Personalization - The New Foundation of B2B Digital Sales
The New Foundation
of B2B Digital Sales
Leading companies share data strategies, techniques,
and industry insights about eCommerce transformation
eCommerce is a high performer among manufacturers and distributors. Now, these companies are prioritizing advanced data methods as they seek to upgrade their current commerce infrastructures.
As manufacturers and distributors transition to digital sales environments, personalization needs to be a top priority and tech investment. Research shows that most buyers now expect all of their interactions to be personalized. Gartner predicts B2B sellers that incorporate personalization into digital commerce will realize revenue increases up to 15%.
Now, B2B eCommerce and sales teams are prioritizing data analytics and learning opportunities for their teams. They are recruiting experts that have precise knowledge and talent for customer relations, even on a global level.
But most B2B companies encounter roadblocks to their ideal competitive growth. Lack of awareness of personalization opportunities, cumbersome processes and operations, and legacy commerce platforms that don’t support seamless customer experiences are pain points for a majority of companies, in each case.
Our research shows how leading companies are leveraging data to predict the product interests of their customers, surfacing contextual information to customize interactions, and aiding in customers’ relevant discovery online. In this report, discover how customer engagement via online portals enables businesses to build robust revenue pipelines with their personalization strategies.
About the Study
B2B Online partnered with the WBR Insights research team to conduct an industry study of 100 B2B decision makers including directors, heads, vice presidents, and C-Suite executives across the U.S. and Canada. In addition to survey responses, respondents provided qualitative feedback, which appears as anonymous quotes throughout the report.
Manufacturers and distributors were nearly even in representation. Most respondents in the study (56%) represent distributors, while 44% represent manufacturers.
Respondents represent large national companies like Texas Instruments Inc., Caterpillar, and W.B. Mason, as well as mid-market companies and SMBs.
What best describes your company type?
Prioritizing eCommerce Growth and Performance
In today’s environment, distributors and manufacturers are more than just product and service providers. They must ensure a complete support system for their clients, whether they are contractors or businesses looking to engage in long-term services. As they learn about customer needs in detail, they are tailoring experiences to provide for customers in these ways. Now, as they attempt to scale their business, eCommerce offers a more streamlined method for customer engagement and transactions.
Already, the vast majority of respondents (92%) consider B2B eCommerce a growth area for their businesses in terms of innovating customer engagement. eCommerce represents an ongoing transition and improvement area for companies of all sizes.
In terms of innovating customer engagement, would you describe B2B eCommerce as a growth area for your business?
“We are exploring and adopting more techniques to grow our eCommerce operations. eCommerce seems to be a very lucrative means to add to the revenue stream, but… [it] consumes a lot of cost and time.”
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B2B eCommerce is already a high performer among 63% of companies. These manufacturers and distributors claim B2B eCommerce either performs well among their sales channels (41%) or it is their highest performing sales channel (22%).
17% of respondents see no difference in terms of performance among other sales channels, while 8% consider their B2B eCommerce performance to be poor or negligible.
Only 1% uses B2B eCommerce as their only sales channel, and 11% do not use B2B eCommerce at all.
But underperforming companies are discovering new ways to make the buying process simpler and more efficient for customers. This includes sharing product information and applications through instructive videos, documents, and specifications on websites, making it easier for new clients to make important decisions. They must also educate their teams about new personalization techniques and approach personalization improvements from a more educated, more prepared position.
In terms of customer engagement, how does B2B eCommerce perform compared to your other sales channels and activities?
Evaluating Personalization Preparedness and Support
Personalization is a vital differentiator when it comes to eCommerce competition. It is important to connect with both existing and prospective clients in terms of trust. Creating a welcoming, comfortable and professional atmosphere, and offering relevant web content is essential.
According to one respondent, B2B companies that are flexible and reliable with customers show them they are willing to understand and address their problems and questions in a positive way. This includes marketing one’s brand so that buyers are able to immediately associate with a product type.
Differentiating one’s brand so that customers think of that brand first comes with years of expertise, research, development, and creating a bond with clients over time. It means updating product offerings to meet their evolving needs as well. But even seasoned B2B professionals might be lacking in their eCommerce technologies, and may struggle to transition those best practices to eCommerce environments.
“We are in the middle of a migration from our 20-year-old, home-grown commerce platform to our new industry leading platform for commerce and WCM. We must complete this migration before we spend much more time optimizing [the customer] experience.”
