A middle-aged man sits in his car, top button undone, a loose tie half-way down his neck. A half-eaten sandwich sits on the passenger seat. He taps impatiently on the steering wheel as he sits in the traffic, waiting to move on to this week’s appointment.
Of course, this is a satirized version of how many people imagine a travelling B2B salesperson to be.
Today’s version is younger, more digitally aware and prefers to split his time between person-to-person meetings, video calls and e-Commerce channels.
According to a recent McKinsey report, e-commerce is now the most popular route to the market for B2B companies, marginally overtaking in-person. Some 41 per cent of leaders say it is their most effective sales route, beating in-person (37 per cent) and video (31 per cent).
The same survey reported 28 per cent of B2B businesses as having hybrid sales roles today. Around 77 per cent of these hybrid sales roles were introduced due to the pandemic, while 85 per cent of businesses expected hybrid sellers to be the most common sales role in their organisation in the next three years.
Some businesses are still behind the curve when it comes to digital transformation, but many are now investing in innovative omnichannel strategies to navigate the ‘new normal.’
We spoke to Fredrik Bergström, lead strategy and business developer at SQLI in the Nordics to explore some of the latest trends in the B2B e-Commerce sphere.
Building better customer relationships with CRM
While traditional Customer Relationship Management (CRM) focused on customer details and information on purchase history, today’s CRM systems are much more analytical.
Most CRM software can log and analyse sales patterns, record and store data and delve deep into conversion rates, email subscriptions, click-through rates and even analyse which products customers are interested in.
With customers expecting more personalised experiences, CRM is the tool that can help B2B businesses build lasting customer relationships.
Automation can also speed up menial tasks, while the collection and access to better data can help businesses identify wider trends and insights. Past purchase and other customer history, can help provide quicker and better customer service.
Fredrik said: “We see building relationships as one of the most important aspects of B2B e-Commerce. CRM is extremely important for this. Having a good Customer Relationship Management system helps businesses build and maintain their relationships in the short and long-term.
“It’s also important that the CRM is paired with good Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology. AI helps predict customer behaviour and understand customer priorities, as well as analyse the data properly to prompt you when you haven’t followed something up. In this way, businesses can overcome human error to ensure these relationships become even stronger.”
Go ‘headless’ for better flexibility
Today’s customer wants to interact with a business through multiple channels – think desktop; ipads; Apple watches; social media; apps on television or mobile.
In the past, online platforms sat in either the siloed or monolithic camp. The former often lacked functionality and came with duplication issues; the latter, with a lack of agility and was difficult to scale.
Going headless separates the backend from the frontend of a B2B platform, meaning businesses have the flexibility to personalise customer experiences on the frontend more quickly and efficiently.
Under a headless system, content and functionality can be presented as APIs, helping to support customer experiences through different channels without having to worry about the backend at all.
A headless set-up provides many benefits, including easier scalability, more customisation and supports faster, more regular changes to the front-end, allowing businesses to continually look to improve personalisation opportunities. It also means businesses can keep their B2B-specific features and back-office processes consistent.
Fredrik said: “A good digital implementation used to be all about the platform. Now, it’s becoming more and more about building separate blocks, almost like Lego and using the cloud to build and store it this way.
“With B2B, it’s not a one-shoe fits all. B2B companies often have more complex needs with lots of integrations. With mobile an increasingly important channel, going headless means the backend can stay the same while offering a lot more flexibility to the store front.
”This can help businesses personalise experiences much better, helping customers get want they want quicker and easier.”
Manage your product information more effectively with a good PIM solution
As a business grows and customers have more channels and marketplaces to browse and shop, finding the right Product Information Management (PIM) system has become increasingly crucial.
Gone are the days when product name and price were enough, now it’s common and even essential in most cases to include a product description, shipping and handling and supplier information.
A PIM solution provides a process to manage, collect, edit and use this data, content and product information in one place, ready for marketing and sales channels.
While traditional businesses stored all their product information in spreadsheets, PIM takes data management on to new levels, streamlining workflows and processes.
In SQLI partner Akeneo’s global B2B survey last year, 97 per cent of distributors and manufacturers questioned said product information was a priority. Meanwhile, 57 per cent had more than four teams managing product information, with 54 per cent lacking a dedicated solution to manage and centralise this information.
Fredrik said: “Product information management tends to be a lot more complex for B2B brands than B2C brands. There are a lot of products, with many relationships between these and then an increasing number of channels.
“We are finding many more businesses are investing in PIM solutions -it’s a growing area.
“Good product information and easy access to this data can lead to more sales, help streamline work processes and help businesses deliver consistent omnichannel product experiences.
“AI capability can also help processes to be completed intuitively, while PIM solutions allow teams to work seamlessly together over distance – especially important in a post-COVID world where many people are still working from home.”
Marketplaces – an ever-growing sales channel
The way B2B brands are selling, is changing. Companies that used resellers, are now selling directly to businesses through many different means, often using marketplaces to form new relationships in the same way B2C retailers have done for years. This helps cut out the middleman, increasing both revenue, and customer relationships for brands through better personalisation.
B2B marketplaces can also save customers time and money on research and comparison shopping.
According to Akeneo’s survey, 34 per cent of B2B brands are using marketplaces. It’s clear why a good PIM solution and going headless are so important to brands needing flexibility to engage with customers on so many different channels.
Fredrik said: “Marketplaces are becoming more popular in the B2B sphere. They can connect the supplier and distributor in a similar way to an Amazon, with a lot of the processes and sales people cut out.
“The B2C and B2B boundary is merging. We are seeing more companies react and pivot strategies after COVID, looking to spread out into other sales channels or where they were once mainly bricks and mortar, now moving into online.
“We are also seeing companies who used resellers, now sell directly to their customers and building new customer relationships, often with the resellers now becoming responsible for other areas, such as service.”
Where B2B digital platforms were once seen as behind their B2C counterparts, propelled by the pandemic, they have quickly caught up.
B2B buyers are as happy doing businesses online as in-person, with B2B sellers finding different ways to reach them and investing in their digital infrastructures like never before.
Trends in the B2B e-Commerce sphere tend to revolve around making relationships work better and ensuring better personalisation.
It’s why areas such as PIM, headless and CRM have become such important tools for businesses and why SQLI are seeing such growth in these areas.
Fredrik added: “At SQLI we see two areas as key for B2B – relationships and efficiency.
“Many B2B initiatives are about supporting the same people in the field. Brands need to make it easy for their customers to find products and repeat orders.
“With Tele2, SQLI developed and integrated an e-Commerce platform with PIM and intelligent search, helping sales improve beyond recognition.
“In the same way B2B is about relationships, it’s the same for us too – we tend to work with brands on long-term strategies as they evolve over time to give their customers the best experience they can.
“B2B has long been a sleeping giant in e-Commerce, but businesses are now realising they can improve relationships, save money and most importantly improve sales, with an omnichannel digital offering. That can only be a good thing, for everyone.”
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