In Part I of this series, we looked at how the internet has changed B2B businesses and B2B buyers. We uncovered that buyers now make purchasing decisions based on more than just product and price. It’s now all about the customer experience. In this installment, we will look into different strategies that help manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers digitize their business.
Strategy 1: Move to an Omnichannel Experience
We now know that customer experience is key. A successful B2B enterprise optimizes customer interactions based on the buyer’s needs. In other words, you’re available to the buyer wherever the buyer needs you – whether online, mobile, or in-stores. That’s best achieved with an omnichannel experience.
Omnichannel versus multichannel
Let’s first differentiate between omnichannel and multichannel. Focusing your strategy on channels like phone sales, websites, and mobile in isolated efforts means you have a multi-channel strategy. Your efforts are like swimmers racing in separate lanes swimming towards their end goal – in this case, new customers. A multichannel strategy, if not handled together, can cause friction, confusion, and cannibalization among channels. An omnichannel strategy is slightly different.
With omnichannel retail, the customer is at the centerpiece of your strategy. You recognize that the customer will use many channels (some even simultaneously) to make their purchase. For example, a buyer can be researching products on their phone or tablet while browsing your website as you exchange emails and phone calls with a sales representative.
A good way of understanding the differences between the two approaches is that multi-channel is more of an inside-out approach while omnichannel is more outside-in.
Why omnichannel is important
According to a Forrester report, omnichannel customers are considered to be the “best customers” for a B2B company. “The Case for Channel-Shifting Offline Customers Online” found that 60% of B2B companies with e-commerce report that their B2B customers spend more when they are able to interact with multiple channels. If customers are able to engage with an omnichannel experience, they are also more likely to become long-term, repeat customers. However, keep in mind that omnichannel buyers want the same experience across all channels.
“We want to combine extraordinary customer-serving capabilities with speed of movement and nimbleness” – Jeff Bezos, Chief Executive Officer of Amazon
Strategy 2: Be Nimble
In a rapidly changing environment, the pioneers ready to adapt will out-compete the laggards. But the speed at which your company can change is highly dependent on your digital capabilities. Digitalization opens the effectiveness for all other functions. If you have diverse customer groups or presence in different geographic locations, you must adapt to the idiosyncrasies of each environment to maximize success. Your digital platform for e-commerce should be flexible enough to cater products, prices, and buying experiences to each of your different customer groups or geographic markets. This flexibility will allow you to respond to changing customer preferences and volatile market conditions.
Digitizing workflows will make you nimble as well. For example, when you digitize inventory and contracts management, you streamline operations and reduce organizational lag. Digitizing accounting functions makes invoicing easier. Marketing automation tools simplifies tracking and reporting of marketing-related KPIs. Digitizing these aspects results in greater flexibility and lower operating costs.
Strategy 3: Get the Most from Your Data
Digitalization allows you to offer a personalized shopping experience that buyers want. Data is what allows you to create the optimal customer experience.
A robust eCommerce platform or a marketplace management system with a CRM solution allows your business to study every customer interaction for the best customer experience. Personalize your product catalogs and price lists to optimize the buying experience. Incentivize promotions based on the previous purchases for better results. Segment your customers to the nth degree and create touch-points like sending congratulations for a company anniversary or a birthday.
When you have digitized a 360 degree view of every customer, you can provide the customer experience necessary to not only survive but thrive in the competitive B2B arena.
Use the Right Tools
The wide-variety of digital tools available for manufacturers, retailers, and wholesalers can be overwhelming. What tools are “must have” for the digital age? From managing your reputation to managing your financials, the final installment of the series will discuss the tools and resources needed to intelligently adapt to the digital environment.
Recommended reading: A Guide to Digital Marketing for Manufacturing