We all know that digital disruption and transformation in the B2C world is happening all around us. The world’s largest taxi company owns no vehicles. The largest accommodations provider owns no real estate. the most valuable retailer has no inventory. The fastest growing banks have no actual money. The largest phone companies own no telecom infrastructure.*
Now consider this: Over 70% of B2B buyers say they would switch suppliers if the overall digital experience was better with another organization¹, and 79% of B2B marketers think a better online experience will transform their business².
What does this mean for your manufacturing or distribution organization? Many if not most B2B organizations are finding they need to improve their customer experience (CX) to meet their customers’ expectations and remain competitive.
*Do you know who these companies are? Here's the answer key: Uber, Airbnb, Alibaba, SocietyOne, Skype, and WeChat
Designing a Great B2B Online Experience is Complex
Why buyers choose to purchase from specific vendors is due in large part to the overall experience. An online B2B customer experience requires many different unique business elements working together, and it can be very complex when you consider all the requirements involved. There are billing variations, procurement rules, vast inventories, and dealer distribution networks, most of which don’t exist in B2C.
Digital commerce professionals who work closely with B2B companies can tell you that one thing rings true on every project: The customer doesn’t always know a great experience until they have one. Companies like Apple have built an empire on anticipating what a great experience is and delivering something that the customer didn’t even expect. Many of us don’t know a great user experience until it happens. In your market, the key may be to make it happen with your brand first.
Six Ways to Improve Your Brand’s Customer Experience
If a website is well designed and offers a great user experience, customers are more likely to continue using it. Let’s examine the six most important ways to improve the experience your customers have when doing business with you online:
Personalization is perhaps the most important key of all. Gartner predicts that by 2018 B2B companies offering a more personalized experience with their ecommerce offering will outsell competitors by 30%³.
B2B personalization can be complex. You have to understand the needs of various user personas to create relevant workflows and personalization features. B2B personalization is smart enough to know who’s logging in and you can give your customers very specific sequences for very specific activities. One customer might be a buyer at a branch location, but he might have to get approval from a corporate-level buyer, for example. Another customer might need a quote that must flow through the sales rep who manages the account.
B2B personalization results in faster order processing, converting more orders and creating customer loyalty.
Website Design and Usability
A positive user experience (UX) on your B2B ecommerce website is directly related to the overall customer experience. The UX woven into your website design is a channel to convey your brand’s key messages and value propositions subtly throughout the site with words, images, graphic design, and interactive design.
It can be easy for digital bells and whistles and flashy graphics to get in the way of good UX design, and soon the very essence of what you want your website to do is jeopardized. Three guiding principles help avoid that and keep your UX design efforts focused on delivering a great B2B customer experience.
First, fish where the fish are. Half the time your online customers are using mobile devices, but the rest of the time they’re using a laptop or desktop. Welcome, all users with a website that accommodates all devices.
Second, connect rationally and emotionally. Your website should convey trust in your industry expertise, product quality and the ability to understand your customers’ business challenges.
Third, be easy to do business with. Your customers are more likely to purchase from a brand that helps them do their jobs better and faster.
Rich Product Content
Boring information about your products is not going to improve customer experience. B2B organizations transitioning to ecommerce typically don’t spend enough time and resources on developing product content. Usually, the extent of the content for each product is limited to price, quantity and a short (and perhaps not useful) description. If this describes the quality of product content on your website, chances are your users are unhappy with your content.
Remember that B2B buyers are consumers, too. When they’re looking for an item or researching a type of product, they’re really looking to be educated and inspired. To build thorough and easy-to-consume content around your products, you need to invest in better images and videos, improve product descriptions and documentation, and maybe even include product reviews.
How easily can your customers find the products they’re looking for on your website? How are you enabling them to place an order quickly or repeat an order they’ve made in the past? Your company can be perceived as disorganized if some basic search and order capabilities don’t exist on your website.
Common features such as keyword search, logical product categories, and results that are arranged according to customer preference rely on product data that is complete and accurate.
Suggested search enhances the customer experience by allowing users to start typing a word, then autocomplete suggestions appear, maybe even with an image to reinforce order accuracy. (Again, depending on the completeness of your product content.)
Quick order capabilities serve loyal customers who frequently come to your site by allowing them to order your products with SKU or item numbers. They just type the number, enter the quantity and proceed directly to check out, without having to search for a product or click through a series of pages to get what they need.
The ability to repeat orders so customers don’t have to rebuild orders of frequently purchased items is another feature that fosters customer loyalty. Why would a customer go to a competitor when the order they need is already built and ready to go on your website with a few minor edits?
Intuitive search capabilities on your website show you understand your customers’ needs and are providing features to make their job easier.
Mobile and Responsive Design
As mobile device users, our tolerance for non-mobile websites is declining. We look at a website in full-screen on a large monitor, then when we visit that site from a smartphone or tablet we expect the same content, even though we’re operating in a completely different footprint from a very
Just as mobile apps continue to change the B2C way of doing business, they are changing the B2B markets too. There are already B2B users in the field who don’t use larger computers at all, relying only on mobile devices.
Whether you decide to have one “responsive” website design that detects the device and adapts accordingly, or dual websites — one for larger computers and one for mobile, depends on the answers to some key questions. What devices are your customers using today and what will they be using tomorrow? What content depth do they need to make a purchasing decision?
You’ll have a number of factors to consider when designing a website for mobile devices. You need to decide the depth of personalization that you give mobile users. An engineer doing research from the shop floor has different needs than a corporate buyer sitting in a cubicle.
The overall density and design of the website should ensure there’s not too much on the screen. And remember that robust search and filtering capabilities are just as critical to mobile users as desktop users. Consider how much product information mobile users should have access to, whether it’s all the information you provide to desktop users or a pared down version.
Finally, order completion needs to be simple, and in B2B that often means some users have credit, some need POs and some need a credit card. But all users should feel that ordering from your website was made easy for them, regardless of the various payment flows behind the scenes.
Fulfillment and Follow Through
Order fulfillment is one of the most important keys in the B2B customer experience. Ordering on your website was only half of the customer’s experience with your company. the follow through after the order is placed is critical and involves complex workflows.
Understanding your buyers is necessary for setting up a selling process that supports their procurement process, and ultimately this is a big advantage in doing business with you. It may require that you support a dealer/distributor network, for example, or that you support purchase orders.
Integrating with your backend systems is complex, but fundamental. What information needs to travel in which direction and at what frequency? What’s happening behind the scenes when a customer places an order is extremely important if you’re going to truly deliver on your promise to provide a positive customer experience.
Fulfillment is ultimately delivering on the promise that you made on your website. In the final steps of the order process, you are ensuring how your customer orders are processed and received, that repeat orders are filled accurately, that customer reviews are positive, and so on. These final steps can be difficult to build in, but they’re critical in rounding out a great experience for your customers.