62% of respondents believe their companies need to upgrade or replatform their current commerce infrastructure to provide a more seamless, personalized purchase journey for customers. 38% do not believe they need to upgrade or replatform for this purpose.
In fact, B2B companies who have worked with clients for years may find it more difficult than others to transition existing customers to eCommerce environments and avoid conflicting their experiences with those of new, potential clients. Without analytics and well-prepared strategies, these manufacturers and distributers risk alienating customers who don’t appreciate redundant videos, tutorials, and product information online. They may prioritize updated technical, policy, and fulfillment criteria instead, which might alienate new customers.
Do you believe your company needs to upgrade or replatform its current commerce infrastructure to provide a more seamless, personalized purchase journey for your customers?
Do you have a documented personalization strategy for your B2B eCommerce channel(s) and digital outreach? If yours is only in progress, please select “No”.
It is critical these companies have documented personalization strategies to avoid overlapping and conflicting experiences. However, only 51% of organizations have a documented personalization strategy for their B2B eCommerce channels and digital outreach; 49% have none.
As we will find, data collection, on-site metrics, and analytics are B2B companies’ best resources for formalizing personalization and adopting techniques for ongoing success.
“Providing the right solutions for our users has always been our priority. Our website offers suggestions and membership opportunities for our professional clients who stand to benefit from these features. Our personalization strategy includes learning buying patterns in details for different clients... In this way, content can be more accurate and not generalized.”
Elements of a Winning Personalization Strategy
“I’d say you should use images and videos on your website to create a healthy advantage for yourself. It would be more impressive to your image when the client sees and understands your process thoroughly in a creative way, rather than having them comb through pages of written data.”
“We’ve implemented a digital metric board that we review monthly to see how well we are attracting visitors to the site through our email and social media.”
Customer Perspectives and Strategy Development
Organizations are actively developing strategies to improve B2B eCommerce. A majority are leveraging data, analytics, and/or is testing to optimize personalization (69%), and another majority are continuing to educate themselves about personalization opportunities (55%).
Nearly half of organizations are evaluating old and new technologies to determine if they are useful for personalization (48%). Another 48% are looking at their infrastructure to identify what they need to support personalization.
Fewer organizations are integrating personalization into their loyalty and retention initiatives (44%), or looking at site visitor activity to see how they can influence behavior using personalization (43%). Only 40% are reconsidering internal roles and breaking down silos to support personalization.
Most companies trust in their core strengths of providing valuable products, services, and expertise to maintain the interests of clients. During new product launches, they can leverage data to highlight and recommend products based on past purchases in the same categories. They can use insights to improve processes and messaging to align with specific clients’ needs as well.
Providing customers with different products based on preferences (58%) is a critical component to most organizations’ personalization efforts to drive business value—more than any other in this area.
Most seek to streamline processes (56%), align marketing measurements (53%), and track companies’ browsing histories (52%) to drive profitability as well.
How does personalization factor into your internal conversations about improving B2B eCommerce?
“Monitoring site activity to determine the products that have caught the interest of the customers, along with their buying history to evaluate the nature of their choice and the reason for it, helps us understand demand trends. Personalized content can be offered only after we comprehend preferences. Our business clients already know what they need… personalization for them [consists of] providing value-added services and appropriate incentives to maintain business relations.”
Half of organizations are deploying alerts and messages about products known to be of interest to specific companies as part of their personalization efforts. Almost half of organizations are enabling seamless eCommerce purchasing via multiple digital channels (48%) as a critical part of personalization.
Fewer organizations are personalizing corporate account ordering experiences and microservices (45%). Less than 40% of organizations are improving or customizing site navigation (38%), innovating fulfillment options (30%), and optimizing the configurator experience (29%).
Data is the currency of personalization, and the quality of these strategies is determined by the value and specificity of customer information and insights. By categorizing data, providing summaries with specifics and usage details, and publishing lists of related products, customers can make informed decisions—with minimal effort—about resources relevant to their business.
Among the following B2B eCommerce platform strategies, which are critical components to your personalization efforts?
“It’s important to spread the word about your business and new products through the latest channels. Advertise your latest products to your existing customers coupled with desirable incentives, so as to build on the relationship you already have with them… Such simple steps create a bond between the two that will help both businesses.”
