The shift in B2B buying expectations is real: addressing omnichannel challenges

Stefan Schmidt, VP of Product Strategy at hybris
- Marketing - May 21, 2015

The shift in B2B buying expectations is real: addressing omnichannel challenges

According to a recent Forrester report, evolving consumer customer experiences are resulting in a shift in B2B buying expectations. The research reveals that while B2B buying journeys are traditionally offline and linear, there is a growing demand for digital channels more in line with those provided by B2C organisations. Over half of the B2B customers surveyed stated that they anticipate making 50 percent of purchases online in the next three years.

B2B buying expectations already mirror consumer demand for omnichannel options and flexibility. While B2B customers have specific needs for their businesses, their need for convenience is just as important as in the B2C world. For example, almost 78 percent of B2B customers say fulfilment options such as next-day delivery, are important or very important. Almost three quarters of respondents would value self-service access to accounts and orders.

The majority of B2B suppliers surveyed understand that omnichannel investment is crucial to serve the customers of today (87 percent), to be successful in the longer term (86 percent), and to drive sales and profit (83 percent). Equally, some B2B businesses are making omnichannel technology investments in line with these needs.

However, some common challenges emerged, particularly in terms of process and organisational structure: 

•             The top barrier to omnichannel implementation is back-office integration across channels (44 percent)

•             42 percent of B2B companies point to difficulty sharing customer data and analytics between channels, countries, or locations

•             40 percent say they are limited by distribution partners, franchises or wholesale customers

•             More than a third (36 percent) report a conflict between different channel organisations

•             Other challenges include implementation difficulty (or lack of business incentives, 33 percent), limited staff skills (32 percent), and employee or management resistance (31 percent)

What does this mean for B2B businesses, and how can they start to rise to these challenges?

1.            Use customer behaviour to inform organisational structure

Organisational and structural problems come up time and again – and can be seen clearly in this study, through the conflict between channel organisations, limited staff skills and internal resistance from employees and management.

B2B companies that can take their lead from customer requirements, rather than internal structures, will be better equipped to overcome organisational challenges.

2.            Break down business process obstacles

B2B businesses need to break down the siloes between existing channels, in order to deliver the omnichannel features their buyers have come to expect – such as personalisation and cross-channel visibility.

3.            Anticipate customers’ needs

Nearly two thirds of B2B businesses (62 percent) have identified automated price optimisation and personal recommendations as high on their investment agenda. Savvy B2B suppliers are looking to the future, today.

The Forrester research confirms that the shift in B2B buying expectations is real and well underway. As B2C omnichannel approaches become more sophisticated, we should expect to see the B2B world follow. While investment in omnichannel technology will be integral for building successful cross-channel customer relationships, the reality is that B2B organisations may have to fundamentally rethink strategies for engagement. As siloes break down, it won’t just be organisations’ technology that needs to become more integrated, their people and processes will have to follow suit.

You can download a copy of the ‘Building the B2B Omnichannel Commerce Platform of the Future’ report here. The paper explores how B2B buyer expectations are transforming how suppliers sell and deliver products and services. Forrester surveyed 526 B2B companies and 930 B2B buyers across Canada, France, Germany, the US, and the UK at organisations with at least 1,000 employees.

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