Different Strategies in Creating a Seamless B2B E-commerce 'Omni Channel Platform'
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B2B purchasing and decision making is inherently different from B2C purchasing. It’s a more involved process, often requiring multiple touch points and interactions before sealing the deal. However, today buyer expectations are changing. Even though B2B buying is frequently done by purchase teams, with complex products or bundles and negotiated pricing, these professional buyers happen to be personal consumers off working hours. As consumers, they are accustomed to superior omni-channel B2C experiences, and as a result they have become more demanding in their expectations from a B2B merchant.
An omni-channel strategy in B2B sales and marketing requires a tightly integrated and cohesive customer experience across all touch points of the business that a customer interacts with. An omni-channel approach takes multi-channel a step further. It relies on a single source of truth, effectively blending traditional channels with technology enabled digital channels. Organizations that operate these channels in silos will never be able to offer their customers a truly omni-channel customer experience.
Here are some of the strategies B2B firms can employ to create an omni-channel customer experience across all stages of the customer journey (customer acquisition, customer behavior & decision making, customer support, account management):
· Customer Acquisition
B2B websites need to find new ways to attract, engage and covert customers. Firms can invest in Search Engine Optimization to ensure that they draw web traffic from customers who are searching for related products. Ranking for long tail keywords can bring in potential customers with high purchasing intent at a relatively lower cost.
The equivalent of bill-board advertising and traditional media buying in the digital space is searching engine marketing and display network advertising. Firms can effectively employ an inorganic customer acquisition strategy through multiple ad-types such as search ads, product listing ads and display network ads. The advantage of spending on digital marketing is that every metric is tracked, this in turn can lead to better decision making and marketing budget allocation.
Social media is another channel firms can use to acquire customers who might be interested in their products and services. It can also be used for brand building and sharing exciting promos and deals with followers. The important aspect in an omni-channel strategy is ensuring that all the different data sets (search engine rankings, leads, conversion rates, cost-per-click rates, etc.) are stored and analyzed together so that more profound insights can be drawn from the data.
· Customer Behavior and Decision Making
Once customers are on the website, they start browsing or searching for products or services they are interested in. Including case studies and customer testimonials can not only infuse immediate trust in the website but can also help accelerate the purchase and shorten the sales cycle.
Websites can mimic the superior customer experience offered to buyers in traditional settings by introducing features like copiously written product specifications, smart filtering options, FAQs, product comparison functionality and similar product recommendations, thus helping lend a certain direction to the purchasing process.
Email newsletters and abandoned cart mailers can bring back customers who had dropped off in their journey. Effectively crafted email communication can not only improve conversion rates but when done regularly can also trigger brand recall.
· Customer Support
Providing the best omni-channel experience requires a delicate balance between self-service online ordering and full-service assisted buying by a sales rep. Onsite chats, IVRs and emails are touch points where a customer can be assisted in his buying process. It is imperative to maintain and store the past purchase history and order status data of a customer across online and offline channels in one place. This data should be easily accessible by sales reps so that they can provide an informed holistic solution to the customer.
Another strategy is to train sales reps to encourage customers to place their simpler orders and reorders online. This can free up the reps so that they can nurture the sales leads for higher value purchases and more complicated orders.
· Account Management
Once a B2B customer is converted, the goal is to ensure his future loyalty and repeat purchases. Consolidated customer data and past purchase behavior can be used to offer automated discounts and offers through emails. A channel-agnostic loyalty program can be introduced to help with customer retention, thus converting one-time customers into repeat ones. Personalization through saved user profiles (preferences) and user-based recommendations can improve the stickiness of the platform and at the same time grow the average revenue per user (ARPU).
Adopting a defensive strategy is a poor game plan in today’s B2B world. To meet the B2C-like expectations of tech-savvy buyers, B2B firms must utilize an omni-channel strategy to become nimble, receptive, and integrated in their customer experience.
Lastly, creating a seamless omni-channel experience requires strong technological capabilities and the backing of all levels of the organization. Companies that foster platform thinking and cross-departmental knowledge sharing will have a significant advantage in composing a truly omni-channel strategy.