B2B brands are often years behind their B2C counterparts on digital transformation. Most successful B2C companies recognized long ago that they needed to digitize and create personalized, convenient experiences to acquire and retain customers. But many on the B2B side have been slower to adapt, perhaps assuming that the prototypical digital-first consumer is not their customer.
That assumption is no longer tenable. Older millennials are now often B2B decisionmakers, and that generational shift is only going to become more intense year-over-year. Add the leap in digital expectations driven by the pandemic and the increasing influence of Gen Z in the workplace, and B2B companies that fail to cater to savvier digital buyers will see greater churn and less evangelism, which is unacceptable — especially amidst economic turmoil.
Many B2B brands are curious or even intent on starting digital commerce programs — they just don’t know where to start. Here are the steps those brands can take to jumpstart their digital programs.
1. Figure Out A Digital Strategy
Before starting a digital program, brands need to do strategic legwork. What is your identity as a company? Who do you want to be? Where do your customers spend their time, and what do they care about?
For example, if a company is selling drill bits, it may not want to pour a substantial amount of budget into a particularly sexy website. But it might be able to make its customers’ lives significantly easier — and boost retention, revenue and referrals — by transitioning its order process from forcing customers to sift through Excel spreadsheets to a self-service model. These are the decisions that accelerate positive change.
2. Take A Holistic Look At Your Customers
Many organizations claim to be data-driven, but in practice, that entails standing in a data lake, picking up on a random data point and launching a program based on that insight. For example, a marketing or analytics team might discern that customers in a certain age range respond especially well to advertising on a social platform. So, the team heads off to deploy that data by devoting money and time to an Instagram advertising initiative.
A better approach is to take a holistic customer view to understand how that person behaves across a company’s properties or those where the company is discoverable. By mapping the customer journey, the brand can better predict inventory, customer lifetime value and potential churn points, among other indicators. Together, these insights help a B2B company launching a digital program prioritize initiatives and craft a holistic strategy to improve marketing, sales and fulfillment.
3. Adopt A B2C Mindset
The companies that failed or almost failed to keep up with digitization focused on training the customer, which led to customer experiences that were inefficient for buyers. Instead, they should have analyzed how customers behave and constructed a digital experience based on that information. That’s traditionally been more of a B2C mindset, but more B2B companies are starting to recognize the value of selling to individuals.
One way to operationalize a B2C mindset is to consistently ask for feedback. Send customers surveys after 30 and 90 days, and analyze how they interact with you, what they especially like about your service and what they’d like to see change. This fosters a process of analysis and customer-driven optimization that should guide continuous and collaborative innovation.
Another B2C imperative that should inform B2B digital programs is personalization: Customers should not be able to sense when they cross a business unit. If marketing learns something about a customer, that learning should be reflected in customer service. If a restaurant always places a similar order, a food distributor should be able to anticipate that customer’s needs. This has become expected in B2C; the same expectation is becoming table stakes in B2B.
4. Test & Learn
All the digital businesses that have built empires have done so through a robust process of strategy, analysis and ongoing testing and learning. B2B brands should compile data, modify their actions based on that data and rinse and repeat. This is how to break free from the old way of doing things, and it’s how legacy B2B brands will secure their place in an increasingly digital future.
Jon Reily is the SVP, Commerce Center of Excellence for Bounteous, a media company that seeks to help transform digital experiences.