B2B or not B2B

ForeSee President & CEO Larry Freed

By Larry Freed

E-retail tends to be the golden child of online business, garnering most of the media attention, while the online business-to-business (B2B) side is overlooked a lot of the time. With technology evolving at lightning speed and consumer habits with it, maybe it’s time to start looking at the changing B2B landscape.

First, we need to look at the bottom line. According to 2010 U.S. Census data, B2B is as big – in fact bigger – business than retail, accounting for almost $300 billion in online transactions as opposed to e-retail’s $200 billion.

While B2Bs outshine retail as far as revenue goes, with the rise of the multichannel, multi-device consumer, B2B companies are taking a good, long look in the mirror and deciding where their priorities should rest when it comes to balancing traditional and digital marketing – and some studies indicate they have a long way to go. For example, a 2011 B2B online survey shows only 25% of B2B companies represented reported having an e-commerce site.

Not surprisingly, as with retail, there is also a jump in mobile usage among B2B customers. Although online catalog (93%) and direct sales force (70%) continue to be the key channels customers use for B2B decision making, mobile jumped 10 percent this year to nearly (25%) to take the third most influential spot, according to a 2012 study by Oracle.

Measure the success of your business with ForeSee Sataisfaction AnalyticsWe often think of B2Bs as different animals than those that interact and transact within business to customer (B2C) experiences. But Oracle’s survey shows that 80% of surveyed B2B professionals agreed or strongly agreed that their customers’ expectations mirror at-home consumer practices.

The truth is that – perhaps unfortunately for some B2B commerce professionals in the digital world – site visitors will compare experiences. In other words, more and more business owners compare their experience on a B2B’s  web or mobile site with the experience they have on a site like Amazon.com (which is consistently rated as a top performing e-retail site in the ForeSee Top 100 Satisfaction Index) . Considering the fact that Amazon has now entered the B2B space with the recent announcement of AmazonSupply, the bar will likely be raised a few rungs higher.

As these customers’ wants, needs, and expectations continue to grow, B2Bs need to focus on gaining and retaining customers. BtoB magazine’s 2012 Outlook: Marketing Priorities and Plans shows many B2Bs are on the right track, or, at the very least, have the best intentions. The study states that 75% of respondents surveyed slated customer acquisition as their top goal going into 2012, followed by boosting brand awareness (15%) and customer retention (10%).

The real question is: how do they meet these goals?

B2B commerce is a dynamic and challenging environment. Simply gauging success by utilizing behavioral metrics (number of new clients, whitepaper downloads, etc.) is shortsighted and limits marketers from optimizing key touch points more effectively. In an environment where a new client acquisition can take anywhere from six to 18 months, it is virtually impossible to pinpoint what aspects of an experience (marketing campaign, product description, ease of locating information to self-serve, etc.) drove a behavior simply by looking at the end result (a new client or retained one).

What if we could engage our site visitors at and in-between critical stages of the purchase life cycle, and as they migrate from one channel to another? With this type of engagement you can learn things like: large portions of your visitors find your product/service description to be too technical and do not address business needs; a large percentage of prospective clients are failing to successfully complete a product demo download; or clients cannot find documentation on legacy solutions. These are all crucial to the customer experience and helps dictate if a customer was satisfied or not.

Satisfaction is key. It’s proven that companies with high customer satisfaction are more successful than companies with lower satisfaction. For an organization with a B2B business model or a B2B component to their business, the customer experience – not only on the web, but across all touch points (mobile, contact center, location, social media, email) – can have a significant impact on, or be a huge detractor of, future success for the company.

With more and more technology available to the consumer, the ability to quantify the value of your website, mobile-optimized sites, call center performance and other key channels will become more and more difficult. With the help of an accurate, reliable, and sensitive technology, you can gauge true customer satisfaction across every channel and see precisely how it affects the bottom line of your company. You can learn who’s coming to which channel and why. You can compare and contrast different visitor segments and how their experience of your brand influences their actual behavior. You can pinpoint improvements that will generate the greatest ROI, and you can assess the impact of various channels on sales and on each other.

Simply offering commerce on your B2B site is not enough anymore. If they don’t already, your clients will be expecting much, much more. Many B2Bs aren’t focused nearly enough on the customer experience, which means that those who are will have a huge competitive advantage.

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