Technology has fundamentally changed what customers expect from companies — and that includes B2B buyers. Customers want the ability to quickly research, browse, and transact — anytime, anywhere. Digital commerce makes it possible. And it’s not just buyers who benefit from digital commerce. Business sellers report reduced costs to serve, better productivity, and revenue growth among the top benefits.
B2B organisations are moving fast to implement digital channels. In fact, social media and websites are the top two channels invested in today. Why? A whopping 87% of B2B buyers say they would pay a premium for a supplier with an excellent ecommerce portal. Alternatively, 90% would turn to a competitor if a supplier’s digital channel couldn’t keep up with their needs.
Business buyers have come to expect a commerce experience that is every bit as intuitive as what they get in the retail world as consumers. It also demonstrates that because business relationships are often more complicated than retail relationships, expectations can be even higher. That’s a tall order for B2B organisations — especially in the midst of inflation and budget constraints.
The good news: With the right digital commerce strategies, you can deliver on buyer expectations without breaking the bank. By marrying data, analytics, and cloud-based commerce tools to create a digitally enabled customer experience, you’ll be able to increase revenue and loyalty, reduce the cost to serve, and drive sales team efficiency. Here’s how.
Consumers today are conditioned to expect a new level of instantaneous, personalised, friction-free service. And business buyers see no need to compromise as they bring an increasing amount of their business buying online. In just two years, B2B organisations expect 52% of their revenue to come from digital channels. To win sales and drive loyalty, it’s critical to deliver hyper-relevant, hyperpersonalised digital experiences that make B2B customers feel valued and understood.
What do personalised experiences look like? Business buyers expect vendors to have connected processes like seamless handoffs between departments. Rather than having to explain to service what they already told to sales, buyers want contextualised engagement based on earlier interactions. In fact, 85% of customers expect consistent interactions across departments, yet 66% say they often have to repeat or re-explain information to different representatives.
Buyers also want personalised product recommendations and intelligent search. This makes it easier for them to quickly find what they’re looking for — which translates to higher average order value and increased loyalty. These intelligent commerce features are a major differentiator for B2B companies that often have large, complex product catalogs.
Over the last few years, companies have made great strides when it comes to personalising B2B shopping experiences, but they still have a lot of work to do. Many B2B companies fall short because they still depend on clunky commerce solutions built on top of legacy enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. These systems are designed to run back-office operations and optimise workflows, but they can’t effectively manage customer touchpoints or build a 360-degree view of the customer.
To deliver personalised, relevant experiences — and to create them on a reasonable budget — B2B organisations need a platform with the right data and automation tools built in. For example, Salesforce B2B Commerce comes equipped with one-click reorders, smart search, and product recommendations that help you increase sales and drive loyalty. Out-of-the-box features also include artificial intelligence (AI) and connected data that help you create personalised experiences quickly and at scale.
These tools allow sales teams to work smarter, not harder. And they come with significant cost benefits. In fact, one report found that process automation powered by Salesforce B2B Commerce increases agent productivity, yielding up to an additional two hours per day per agent. Over three years and a cumulative total of 51,380 additional productive hours, the productivity lift is worth more than $1.5 million in labor cost savings to the organisation.
Want more details about the cost savings and business benefits of Salesforce B2B Commerce?
Empower your buyers to complete orders in 50–70% less time with Salesforce B2B Commerce.
Give B2B buyers more flexibility — transact on their terms.
At every stage of the customer journey, business buyers — especially younger ones — have come to expect an array of digital tools and features from the companies they work with. Millennials make up a majority of B2B buyers today, and they are accustomed to mobile apps, product comparison tools, personalised recommendations, real-time messaging, fast and intelligent search, and proactive service. These features are now becoming table stakes for B2B vendors hoping to retain customers.
