Mass adoption of ecommerce technology in the corporate space – particularly software priced on a subscription basis – has powered a surge in B2B ecommerce purchases in recent years.
An email platform, marketing and sales integration, vertical-focused software hosting a database, and IT technology fending against security breaches are among the many tools needed to support an efficient, effective organization.
But how do these organizations research and purchase the necessary products?
We’ve explored a number of ways that separate the business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) purchase processes, including market profile, buying cycle and payment options, among others. And in many ways, that doesn’t change.
But the truth is, convenience and simplicity influence all purchase decisions, whether selling to a customer or a corporate entity. The B2B market’s expectations have changed significantly, and the more you can consumerize the process for a business buyer, the more obstacles you’ve ultimately torn down on the path to purchase.
Support Convenience, Self-service Through an Omni-channel Experience
B2C juggernauts like Amazon and Apple have set a new gold standard with the one-click ease of purchase that supports each customer’s channel of choice. Though B2B buying is significantly more complicated due to the sheer volume of moving parts, B2B buyers expect more B2C-like research, sales, purchase and implementation processes.
Some B2B buyers still expect to learn about product features and functionality through the traditional sales rep, but 68 percent prefer to conduct research online, according to a Forrester report. Additionally, 44 percent say that an ecommerce site influences at least half of their offline purchases, the report finds.
The point is, if your company provides only a digital process, or only a human-to-human approach, you will either alienate one half of your prospect queue or the other. It’s vital to offer the flexibility of either/or – as well as the more likely hybrid of both – to accommodate a customer’s buying preferences.
According to the Forrester report, successful B2B businesses “allow their customer to operate in their preferred channel, seamlessly migrate between channels, and realize a consistently great experience regardless of channel.”
After all, in the competitive ecommerce market, companies no longer dictate the end user’s buying journey. The buyers do.
Transparency in Your Pricing Model
Brand transparency has become more important to customers across all industries, in terms of company values, social awareness, if the products are manufactured responsibly and perhaps most importantly, price.
In the B2C space, if a company isn’t upfront about what a product costs during the awareness stage, whether online or at physical retail, you can bet the customer will seek out one of your competitors who take a more honest and direct approach to their pricing structure.
In contrast, B2B has traditionally thrived on providing more ambiguous pricing information. The more customized and complicated implementation process for the B2B buyer often justifies the seller in delaying a quote until later in the conversation. Then, the buyer’s commitment to research and investment in building the sales relationship may trigger the sale to close anyway. In poker terms, if you’ve tossed a good amount in the pot, wouldn’t the risk/reward make sense to go “all in” regardless of outcome?
As the B2B and B2C purchase processes continue to bleed together, however, business decision-makers are empowered to expect at least an approximate price based on their company size and software needs – if not an exact price and payment plan.
Today, due to online research and self-service capabilities, the average B2B customer is almost 60 percent through the buying journey before even engaging with a sales representative – and they certainly wouldn’t progress that far without knowing cost.
As a B2B seller who’s looking to carve out an edge against the competition, it’d be wise to offer it upfront. Host a page on your website displaying your pricing model, or offer it as a downloadable PDF if they enter their email. Once that information is offered, then you can begin a mutually beneficial sales relationship with the prospect.
Convince the End User as Well as the Decision-maker
When thinking about your marketing and sales targets, a B2C company targets the end user and a B2B business goes after a company’s decision-maker. Easy enough. Traditionally this makes sense as you want to market to the person who’s making the final decision and opening their wallets.
When targeting a business, however, there may be much more complex buy-in, several decision-makers each of whom you should treat as a customer of your product.
When building email campaigns, blogs and other website content, even when your sales team is on the floor of a conference or networking event, develop separate messaging for each tier of the decision tree.
While the executives may be impressed by a lower price, and the IT department by ease of implementation, the company’s employees are the ones who will spend the majority of their day using your software. They may have little say in the final decision, but their group preference may have a significant impact on the c-suite’s thought process.
A freemium, product demo or online sand box designed specifically for the company’s employees may be exactly what you need to show your product’s value.
Make it Mobile, and Don’t Forget Your Social Media Accounts
We’ve discussed at length the rising popularity of mobile search and voice search, with Google citing hand-held devices as hosting more than half of searches compared to laptops or desktops. And it goes without saying the importance of social media as a branding tool, even ones like Facebook and Instagram that are traditionally geared toward B2C and personal use.
Mobile search feels like more of a consumer trend, but Forrester suggests a continued rise of B2B search taking place on a mobile device. It’d be wise to develop and deploy an app to make research and purchase as easy as possible for mobile, and at the very least ensure your website is flexible and can adapt to smaller screens so you’re not missing out on key customer engagement.
And don’t be afraid to use social media as a way to push content far beyond the website. Far more people use social media for professional and research purposes than one might expect, according to Pew Research Center. In fact, 77 percent of Americans use social media at work, with 24 percent using it to make connections in their career, and 20 percent use it to identify work-based solutions.
Though the respective ecommerce models of business-to-business and business-to-consumer are vastly different, every business buyer has had online consumer experiences in their personal life, and therefore appreciates the convenience and personalization that comes with them.
The more ways in which you can infuse the B2C experience into your B2B buying cycle, the more customers you’ll close and the more likely you’ll retain them for the long haul.
Ready to learn more about how cleverbridge can help grow your digital B2B business? Contact our sales team to start the discussion.
Kyle Shamorian is the content marketer for cleverbridge. Connect with him on LinkedIn here.