The Road to a Connected B2B Digital Experience
Digital is coming for B2B. It might sound ominous, but it’s not a shock. From manufacturing to high-tech to services to distribution, every business selling to another is facing the pressure to transform their digital experience.
The reason is simple, people want convenience. I could harp on the idea that you aren’t just competing with others in your industry but with every B2B and B2C experience your customers face everyday. However, I’m assuming if you are reading this you likely are a member of team B2B and have personal experience seeing how frustrating it can be to find the information you need when researching business purchases. We are all consumers and our patience for a subpar digital experience is waning - regardless of the industry.
Luckily, for B2B companies ready to take on digital, there are some major advantages over B2C. In B2B there is an incredible opportunity for first movers. Many B2B companies are entrenched in legacy ways of doing business and if you are the first company to shake it up you’re going to leap ahead of the pack.
Our partner, PFS, shared an example of a manufacturer of golf-cart materials who added a 24/7 e-commerce option to supplement their field sales. Suddenly, they were able to reach thousands of smaller courses around the USA that their competitors didn’t have the resources to focus on with classic field sales.
Another huge advantage B2B has is the ability to piggy back off the learnings in B2C. The best of breed tools you are going to use have already been through their growing pains, the best practices for customer acquisition and retention are well laid out, and the APIs for integrating data and touchpoint all across the customer journey are all there for the taking.
Of course, there are some challenges B2B companies face that B2C hasn’t had to such as more complex sales, longer deal cycles, and involvement of multiple decision makers, influencers, and vendors. On top of that, every industry has unique needs - a medical supplies company needs a different experience than one selling an e-commerce platform - and each company has a long-standing way of currently doing business that will have to be disrupted.
The specificity of needs in B2B can make digital daunting. You will never find another company with the exact same legacy systems and customer requirements to directly model your transformation on. But ultimately an exceptional digital experience boils down to one thing: Giving everyone in the purchase process the most up to date, relevant information to make all parties confident in their decisions.
Yes, your road to this transformation will be unique but there are a few common steps all B2B companies will go through when building an exceptional digital experience.
Step 1: Understand who has, and needs, control
B2B sales cycles have a plethora of moving parts. Sales, Marketing, IT, Product Management, Legal, and more all control a specific part of the customer journey. For digital to be a company-wide success all these departments need to be able to control their own piece of the experience. Marketing should be able to update the mobile site without having to go through IT, and Sales should be able to see the latest product information without having to email Product Management. Connecting the internal experience removes these bottlenecks.
First up in connecting the experience is to map out exactly what information each department is currently in control of, and what tools they use to manage that content. List out what data and collateral is used in the sales cycle, who is in control of this content, and who needs access to it to successfully meet their goals.
Who Needs It
|Product Specifications||Product Management||PLM system||Sales, Legal, Account Management, Marketing, Shipping, Customers|
|Customer History||Sales||CRM system||Legal, Marketing, Account Management|
|Site Analytics||IT||Google Analytics||Marketing, Sales|
|Up to Date Collateral||Marketing||Google Docs||Sales, Account Managers, Product Management, Customers|
|Inventory orders||Finance||Google Sheets||Product Management, Sales, Legal|
|Direct Mailing Lists||Marketing||An Excel sheet on Kathy’s computer||Sales, Account Managers, the rest of Marketing|
So now you have a basic map of where key information lies, who is responsible for keeping it up to date, and who needs easy access to it. Next up…
Step 2: Connecting the moving pieces
Now that the map has been made, it’s time to simplyfy it. Identify the main bottlenecks of sharing information and determine your priorities. Decide which process and tools are core to the workflow, such as CRM and PLM systems, and which ones can be consolidated/replaced, such as the many google spreadsheets holding siloed information.