Moreover, buyers want to be able to move easily between different channels — in-person, mobile, online, phone, social, text — depending on their needs. They want the flexibility of being able to start a transaction on mobile in the morning and finish it later in the day on a desktop, with the opportunity to work with sales reps who can order on their behalf. With cloud-based commerce technology like Salesforce B2B Commerce, you can deliver flexible experiences and meet the unique needs of each buyer. Because it’s based in the cloud, you can develop commerce capabilities rapidly and incrementally. Teams can roll out solutions — quickly and inexpensively — in a cycle of deploy, test, and adjust. This means you can constantly innovate as customer needs evolve.
Since it’s built on the Salesforce Customer 360 Platform, Salesforce B2B Commerce is also endlessly configurable. Its capabilities mesh seamlessly with CRM data to create a single view of the customer, which lets companies stay connected at every touchpoint by linking commerce to marketing, sales, and service. That means customer data is available to anyone in the company at any time on any device or platform, with no integration required.
Reduce costs and improve customer satisfaction with self-service.
Perhaps the most challenging new reality in the B2B arena is that customers want their vendors to offer different kinds of service to meet their needs at different times. Customers demand highly intuitive self-service options that make routine interactions easier, and many are willing to complete entire purchases through a digital self-service platform. In fact, 90% of business buyers say they will place increasingly larger, complex orders online over the coming two years. Eighty-eight percent say they are increasingly comfortable placing higher-value orders online.
Self-service options not only improve customer satisfaction and drive revenue — they can also significantly lower your cost to serve and increase sales team productivity. By enabling self-service, your reps no longer need to spend time on simple requests like checking on order status, sending samples, checking stock inventory, or invoicing customers. Instead, they can focus on more strategic services like cross-selling, upselling and other consultative tasks.
See the power of digital B2B commerce — by the numbers.
Since implementing Salesforce B2B Commerce, Ovation Medical doubled sales rep productivity and decreased its processing time by 200%.
As technology removes data entry and other administrative tasks from sales teams’ stacked schedules, reps are tasked with more strategic, complex mandates. Sales reps have become much more than order takers, as they now have more time to devote to learning about the business climate, their industries, products, and customers. Despite some fears, self-service and remote B2B purchases aren’t displacing human talent in sales — they are actually helping companies retain better talent and making it easier to recruit.
Experienced salespeople know this. They’ve often worked with the best sales technology available, and they don’t want to go back to the days of spreadsheets. High-performing salespeople are drawn to companies that prioritise digital innovation. That means these companies can take their pick of the top sales talent whenever they need to add to their team — a strong competitive advantage in the throes of a talent war.
Implement the right data strategies to build trust and loyalty.
Customer trust and loyalty stem from companies’ understanding of their customers’ unique needs and tailored solutions to address them. Trust, however, is becoming a precious commodity in digital commerce. At a time when 71% of business buyers say that most sales interactions feel transactional, there is a big opportunity to leverage data to get a better understanding of customer needs and goals — and act on them quickly.
How can you achieve this? With a real-time view of every customer. By leveraging a real-time CRM, you can quickly turn insights into moments that wow your customers and drive deep loyalty. For example, you can set up “churn alerts” in real time that trigger your sales team to reach out if a customer exhibits signs of dissatisfaction. This ensures your customers that they are valued and their voice is heard. You can also collect data in real time that will help you provide dynamic pricing for every customer — allowing you to tailor every deal to a buyer’s unique profile and market characteristics. With the right insights, you can provide intuitive, proactive service that sets your business apart and drives trust.
For sales reps, establishing trust is a must from the get-go. In fact, 87% of business buyers now expect sales reps to act as trusted advisors.
These days, 87% of business buyers now expect sales reps to act as trusted advisors.
Three practical ways to exceed customer expectations.
So what can companies do to improve performance in the age of the connected customer? The data suggests that two things make a big difference. First, top-performing companies are responding to higher customer expectations by becoming more collaborative, data-driven, and insightful. Second, they are empowering teams with tools that make sales people smarter and the entire organisation more efficient and responsive.
Companies with top sales teams (those with significant year-over-year revenue growth) are more likely to share three characteristics:
They use a single view of the customer to collaborate
They deploy self-service and automation to free up time for selling
They trade intuition for data-driven insights
1. Top sales teams use a single view of the customer to collaborate.
As we’ve seen, business buyers are gravitating to vendors that understand them and provide consistent, personalised experiences across the customer journey. The most effective B2B sales organisations deliver by using a 360-degree view of the customer to collaborate with other departments as never before.
