Creating A Unified Commerce Experience for Customers

At the level of the individual consumer, many organizations pull together the expertise and digital resources needed to create a unified commerce experience for their customers.

"The Amazon Experience" has set the standard for what consumers now expect from the digital marketplace. Stock elements like shopping carts and hamburger menus are taken as a given - but customers also demand options to fast-track the purchasing process and expect personalized experiences every time they log in.

The customer experience in B2B is very different from that of B2C - despite a convergence of expectations in recent years. In the B2B realm, pricing and contracts can change drastically from client to client - even from product to product - depending on the industry and whether products or services are made or delivered to order. B2B enterprises are typically also working with much larger transactions, each having a potentially greater impact on revenue and the bottom line.

Putting the right systems in place can assist in delivering a personalized experience for each business customer. It can also ensure that information is correct, relevant, and speaking to the customer in a language they understand.

Achieving the Ideal Customer Experience

The ideal B2B experience personalizes the seller's site for the buyer based on individual requirements and allows the buyer to get in and out of their transactions quickly and easily. The environment should also enable the seller to offer alternative product recommendations and provide opportunities for cross-selling and up-selling - all within the bounds of a painless and stress-free interaction that allows positive relationships to be nurtured with the buyer. If sellers in the B2B market achieve the goal of creating this ideal customer experience, a number of opportunities for growth and development soon follow.

A relevant and cost-effective selection of products or services delivered in a timely and efficient manner via courteous service and follow-up support will engender loyalty to the brand, with associated opportunities for repeat business, positive word of mouth, and referrals to a wider base of potential customers.

This will also empower the organization to stay competitive in the face of threats such as industry competitors, marketplaces, and challenging market conditions.

The Penalty for Inaction

If products aren't easily accessible, clearly explained, and offered at competitive prices, customers will either go to third-party resellers and marketplaces, or head straight to a direct competitor who has made some digital strides that your organization has not.

It's a sobering statistic, but as ecommerce analyst Karie Daudt reports for, a recent survey by B2BecNews revealed that for 51.4% of B2B sellers in manufacturing or distribution, ecommerce sales represent less than 10% of their total revenue. This can be put down to poorly performing ecommerce investments by the organizations concerned - but it could also be attributable to merchants making no investment in ecommerce at all.

As digital transformation and ecommerce reshape the business landscape, B2B merchants can no longer afford to do nothing. Using business strategy in tandem with technology to create positive customer experiences is now a fundamental requirement for economic success.

Seeking Solutions

Digitally transforming to create the ideal customer experience isn't an activity that most B2B organizations can or should undertake in isolation. Aside from help with the required infrastructure and IT expertise, merchants may also tap into a growing ecosystem of resources and managed service providers (MSPs) that specialize in facilitating ecommerce solutions.

For B2B operators in the primary market, there are a number of factors that should be borne in mind concerning solution providers and the resources they provide.

Pricing Optimization

Prices in the B2B world serve a different function to their counterparts in B2C retail. Whereas for B2C operations the net price is the deal maker, with B2B, once a product or solution is selected, negotiations take place, and the agreed upon or contracted price becomes the driver for the buying process.

Since the online portion of the business tends to yield higher margins for the merchant than higher volume transactions negotiated outside digital channels, it's important for B2B enterprises to optimize their web list prices if they wish to remain competitive. In fact, optimization is critical, as these prices may create channel conflicts with distributors or channel partners. For example, if a list price displayed online doesn't coincide with the customer's contracted price, each purchase needs to go through a time-consuming price adjustment before orders can be fulfilled.

Pricing optimization is also important because the web listing may be the first price point seen by the potential buyer. If this price is set too high, you risk missing out on opportunities and sales. If it's too low, this leads to reduced revenue and can affect your profit margins.

Business strategies and solutions for pricing optimization must, therefore, strike a balance between ecommerce offerings and negotiated price models. Three approaches can assist in striking this balance:

  1. Identify Your Key Value Items (KVIs): Those products which are most identifiable with your brand have the greatest power to build your reputation and brand recognition. They also drive the highest value and have the greatest potential to promote customer loyalty.
  2. Monitor the Market and Your Competition: Though internal factors will have some influence on the price levels you set, it's important to weigh this against the conditions of the market at large. You should differentiate your prices based on the attributes and features of what you have to offer, but also with an eye to what your main competitors are doing.
  3. Allow for Some Level of Elasticity: Over the life-cycle of a product or service, it may become necessary to adjust pricing levels up or down in response to market conditions. And if you introduce new products and processes, you'll need to monitor how customer demand affects your proposed pricing model.

