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Why Search Is the Unsung Hero in B2B Commerce

Here’s our checklist for what you need to speed up the search and discovery of your products.

A woman looking at her phone, perhaps a business customer using B2B search.
Solid B2B search can unlock actionable insights into your business and serve up recommendations for new visitors. [Oscar Wong / Getty Images]

Your business customers are feeling the need for speed. Buyers need to find what they’re looking for, and fast — whether that’s finding a specific product, past invoices, or safety information. If the online experience takes too long, there is a risk of a competitor getting your business. The pressure for B2B customers to have instant results at their fingertips continues to increase. How do you meet this demand? Responsive and efficient B2B search.

It’s not easy for B2B sellers to achieve the speediness that buyers crave. For one thing, these customers often are looking for a specific solution — in the midst of potentially millions of products. Buyers don’t have the time to leisurely peruse countless pages of products like consumers normally do with a typical retail shopping experience. Instead, these buyers include the manufacturing floor manager who needs a specific part to keep the factory running. Or a healthcare professional who needs a new shipment of critical medical devices. 

To stay competitive, commerce professionals must find ways to speed up the B2B search and discovery of their products. Here’s our checklist for what’s needed to optimize the online customer experience.

Research shows that a website’s navigation can make or break a user’s online experience. In fact, 43% would pay more if they could find what they’re looking for in just a few clicks. To make this happen, display a clear categorization of products — and get the categories validated by both internal stakeholders, customers, and prospects.

If your business sells products or services at unique negotiated prices, navigation and search is likely complex. This will only become more complex as organizations increasingly leverage marketplaces — digital platforms that connect buyers and sellers of goods — to vastly expand their reach.

Research shows that a website’s navigation can make or break a user’s online experience. 

Similarly in B2B, not all products or services will be available to all potential buyers, possibly due to their location (shipping or legal considerations) or general availability. It’s critical to use more advanced search solutions that can factor in B2B entitlements – what each individual buyer is allowed to see and purchase, in the search results and actions customers can take from search. 

“When designing an experience for your end customer that represents your brand, the last thing you want is to be restricted by technology. Good search enables you to unlock your customer data to improve customer experience, such as increasing order value and conversion performance, rapidly,” said Brian McGlynn, vice president of commerce at Coveo, a leading B2B search solution provider.

B2B search needs strong merchandising and personalization

Search isn’t always just about what gets entered into the search box itself. Customers often don’t know how (or are too rushed) to correctly word what they’re looking for. To help, use artificial intelligence (AI) to help complete search phrases — and display similar products for ambiguous queries. This doesn’t have to be isolated to product search, either. AI can help customers find the right FAQs, safety sheets, and technical specs.

Use artificial intelligence (AI) to help complete search phrases — and display similar products for ambiguous queries.

To drive sales, your B2B search must include robust merchandising capabilities to support unplanned purchases. Let’s say an automotive manufacturer is searching for a specific part on your storefront. Your search should also display related accessories to that part, an upgraded version of what she is researching, or a similar part. 

“Whether they’re just browsing, researching products, or ready to buy, it’s critical that people discover content, products, and services they want and are likely to need next,” said  Brian. 

AI-driven recommendations for new customers

The benefits of solid B2B search don’t stop at your customer. It can unlock actionable insights into your business and serve up AI-driven recommendations for new visitors to your digital experiences, which can really accelerate customer acquisition. For example, with measurable analytics from your search, your business can evaluate:

  • The products people search for most (and compare these to purchase data)
  • What people search before resorting to a sales rep or call center
  • Whether buyers select the relevant products that appear to them in search results

In turn, solid search functionality can improve your sales team’s effectiveness, your support efficiency, marketing strategy, and more. To put it simply, robust search has a direct impact on your business. 


Andy Peebler is vice president of B2B commerce at Salesforce. He guides the strategy for B2B commerce at Salesforce, including product and surrounding ecosystem, go-to-market alignment and thought leadership with customers and industry stakeholders. Prior to Salesforce, Andy was EVP of strategy and an investor at CloudCraze, the B2B commerce company acquired by Salesforce in 2018.

More by Andy

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