Importantly, these decisions need to be made with direct input from each department. When speaking to our partners for our latest white paper on the B2B customer experience, they all emphasized that the most important part of digital transformation was getting all departments on board. The best laid plans only stick if everyone adopts the new way of working. Creating a cross-department steering team is a good way to go, especially one with an executive level member that can influence company-wide adoption.
Once you’ve decided the priorities, it’s time to start connecting your experience. This is where an open Digital Experience Platform (DXP) comes into play. Using an open DXP lets you integrate your preferred blend of core tools and aggregate the content and data from these tools to inform both the internal and external experience.
And what a coincidence - BloomReach has a radically open DXP than many B2B companies use to connect the experience. Our customers use our DXP to integrate CRM, Marketing Automation, PLM, e-Commerce, DAM and many other tools to drive a connected experience.
Along with API integrations of business solutions, the strong advantage that BloomReach DXP has when it comes to B2B is our Experience as a Service (EaaS) architecture. Any form of content, whether that be product information, customer data, shipping information, digital forms, related product grids, and virtually any other element can be reused across any touchpoint. It’s the edit-once-update-everywhere philosophy, but it goes far beyond webpages - to customer portals, sales apps, warehouse IoT devices, email automation, etc. All teams can control their own piece of the experience from one central platform, with APIs pulling in 3rd party data, to ensure the entire experience remains consistent.
Another major benefit of an open DXP is flexibility. You don’t have to predict every tool and touchpoint you will need in the next ten years to set yourself up for success in the next decade. By building the foundation on microservices and APIs you make it easy to pop in and out new sources of data or new delivery channels as they come - without having to re-wire the entire tech stack every time.
So you’re developers have dove right in and connected your systems with custom or prebuilt integrations, or you’ve used a partner with integration experience to help you get there, and now you’re ready for the fun part…
Step 3: Put the connected experience in the hands of your team
When it comes to the complex sales cycles of B2B, a large part of a smooth process is getting the relevant information directly to your own team.
A great example of this is a commercial paper company who, with the help of Guidance, created a field sales app that showed product compatibility and real-time inventory information. At just two years with this sales enablement app, the company is driving over $100 million a year in sales.
Often the simplest things make the biggest impact. Enabling your entire team with the most up to date content makes cross-team collaboration efficient, instills confidence in those involved in the complex sales cycle, and makes everyone’s day-to-day jobs easier.
The benefits of a consistent, connected experience aren’t limited to your internal teams either, because up next in the road to digital transformation…
Step 4: Put the connected experience in front of your customer
So how does this all translate into an exceptional experience for your customers? Through consistency and relevance.
Consistency for your customers runs in parallel with the consistency you built for your team. You can use that same updated information on the customer site, FAQs, mobile apps, portals, and any other touchpoint. Again, this is made possible with the EaaS architecture that lets you experiment with (and reuse content across) new channels easily.
Making the whole experience consistent for your customers - from the apps they use to the people they talk to - is already a major competitive advantage. But to take one step further, and really jump ahead of the pack, you can bring intelligent relevance into the mix.
The major advantage B2B has here is that you already know your target customers in depth. Often, your target audienceis more of a niche than a typical B2C retailer would have. You know exactly who is in the conversation during the sales cycle and you are well aware of their pain points. This gives you a major leg up when it comes to personalization.
Not only that, but the complexity of B2B naturally builds more trusting relationships with customers than typically seen in B2C. This trust means that customers are more willing to exchange data for a more personal experience - such as re-order automation, customer portals, or a list of what supplementary products work with past purchases. Providing this relevant, easily accessible content directly to customers offers incredibly convenience that drives resale, upsell, and overall share of wallet.
Want to learn more about building a winning B2B customer experience?
We’ve sat with leading implementation partners for our latest white paper: The Rise of the B2B Customer Experience Imperative. Inside is:
- Successful digital tactics B2B companies have used to drive profits
- The benefits B2B has over B2C in digital transformation
- 4 steps to take now to win in B2B digital customer experience
The Rise of the B2B Customer Experience Imperative