Israel Rodrigo, Strategic Pricing Consultant at pricing analytics and solutions provider Vendavo, observes that the monitoring and performance assessment of price optimization efforts should take the following metrics into account:

  • Input Costs
  • Competitor Prices
  • Regional Pricing
  • Inventory or Supply Status
  • Product and Technology Attributes
  • Volume Impact Based on Predicted Volumes for Price Increases
  • Revenue Impact of the Run-Rate / Recurring Business for Price Decreases

Product Information Management (PIM)

Product information management (PIM) is the software-based management of data relating to a merchant's products and its suppliers' products. PIM solutions provide a single hub to collect, manage, and enrich product information, create product catalogs, and distribute data to sales and ecommerce channels. The solution should coordinate changing product data across all channels of communication so that your entire business ecosystem has consistent and up-to-date information.

A product information management solution for B2B ecommerce should:

  • Establish one source of truth for product information.
  • Improve the quality and consistency of product information across all channels.
  • Enable you to collect information from existing sources such as your supplier databases and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system.
  • Include tools for cleaning and refining data, and for using enhanced data to enrich product descriptions and catalogs.
  • Manage multiple sales channels and the product materials directed to each one.
  • Allow life-cycle management and auditing for compliance purposes.
  • Translate product information into multiple languages for international trade.

PIM solutions must also perform the vital role of keeping internal stakeholders, customers, and supply chain partners informed. By so doing, they promote a faster time to market, operational efficiency, and sales growth.

Portfolio Management

A portfolio management solution must be flexible and powerful enough to cope with the complexities of your B2B operations. These may include complex catalogs, multi-level pricing, and inventory spread across multiple warehouses.

Drawing from the Amazon experience, Victor Rosenman, CEO of Feedvisor, suggests the following three strategies for holistic portfolio management:

  1. Move Those Non-Selling Items: Make plans to liquidate non-selling items which have been static for a long period, with no plans to replenish. Such items should be reviewed every three to six months to verify that money isn't being wasted on storage. For non-selling items with inventory, consider bolstering their marketing with improved content and images and reviewing their status on a monthly basis.
  2. Use the 80/20 Rule: If 20% of all selling items generate 80% of sales, identify and focus on your top performing items, and push them accordingly.
  3. Set Targets for Sales and Profit Margins: These targets should be actionable, and based on simple classifications, such as High Sales, High Margin or High Sales, Low Margin, etc.

Customer Experience and Personalization

Besides interface tweaks like including the customer's logo on their account page and allowing them to choose customized layouts or colors, a B2B ecommerce solution optimized for the ideal customer experience must enhance that experience at a performance level.

When a customer leaves their own environment to come to your site, that real-time experience needs to take place without complications or delays. Take the customer directly to their selected product's page, not your main product catalog. Don't tie them up in elaborate login or security procedures. And do make allowances for B2B customer-service agents and "order-on-behalf" protocols.

End-to-end Platform Solutions

Just as mobile Point-of-Sale (mPOS) technologies enable B2C consumers to make purchases directly from their mobile devices and empower retail staff to render better in-store service, they also provide a facilitating medium for B2B omnichannel transactions.

Taken as part of a unified system, mPOS and digital technologies can create end-to-end platform solutions for B2B commerce that increase efficiency, streamline on-location sales, and improve self-service channel ordering. With an end-to-end platform, sales reps can easily showcase products during on-location sales or at trade shows using laptops or tablets. Web portals or mobile storefront apps can empower customers through self-service channels - especially if there's seamless integration with payment mechanisms and your own back office systems.

Issues such as robust interconnectivity with legacy systems and partnership with payment platforms must be considered, but end-to-end solutions and eCommerce service providers can greatly assist B2B organizations in creating a unified commerce experience for the customer.

Creating unified commerce experiences is set to be a hot topic at Digital Transformation Connect 2019, taking place this September at the Rancho Bernardo Inn, San Diego, CA.

Download the Agenda today for more information and insights.

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