This means that no matter how customers choose to engage with the company, the interaction will be contextual and meaningful. Business buyers end up feeling they are dealing with a single, knowledgeable vendor — not a collection of siloed departments — saving time and energy for everyone involved.
A robust commerce platform like Salesforce B2B Commerce can be transformative. By collecting commerce and CRM data in a single customer record, Salesforce enables everybody in the company to see the customer’s history; the status of outstanding orders from online, in-person, and any other channel; service issues; and notes from the salesperson or service engineer — all in real time. Arming sales reps with mobile access to that data gives them the ability to connect with customers on the go, putting vital information at their fingertips in customer-facing situations.
2. Top sales teams deploy self-service and automation to free up time for selling.
Sales is a unique role, requiring expert people skills and a wealth of organisational knowledge. But customers’ elevated expectations require salespeople to find time in the sales process for non-selling activities. High performers are more likely to give customers the self-service, mobile, and automated options they prefer for many routine interactions like ordering and product research, relieving reps of the “order-taking” burden that gets in the way of solving bigger issues. Digital leaders are finding success by automating the following sales tasks: logging data and customer notes, generating quotes and proposals, and prioritising leads.
Automation frees up reps to research customer needs and come up with solutions that lead to a sale. With digital tools taking on the brunt of straightforward processes, salespeople can focus on what they do best — selling — rather than administrative tasks.
3. Top sales teams trade intuition for data-driven insights.
The best sales teams distinguish themselves by making every minute more productive. While high performers still rely on experience and intuition to spot opportunity, they increasingly turn to data and analytics to both sharpen their own sales strategies and craft more personalised, insightful solutions for their customers. In fact, sales leaders named data accuracy and quantity as one of their top tactics for success. Consider that high-performing sales teams are more likely than underperformers to use data to help prioritise leads.
Reps are becoming experts at things like calibrating the customer’s past relationship with the company, measuring estimated revenue, and predicting the potential for add-on business. With commerce, sales, and other data connected, companies can unlock recommendations for sales teams in providing next best actions. This means sales reps get recommendations to take action — like offering a small discount or following up with buyers at the right time to maximise buyer satisfaction and sales.
Here’s where to start to find success now.
An effective commerce implementation should begin with a clear ambition for how it can improve the customer experience. But companies are too often tempted to include every feature imaginable, which creates interminable delays and larger-than-necessary budgets.
A solution that’s purpose-built on a cloud platform offers a clear alternative. Starting with a minimum viable product, the company can get in front of customers quickly, collect real-world data, and use it to sharpen the next rapid iteration. The advantage is that the company can begin generating ROI, score some quick wins, and arm itself with intelligence about what’s working and what’s not.
Flexibility and speed to market are especially critical at a time when budget constraints and economic uncertainty are top of mind. To make your implementation as efficient and effective as possible, begin by asking your customers what they want. Don’t assume you already know. Too often, large B2B companies try to deploy every feature in the first round, taking on too much at once. Instead, do it in stages and prioritise what your customers say they need.
One of the key benefits of implementing a commerce platform in manageable stages is that customer feedback becomes part of doing business. The company can gather data and insights on the fly, using them to make better decisions. Creating tight feedback loops to gather and analyse sales data helps companies understand what’s working or not, so features can be tweaked, built up, or abandoned if necessary.
A smooth implementation also requires determining who has decision rights — IT, marketing, finance, and so on — and including those people from the very beginning of the project. Trade-offs between features, cost, and speed inevitably crop up in the planning process. It is critical that everyone contributes to these decisions, so a consensus emerges around the overall rationale for the project. Anything less than full alignment is a threat to success.
Find your next steps.
All journeys begin with a single step. With new insights on the relationship between sales teams and customers, you can explore the major opportunities to stand out from the competition with great digital customer experiences.