Prioritizing Improvements to Data Strategy and Analysis
Leading distributors and manufacturers are already leveraging data from multiple sources to fine-tune personalization. Using predictive analytics, they are developing a firm grasp on customer requirements, allowing them to make nearly accurate predictions as to what consumers will need.
Researchers identified six strategic data techniques to determine which among them companies were using most often, and to what end. Respondents were asked what data strategies they are using to create more seamless, personalized experiences on their B2B websites.
Most organizations (58%) are filtering data to analyze which segments have the greatest demand and profit potential. Site activity monitoring has become an important and useful tool to predict buying patterns across various sectors. This allows companies to better manage stock allocation and expedite delivery procedures.
Some companies work on multiple analytics platforms to produce actionable insights for their teams. Almost half (48%) are building online technology to track buyers’ search and purchase patterns to predict how or what they may buy, for example. 47% of organizations are turning data into a story to support marketing and branding efforts.
As companies strive to personalize every customer experience, 46% are leveraging data to create a greater interactive experiences for customers on their paths to purchase. “Customers need to know that they can trust you to handle their business needs,” says one respondent. “When creating a presence online, make sure you include informative data and videos to encourage customers and seal the deal for you.”
Fewer organizations are leveraging search and product purchases to display recommended products (42%). Finally, 40% are leveraging predictive analytics to identify eCommerce leads and prospects.
The data suggests that no matter their size, B2B companies are divided in terms of which strategies they do and do not use. This is evident in that roughly half of respondents chose each strategy—just as many chose each strategy as those that did not.
Some claim streamlining data and overcoming gaps in information flow prevent them from being proactive with personalization; at least one claim they depend on their customers to personalize their own experiences using on-site assets, and even those assets aren’t up to their standards. Others have not implemented eCommerce across all of their business properties, including one global company.
What data strategies do you use to create more seamless, personalized experiences on your B2B eCommerce website(s)?
Creating a seamless, personalized buying experience for customers requires sufficient information about previous purchases, frequented pages, payment history and other accurate historic data. Leading B2B companies are collating, analyzing, and executing those insights so that each customer experience is unique. But pain points in achieving this are not restricted to companies of a single size or vertical.
All customers are different and possess their own traits and requirements. Some may prefer a more casual approach; others may prefer sellers that are more professional and prompt. Manufacturers and distributors must have something of additional value for each of them.
Success is within reach of any company. As one respondent says, “Showcase and advertise your products with confidence and passion to create a lasting impression with buyers… Let each and every one who peruses your business options feel you are the right choice for them.”
About the Authors
B2B Online is the premiere, annual, interactive event for digital and eCommerce executives within the industry. B2B Online will give you the tools to address key issues you face, including the multigenerational workforce, digital marketplaces, globalization and localization, tracking ROI on eCommerce investments, customer experience, omnichannel integration, content management, and mobile and social. Learn more at: http://b2bmarketing.wbresearch.com
We are a team of writers, researchers, and marketers who are passionate about creating exceptional custom content. WBR Insights connects solution providers to their targeted communities through custom research reports, engaged webinars, and other marketing solutions. To learn more, visit us at www.wbrinsights.com
1 Press Release. “Gartner Says IT Leaders Will Need to Develop a Stronger Relationship With Marketing.” Gartner News Room, January 14, 2015.
About Our Sponsors
Certona, the leading real-time omnichannel personalization solution and pioneer of AI-driven experience individualization, powers over 100 billion unique experiences each month. Trusted by more than 500 brands and retailers in over 70 countries, Certona’s patented technology leverages machine learning and predictive analytics to deliver a fully-orchestrated experience with optimized content and messaging to increase engagement and conversions across all customer touchpoints. Recognized by Gartner as a Leader in the 2018 Magic Quadrant for Personalization Engines, Certona is also ranked as the leading personalization provider by Internet Retailer to the Top 1000 and leader for 10 consecutive years to the Top 500.
PROS is a cloud software company that helps competitive enterprises create a frictionless and personalized buying experience for customers. Fueled by dynamic pricing science and machine learning, PROS solutions make it possible for companies to price, configure and sell their products and services with speed, precision and consistency in an omnichannel environment.
In a world where the customer is in control and fully informed, the PROS algorithmic approach to generating personalized, dynamic offers and pricing at the right time is the essential component for every leader shifting to a modern commerce strategy. Enterprises have relied on PROS for decades to win more deals; get to market faster; gain an unfair advantage; shape customer demand and create a superior customer experience.To learn more, visit www.pros.com