and threats — in order to better aid the overall B2B buying experience.

It’s not about focusing on one predicted future but on multiple dynamic possibilities. This perspective allows you to create future-proof strategies that can withstand uncertainty rather than a patchwork of short-term fixes. Doing so means considering scenarios over forecasts and creating playbooks instead of plans. For most businesses, which requires a culture shift.

The days of the massive launches have passed. Today, you’re better off adopting an organizational model that supports iterative improvements. So, focus on the foundational launch, then deliver rapid, incremental feature improvements. To understand why, consider the early pandemic days: Companies with preexisting digital ordering channels shone, while those that had to build that capability first lost ground (and market share). Retaining customers and growing revenue amid dynamic business change also means implementing B2B digital solutions to enable seamless, agile digital buying experiences.

When asked how B2B suppliers can create a more positive customer experience, more than half of our survey respondents identified providing accurate, up-to-date product information as a No. 1 priority. To that end, suppliers should implement a product information management tool to enable the sourcing, enrichment, and syndication of that information across all channels and customer types.

Buyers also told us that improved communication plays a key role in loyalty. In fact, 37% said that making it easier to contact a human for support would enhance their satisfaction. So suppliers should make order servicing a critical part of their customer service capabilities. Delayed responses to order changes have long been the industry norm because most customer service reps struggle to manage orders across multiple systems. To set a new standard, suppliers should consider implementing a single platform for their CSRs to update order information so it is accurately reflected in the ordering systems of record, and they can provide a world-class customer experience.

In this complex business environment, change is a given. B2B businesses need to pay attention to ever-evolving customer expectations around the B2B buying experience in order to deliver solutions that truly meet their customers’ needs.


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