The importance of commerce touchpoints

by Ofentse Sefolo
The importance of commerce touchpoints

The influence of the digitisation of commerce is pervasive, already changing how buyers expect to research and transact purchases, whether personal or professional.

For many B2B companies, there is considerable distance between their current B2B ecommerce CX and customer expectations. It does not seem that long ago that B2B customer expectations were more distinct from B2C, with sales transactions largely driven through personal relationships and transacted via in-person visits, phone calls and emails.

A total of 86% of B2B CMOs consider CX especially important, but 57% of those reported only marginal CX performance in their own organisations.
Source: Accenture

These differences have been steadily eroding, as online marketplaces began serving the B2B community and B2B buyers began bringing digital expectations formed in their consumer lives to their work purchasing experiences. The pandemic accelerated this transition, quickly forcing more aspects of the sales process online, sometimes before sellers were well equipped to offer the appropriate capabilities.

These forces have not just driven the need to match the B2C experience online. B2B buyers are also shifting their preference from traditional sales relationships to digital selling, particularly as millennials assume more purchasing responsibilities.

This puts pressure on B2B sites not only to appear and function like B2C sites, but also to increase the value of the relationship they provide to their customers during the digital CX. It shifts the role of the salesperson away from the details of the sales process and further towards prospecting, building and deepening relationships to nurture long-term partnerships. Instead of driving the purchase process, salespeople will increasingly guide and educate buyers and build their confidence that they are making the right decisions for their businesses.

B2B buyers want their ecommerce experience to mimic B2C experiences. Here is what the B2B buyer wants:

1. Easy search
Customers do not want to comb through static, text-only lists of products to find what they are seeking. They want multiple photos as well as intelligent searching based on smart taxonomies that can help them navigate quickly to their desired product. Ideally, these tools use artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and account data to quickly display highly relevant results specific to the customer’s needs.

2. Simple, easy-to-navigate site design
Research is a huge part of the B2B buying process. According to Gartner, 18% of a buying group’s purchase time is spent on independent research offline, and another 27% is spent researching online. To make sure that research happens on their own sites and leads to a transaction, B2B sellers need to ensure relevant content is easy to find and consume, with a clear path to the next steps. Designs must also be device aware.

3. Detailed product information
Buyers want access to all the information they need to make an informed, accurate purchase decision. Detailed specs – along with multiple photos, options, related products, shipping information, and even customer experiences and reviews – provide many of the answers buyers typically pose before a purchase, helping to shorten the sales cycle. B2B buyers also favour sellers who offer pricing information on their sites over those who do not.

4. Personalised experiences
Like consumers, B2B buyers increasingly seek purchasing experiences tailored to their needs. When product recommendations, promotions, pricing, tax calculations and shipping quotes are offered based on customer history, the customer experiences less friction and a more enjoyable experience. According to Gartner, the most effective personalisation helps customers through their customer journey in a brand-agnostic fashion.

5. 24/7 self-service options
Customers accustomed to completing personal purchases on their own want the same options at work. This is particularly the case for younger buyers – Gartner found that 44% of millennials prefer no sales rep interaction in a B2B purchase setting. The Covid-19 crisis has accelerated this trend by forcing more B2B buying onto digital platforms.

6. Accurate tax calculation
Buyers accustomed to rapid tax calculations in B2C bring these expectations to B2B, even though B2B calculations are more complex. They are also extremely sensitive to tax errors, because sales tax liability can have a costly impact on the bottom line. Sellers must understand the details of jurisdictional rules and proper documentation to ensure that their determination of the tax-exempt status is correct and prevents later accounting issues and a poor B2B CX.

7. Quick order processing and delivery
Like consumers, B2B buyers want efficient order tracking and email communications to plan their business and meet customer deadlines. Shipping options and terms should be clear and offer anticipated delivery dates whenever possible.

A total of 96% of B2B selling leaders increased their profitability, and 97% increased their market share by offering services infused with technical understanding and empathy for buyer needs.
Source: Accenture

The good news is that B2B and B2C buying processes have more commonalities than differences, particularly now that there are more tools and solutions to help sellers streamline the buying process. Here’s how to overcome these barriers and provide engaging customer experiences, no matter whether the buyer is a consumer or a corporation.

1. Leverage powerful ecommerce tools
A well-designed ecommerce platform, such as Salesforce Commerce Cloud, can be used for both B2B and B2C. It combines the design and conventions of a great B2C platform with features specifically designed for B2B, including fast reorders, account hierarchies, contract pricing and custom catalogues.

Many offer industry-specific modules to tailor the platform to the unique needs of businesses in those markets, along with an ecosystem of partner apps to customise the functionality to a business’ specific requirements. Integrated marketing tools help B2B companies personalise buying experiences to each customer’s needs – such as displaying negotiated, account-specific pricing and terms, and incorporating transactions seamlessly into the sales process – to support a seamless multichannel relationship with business buyers.

2. Automate tax calculation and exemption management
B2B ecommerce requires fast, accurate tax calculation and exemption management. A well-designed, expertly managed tax technology solution scales with the needs of the B2B seller. Expert tax researchers such as those at Vertex provide and maintain global rate and rule content across thousands of jurisdictions to ensure tax law compliance, regardless of the complexity of the transaction or where the B2B seller does business.

Hallmarks of a strong tax calculation solution include 24/7 self-service access to the tax solution, tax compliance and audit support, and consulting, implementation and managed services to ensure fast time to value. Another important feature is pre-integration with hundreds of ERPs, ecommerce, Salesforce and other financial applications.

3. Help customers simplify internal purchasing processes
Ecommerce tools to help automate research sharing, approvals and collaboration help address some of the complexity of B2B team buying. When the digital experience easily ushers B2B buyers through the funnel, they can access all the research, product and purchasing details they need right on the ecommerce platform, removing time and hassles from the process. Tailoring digital content to specific personas within the buying team can also streamline the purchase experience.

But Gartner recommends B2B sellers to go further. It recommends offering “change enablement” processes that do not just enable the buying decision, but help businesses enact better approaches to purchasing. This means providing customers with a vision for change and a means of determining the key challenges to address as part of that change, coupled with a framework for prioritising competing considerations.

Over the next five years, the best suppliers will support broader organisational change in addition to supporting purchasing decisions, because when customers’ change uncertainty is left unresolved, large-scale solutions through complex buying decisions become less likely.

B2B buying that delivers a competitive edge

B2B buyers’ ecommerce expectations were already on the rise before the pandemic accelerated the need for contactless ways to keep business moving. Despite the additional complexity of B2B purchasing, businesses looking to compete must find ways to make the buying process fast, easy and consistent – as well as relevant, accurate and personalised. With the right tools and a thoughtful, customer-centric approach, B2B sellers can deliver buying experiences that keep their customers coming back, driving both customer satisfaction and a growing bottom line.

Fast, accurate tax calculation is an essential part of ensuring that B2B and B2C transactions flow smoothly, every time, for a truly engaging CX.

Our sincere appreciation to Vertex Inc for the information contained in this article. For more information, visit www.vertexinc.com.

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